Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tour du Jour

I hate going on "tours," and I kind of hate tourists. There is something obnoxious about someone blathering on and on when you just want to take in the scenery, snap photos, and make inferences in your own mind about what you're seeing. Not to mention the fact that standing around listening makes for tired feet. However, the ugly truth is that it is often cheaper and easier to join a tour than it is to find your own way to point B. Particularly in South America. This is how I ended up going on more tours in the last week than I have in the last five years.
Sillustani was another destination plucked from Jane's Discover Peru. They even had a beautiful picture of the funerary towers with Lake Umayo in the background. I decided I must go - however, it takes about an hour each way to get there, and rather than spend a lot of money on a taxi or mess around with combis, I paid a mere 35 soles and joined a tour. This was not too obnoxious as it was just the one site, and after loading us down with some information at the beginning (such as the fact that the entrance to the tower always faced the sun, and that the inside of the tomb was a rougher, conical shape while the outside had a more polished look and was cylindrical in nature, as seen above) he left us to our own devices. And inside the tombs? Mummies, of course, although they were loaded down with gold, and most of them are long gone, these three from the Museo Carlos Dreyer (which also has a nice display of gold and other objects in their display) being an exception.
The next day saw me on the Inka Express bus to Cuzco. The tour bus aspect of this experience was really just a means to an end, but it meant that I got to see some things and some places I ordinarily wouldn't have. The toritos (little bulls) made in Pukara, for example - you'll see them sitting on top of houses for decoration and good luck.
There was also the Q'ewar Project, a women's cooperative workshop that makes the most beautiful dolls I saw for sale on the trip.
Neither of these were actually meant to be highlights of the "tour" part of the bus ride. There were some Inka ruins, a couple of museums and probably the most garish church I've ever seen (including the ones I saw in Venice, and I saw a lot of churches in Venice). But these were the things I really looked forward to seeing (and buying).
No sooner had I gotten settled into my hostel in Cuzco (the Pantastico Hotel, which got laughs out of everyone I mentioned it to, as apparently "pan" is bread in Spanish - a purposeful pun, since it was a self-proclaimed bed-and-bakery which did, in fact, serve up some nice bread in the mornings) than I went out looking for YET ANOTHER tour. I originally intended to get to Aguas Calientes via a "gravity-assisted" bike ride. However, in the end I never heard back from the guys at Gravity Peru, and I decided that I wanted to see a little of the Sacred Valley on my way to the main event, so I went looking for a tour that would drop me off in Ollantaytambo where I could catch the train. Andina Travel (listed in Lonely Planet) made it happen for me - although I had to dash across the plaza to buy my train tickets before they were willing to sell me my trip (understandably, since it wouldn't really be much good to leave me there if I couldn't get on the train). For the low price of $31 I got to see the Inka ruins at Pisac (above), shop at their famous market, enjoy a delicious buffet lunch in Urubamba, and see MORE Inka ruins at Ollantaytambo (below....and if you are seeing a face in that mountainside, it's not just the coca tea - apparently the Inkas did that on purpose).
After a glut of Inka ruins, you might be tempted to say, "Well, you've seen one, you've seen them all." I admit that after so many, varied examples, I was worried that Machu Picchu might be a bit of a let down. After all, I'd seen skies of blue...clouds of white. The brightness of day...the darkness of night. I'd even thought to myself, "What a wonderful world!" and let me tell you, it was a lot less of a pain in the butt, and much cheaper than trying to get to Machu Picchu. Could it possibly live up to my expectations? Stay tuned to find out.

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