This time we did not take Cruz del Sol but the local agent in Puno recommended taking the Bus line ‘First Class’ for the few hours it takes to drive to Cuzco. This bus line stops at different sites along the way while also getting to Cuzco in one day.
Our first stop was a breakfast stop for the guide on the bus. While he disappeared into the back of a local souvenir shop, I saw him sitting in the kitchen and the woman of the place served him bacon and eggs, we were left prey for the locals to sell us something, anything, really, as long as we buy. Yes, there was a bathroom but it was 6 doors down the block and not easy to find, a pig sty in Vermont looks better that that house with the only bathroom. I believe the guide stops here because he gets free breakfast served in exchange for bringing a busload of potential customers.
After this 15 minute stop it got serious, we visited a museum of a Pre-Inca culture that lived in the Highlands of Peru from about 500 BC until 400 AD and then disappeared, leaving behind many strange objects. A huge 3 stepped stone Pyramid that is now closed to visitors but which is the source for this archeological treasure trove is represented in this museum. The culture known as Pukara was around during the Persian Empire, before the Romans build the Coliseum in Rome. Not many objects survived since the building stones were used in local houses and the art sold to international art dealers. I learned that the Pukara were a powerful tribe who beheaded their enemies and displayed the heads as trophies. Some believe the Pukara were ceremonious cannibals, too. Surviving statues show their cannibalistic and beheading traits. Prehistoric tribes just lived differently than we do today. I was shocked to learn that cultures I called the ancients were around when the Persians were in their glory, before the Romans were on the world map. Peru has an old history.
Our next stop was a short one, but we got off the bus just to breathe the air at 4335 meters above sea level. We felt better than I anticipated as we had been in Puno (3,800 meters) for so long we felt ok. No signs of altitude sickness. I bought a pair of Alpaca socks for 10 Soles.
Our next stop was a lunch stop. Yes, lunch was included in this bus trip. A buffet style lunch was served at the Inka Cafe; a local band with a guitar, a pan flute and a drum played for us and wanted a tip also. They had CD’s for sale but if the CD was as bad as their playing, then who needs it. You can eat all you want, but you have to pay for any cold drink, hot tea is served free of charge.
Not long after this lunch stop we visited the church of Saint Pedro; the church was built on a former Inca site, evidenced by the stone work left as the foundation. San Pedro Church is known as the Sistine Chapel of Peru. The ceiling is fully painted and decorated with small flowers and symbolic paintings. Local artists spend years painting every beam, every surface of the chapel, just like the famous Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. No pictures were allowed inside of this church. The ornamentation, the gold and silver gilding of every surface of the baroque style church is too much for my mind. There are so many details that it is confusing to my mind. I only see senseless spending of money; I see opulence and grand-standing. Churches do not appeal to me yet I know they are always part of a tour. Especially Spanish style churches are way over the top for my taste.
Back on the bus for about 2 more hours and then we arrived at an Inca temple and the town of Raqchi. Not on many tourist programs this site is a wonderful example of what it was like in Inca times. The town of Raqchi today lives off tourism, yes, but also off agriculture. Like in olden times, the many small fields are planted by locals with maize, potatoes and local specialties. The temple of the Creator of the Universe, a long Quechuan name, was the origin of this town. Some walls of the temple were recreated; ruins of houses for the priests and the general layout of an Inca town are clearly visible. Storage bins for produce are present. These round building served as storage for times of famine and were stocked by the priesthood. We were told that there was enough food in those silos to last 90 years when the town was ransacked by the Spanish invasion. Naturally the temple was destroyed in 1534 and yet, the feeling of the town, the Inca spirit is palpable until today. The famous Inca Trail, used by runners to bring news from one end of the empire to the next passes through this town. We sat on the side of this Inca Trail and drank in the feeling of being in a special place. I felt pleasure walking along the edges of the fields. I felt amazement of the sheer size of this town. I was, once more, astonished to see the layout of this town with the main street oriented east to west so that on June 21, the summer solace, the sun would shine along the length of the street for the entire day. The town planning was excellent. The bathing facilities for the Incas are still in working order. An artificial pond and lake were created to clean the water after use. This town is amazing. The world temple in Raqchi is worth a visit. We had too little time for this stop I would have liked to explore Raqchi a bit more but then it started to rain.
We did not make the planned next stop at a local open air market because of the heavy rain but went straight to Cuzco. On the way in to Cuzco the devastation left by the last rain fall 3 weeks ago is still very much in evidence. Houses totally destroyed on the side of the roads. Crops ruined. One thousand people are living in makeshift tents, hoping to find housing soon or rebuild. None of the concrete or brick buildings suffered a lot of damage but the adobe houses suffered the most. Most affected are the poor since they build houses just for shelter, mostly just one room shacks. They build in bad locations close to rivers that overflow during rainy season and they felt the brunt of the latest rains. I understand why they build cheaply, it is ok for the short run but in the long term these disasters will occur again and they will be hurt and left homeless again. The local government promised help on the provision that new houses are built far from the river. But there are so many homeless people now, that these promises, like many promises before, may not be honored.
Our bus drove past all the rubble and dirt and we arrived at the bus terminal in no time. Angel, the agent arranged by Francis was waiting for us in Cuzco.