Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cusco - The Coloured Mountain Trek

The coloured mountain

The coloured mountain trek is a hiking trail just outside of Cusco that leads high into the mountains. The trek starts at a modest 4000m and finishes at 5600m for an 8 hour round trek.

The trek starts with a 3 hr bus ride from Cusco to the trail head. As it's such a long trek the bus leaves at 3am and arrives at dawn at one of the many llama farms in the area.

Llama farm

After a quick breakfast, the sun begins to rise about the mountains, raising the temperature to something bearably above zero.

Sunrise over the mountains

The trek starts with a very steep uphill climb until you reach a plateau where you can hire horses for the rest of the trek.

Hikers walking along the plateau

The trail continues through a valley with traces of snow on the mountains above.

Snow on the mountains

The trail begins to climb again and passes small settlements, rivulets and more snow.

One of the remote settlements

Hikers on the trail

A rivulet

And you're always accompanied by llamas and alpacas grazing on the hillsides.

Llamas and alpacas grazing

Llama doing "blue steel"

The trail continues to become steeper and the altitude conditions more difficult. 

Steep trail

Mountain snow

More snow

And of course - theres a lot more snow.

more snow on the mountains

The trail goes to the top of this mountain

Snow on the trail

The last part of the climb is very steep, but once at the viewing platform you can see the coloured mountain in all its glory.

The coloured mountain

Another view of the coloured mountain

The coloured mountain range

You can also continue to climb the 100m to the top of the mountain for another perspective.

The mountain range

Snow at the top

more snow

The trek back took another 3 hours and we arrived just In time to avoid some nasty weather rolling in over the mountains.

Stormclouds

Close-up of the storm

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Maras - Salt and Potatoes

Salt mines

Just outside of Cusco is a small town famous for its salt - Maras.

The salt mines here have been used since the times of the Incas and still produce salt for the international market - mainly due to the salt's allegedly medicinal properties.
The salt mines

Looking back to the road

The salt is dissolved by water flowing though the mountains and then collects in pools where the water evaporates.

Evaporation pools

Close-up of the pools

From these salt mines it is a short drive to another Inca site - one used for growing potatoes.

An Inca potato farm

The ruins look like an amphitheater, however the structure is actually used for growing potatoes.

Another "farm"

Each level creates its own microclimate for each type of potato.

Many levels on which to grow spuds

This innovative system allowed the Incas to cultivate many different types of potato in the same area.

The Andes in the background of another type of potato farm

And despite this innovation and the proximity to the salt mines, there's no evidence that they went on to discover the chip. Something which I had to return to Cusco to enjoy - along with a giant hunk of pork :)

Traditional cusceña food

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cusco - The Inca City

The fountain in the middle of the main plaza

The famous city of Cusco is an interesting mix of Spanish colonial architecture and, just outside the city, grand Inca constructions. The city itself was built over the Inca capital and so, sadly, much of the city's original form was destroyed by the Spanish.

The historic centre of the city begins at the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by churches and super touristy restaurants - including a Starbucks :'(. Despite this the main square is quite beautiful.

Plaza de Armas

Iglesia de la compania de Jesus


The Cathedral

The historic city centre has many colonial churches and plazas

a plaza inside the city museum


Inside the Santa Catalina convent


Plaza San Blas

The gate to the market

And narrow streets through its old town

The streets of San Blas

Just outside of the city are a number of significant Inca ruins.

The ruins at Tambomochay are one of the stops (and Inca control points) along the road to Machu Picchu. There are a series of still functioning aqueducts and a temple where offerings could be left.

Tambomochay

Further down the road to Cusco are the ruins of a defensive fort at Puca Pucara. This fort overlooks the road and was used as a taxation collection point as well as a defensive installation.

Puca Pucara

Heading back to Cusco and just outside of the town (actually easy walking distance) are the very impressive ruins at Saqsaywaman. These ruins feature giant interlocking stones that make up the foundations of the structure. As yet, it is still unknown how these stones were moved into place.

Stone foundations


A stone lintel

The Saqsewaman ruins

From this point you can also see all of Cusco.

Cusco from Saqsewaman

And on the opposite hill to the ruins, there is a Christ statue from which you can see even more of the city.

Statue of Christ

Cusco from the statue

It is an easy walk back to Cusco from this point. The walking track leads down to the suburb of San Blas, which features many cool bars in which you can wind down and listen to some local music after trekking around the city.

Music in San Blas