I had big plans to pack in 2 bus tours this weekend...however, after last week's "city tour" I was reminded that in fact I loathe bus tours. The cramming of many tourists into many tiny seats, the herding of many tourists through sites of interest, and the pressuring to purchase overpriced touristy souvenirs is exhausting and actually not very enjoyable. It is a cheap and convenient way to cover a lot of ground in a short time, though.
After trekking the Inca Trail, beginning my volunteer placement, and a wild and fun birthday last week, I just wasn't up to putting myself through the tourist mill all weekend.
Instead, Saturday was spent making up for a few hours of Spanish lessons missed while I was away, and then enjoying a delicious lunch with the school secretary and my new friend/roommate from Holland.
In Cusco (and maybe all of South America, I'm not sure), the waiter will never bring your bill unless you ask for it. This is one of the things I love about South American culture...they are never in a rush (unless they're driving). You can spend hours in a restaurant ( and we did), and you will never feel like they are waiting for you to leave. Lingering and having long conversations over a meal is perfectly acceptable.
Sunday morning I woke up early and decided to go on an adventure. Rather than tour bus the destination in mind, I was going to self-guide! I roped in my new friend, and did a quick search for some details in my travel book. We walked to a certain street, haggled with a couple drivers, and were soon headed to the little riverside town of Pisac in a 12-passenger "colectivo" minibus (basically a taxi that doesn´t leave til it full).
I had heard that Pisac is best known for it's Sunday market, but I also knew that there were some Inca ruins too, which I personally find more interesting. Once we arrived we had to haggle again to get a taxi to take us to the ruins. Since only tourists go that way, the taxi drivers try to get away with absolute robbery. For instance, it cost us S/.6 for a 45 minutes drive to Pisac, but the taxi driver wanted S/.25 for a 15 min drive up the hill. We walked away from him three times, but he kept following us and lowering the price and eventually we gave in!
We shared the taxi with a Peruvian couple and their little girl, who was absolutely adorable! She sang us a little song in Spanish as we drove.
The Pisac ruins were much bigger and more elaborate than I expected! The main entrance area was packed with tourists on bus tours, and we even ran into a couple friends from Proyecto Peru who admitted they felt like they were being rushed from place to place. I tried not to feel smug about my decision to explore on my own.
Apparently there are park wardens that will give information about the sites for free, but we missed out on that. It was okay though because it was fun to just poke around on our own and take photos at our leisure without feeling like we were taking up someone's time, or feeling pressured to move on.
The ruins were very beautiful! At the entrance you overlook a huge terraced semi-circle built into the mountainside. The Incas used these terraces to grow different types of crops, because the difference in elevation could be quite extreme. For instance, they grew corn and quinoa on the lower levels, and potatoes higher up.
There were many structures that could've been homes, but there was also a military fortress and a temple. It was like a whole city on these mountains!
We were able to enjoy all of it because we didn't have to rush back to a bus! After about an hour the tourist hordes dispersed and we followed the trail around the mountain, up some steep stairs (my legs screamed in terror...they remember the Inca Trail all too well), through a tunnel, and emerged on the other side, with even more ruins to enjoy! It was perfectly quiet and peaceful, with only a handful of other visitors around. We had incredibly hot sunny weather, and I was so happy that we had as long as we wanted to take it all in.
If you follow the trail, it takes you through all the ruins, and then down the mountainside right into the center of Pisac, where the famous marketplace is. We browsed the stalls on our way to lunch. It was typical tourist stuff for the most part...alpaca goods, some little carved musical instruments, and jewellery. Eventually I will have to buy some stuff, but at that time food was priority!
We went to a tourist hot spot called Ulrike's, and enjoyed pumpkin cream soup, chickpea curry with mint chutney, and a slice of lemon cheesecake! Delicioso!
We caught another colectivo back to Cusco, and I really enjoyed catching a glimpse of non-touristy Peru as we drove. Because it is Sunday many places are closed, and because it was sunny out there were many families outside playing futbol or picnicking in the fields beside the road.
Cusco is a big, busy, noisy city, so it was really enjoyable to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. I'm really glad I visted Pisac the way I did.
Though I can't lie...I may brave another bus tour to see Lake Titticaca next weekend...