Mon, 31 Mar 2008 13:11:00 +0000

Recovery Index A successful day

Obviously it was tempting fate to predict that I would sleep like the dead on that bus. Wikitravel notes that you get what you pay for with South American buses, and given that I paid about EUR 5, I got the transport of my carcass from point A to point B and little else. The seat in front was too close and as the bus bumped along I constantly slid forward until the hard edge banged against my shins. And they played music the entire night. What's more, it was the same CD, repeated over and over again. Unusual music. Upbeat, with some kind of stringed instrument that sounded like a harpsichord. There was an MC yelling encouragement at regular intervals and, most weirdly, a crowd of children screaming every so often, presumably to register enthusiasm. Not what you want to go to sleep to.

We arrived a 5:15 in the morning, and the Wikitravel page for Cuzco is scary enough that I decided to wait for dawn before making a move. I don't want to be murdered by a taxi driver.

The first thing to do was book my ticket to Machu Picchu. And this is where my plans evaporate like fairy dust. From the description, the train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu sounded like just an ordinary local train: turn up, buy ticket, get on board. Oh no. There are specific trains that leave at specific times of day, with a complex fare schedule, and they have to be booked well in advance. Needless to say, turning up and asking for a ticket for tomorrow didn't work.

The dilemma is that I've already booked my ticket from Cuzco to Puno for Saturday. And while I can move that ticket for a 10% penalty, the next train is already booked up. I'd have to cool my heels in Cuzco for almost a week.

So this is what's going to happen. I'm going to spend two days in Cuzco, catch my luxury scenic train back to Puno, then take the same bus again to Cuzco, visit Machu Piccu, and then take a cheap bus to Puno. Ridiculous. But I've made good enough progress so far that I've built up enough slack that I should still be able to do everything I wanted to do.

Moral of the story: if you want to travel by train in Peru, go to Peru Rail's website and book well in advance.

So I'm in Cuzco. And I'm rather glad I've got the opportunity to stay here. Cuzco is the former capital of the Incan empire, and it's incredibly scenic. Touristy as all hell, but it justifies the visit. The first thing I did was try to find some of the original Inca walls, which apparently are still visible. It took me a while to notice that they're all over the place! Around the Plaza de Armas most of the buildings are built on Inca walls. Lack of mortar and perfectly fitting stones and all. You really have to run your fingers over the stones to see how remarkably they fit together. It reminds me of Rome, the way one civilisation is built on top of another. Especially the sight of a catholic church built of Incan stones to exactly halfway up, topped by construction that frankly doesn't compare well to the foundations.

The Plaza de Armas is beautiful in itself, with a cathedral and a church of deep red surrounded by cool arcades. Both churches were open only for worship, no tourists, which is something I respect.

In the afternoon I visited the pre-columbian art gallery. Very nice selection of artefacts. But the labels were a little... well, this is typical:

With ease and freedom the mochica artist delights in experimenting in the manipulation of forms and colors which, as in the case of this sample, goes beyond the usual parameters of his ceramic universe. The manipulation of line over color predominates in this piece until attaining an almost mathematically perfect balance in dimensions. Everything in it is exact, nothing is in excess or accidental. These are manifestations of an anxious spirit who, for a fleeting moment, abandons traditional guidelines of ceramic production and dares to craft different forms, expressing in them the plasticity of his skill and an elevated sense of aesthetics

Dahling. I get the point: museums tend to treat cultural artefacts as zoological exhibits, anonymous and dead. This museum tries to treat art as art. Nevertheless, the people who made these things just wanted to make something that looked nice. Getting all polysyllabic about it is just imposing a different form of cultural imperialism on them.

With my touristing done for the day, I went back to the hostel. I'm staying at Loki hostel, the La Paz branch of which gave me such trouble last time. But this time I don't need to get up quite so early, and in general this hostel is much better. Breakfast starts at 6, and I'm in a four-bed dorm where people are a bit more restrained. Oh, and here's the view:

So since I had no reason to get up early the next day, I thought being social wasn't a bad idea. I chatted to an American guy who had been travelling for 11 months, and then a bunch more Americans, a Norwegian, a Swede, and a German included us in a card game called "spoons", which I thoroughly sucked at. I even had a beer, but on an empty stomach and a cocktail of drugs it didn't agree with me.

Plans for Friday involve visiting various museums, but I am still a bit under the weather so we'll see how well that goes.

Recovery Index A successful day