A few days before we went to Machu Picchu, when Brandon and I were cooped up in our Hostal in Cusco recovering from altitude sickness and water-poisoning, we received an email from our friend Miguel.
Miguel, who we first met in Canoa, Ecuador, was staying in Pisac (elevation 9,500 feet), a historic Incan village located about a 20-minute drive outside Cusco.
If you do not remember Miguel from my earlier postings, then you should know that he is our Spanish speaking Argentinean hippy friend from Humboldt, Calif., who does not care for touristy places, large cities or expensive restaurants. As a botanist, he seeks adventure, loves to hike, and requires little maintenance. His social personality has given him street credit in Latin America, knowing a lot about its people, culture, history and, most importantly, its food.
Last year, and the year before that, when Miguel traveled through Ecuador and Peru he didn’t go to Machu Picchu (I know, crazy right?). Each time he stayed in Pisac, hiking local mountain trails, learning farming techniques and entertaining traveling packers. This year however, he hiked through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu (finally!), but then headed back to his favorite village for a bit of relaxation.
When Miguel emailed us, he was checking in to see how our trip was going and if we were in Cusco. “If so,” he said, “then you must come meet me in Pisac.”
He said it was a quiet and tranquil village with limited access to the outside world (aka technology). And, best of all, he said there were many beautiful and ancient sites to see, spices and foods to taste, and that he would tour us around. (Sweet!)
After Machu Picchu we decided Pisac—and a dosage of Miguel—was just what we needed. Knowing we would have to come back to Cusco before taking a bus south (to Chile), we packed our daypacks with clothing and locked our technology, 65 liter packs and surfboards in our hostal’s storage room in Cusco. Most hostals abroad will store your things if you plan on coming back. Some charge a fee. Most however, like ours, dont.
From our Hostal we took a colectivo (11-passenger bus) for 3.50/S to Pisac. Along for the ride, stuffed behind the seats were live chickens. I guess no matter where you are in South America, you are sure to ride with livestock. Some alive, others, well, you get the picture.
Driving above the city of Cusco, along the spiraling road, through beautiful green canyons, we passed several well-known historical Incan sites including Sacsayhuamán(sexy woman), Quenco, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara. Knowing that Pisac has some of the finest Inca ruins in existence, we weren’t in any hurry to stop and see these places. But they might be worth visiting next time.
Pisac, considered the gateway city to the Sacred Valley, is tucked in a valley surrounded by farms and pastures. And, although it doesn’t have the infinite beauty we observed in Machu Picchu, driving to Pisac was a magnificent site to see.
After finding Miguel in town, we had lunch, shared travel stories and like always – laughed.
Following lunch we settled in at Hostal Willcamayo, which Miguel raved about. It is a beautiful ranch style hostal, unlike any place we stayed. It has about 10 rooms and an outdoor communal kitchen. For 35/S ($13 USD/night) we stayed in a simple matrimonial room with tiled floors, a clean remodeled bathroom and a queen size bed outfitted with thick wool blankets. Considering it got to about 30 degrees *F at night, we were thankful for the layers of warmth. My favorite part was its simplicity and location below the mountains along a quiet dirt road.
Unlike Cusco, which has a population of more than a million people, the village of Pisac has about 10,000 people spread across an area of 60 square miles. Although this may seem like a lot of people, it wasn’t. During the late afternoon, we walked around the town and along the highway to see the farmlands. The area seemed empty, except for a few locals, farmers and children playing in the streets. This was probably because most of the residents were parading on other side of town.
We didn’t know this until we heard bells ringing, people chanting and cows mooing. As we flocked to see what was happening, eventually turning the corner, big cows draped in colorful cloth and ribbons came charging forward, forcing us to the other side of the road. Farm workers, women and children dressed in authentic Andean cloths, and even a few businessmen in ties (they didn’t stick out as much as we did) were marching through the street. Some holding hands, others holding tools pointed toward the sky. No matter who, everyone was singing.
The Andean culture was and continues to be dedicated to food and the abundance of Pachamama (Mother Earth). Although the Andeans are famous for their hand-woven textiles and music, agriculture is one of their greatest accomplishments. In fact, all aspects of Andean life—ceremonies, rituals, art, music and science—are interconnected, intended for the cultivation of a successful and abundant agricultural bounty.
Sacred ceremonies and traditional rituals, like the one we witnessed, vary from religion to religion. And, depending on the community and time of year, they can be large or small. For the most part, they start at a church or sacred temple, where the people use unique ways and tools to connect with the energy and spirits of nature. (The ceremony in Pisac started at the church in the picture to the right.)
People, and farm animals, are dressed in festive and colorful clothing displaying handcrafted items representing the finest local works and crops. A large showpiece, highlighting the local crops, is creatively displayed on a platform and carried by several men. It is held high to give gratitude, love and respect for Pachamama. Praying and chanting for good weather, soil and wealth, the people marched on into the sunset.
The ceremony didn’t last long, but it was beautiful.
Prior to our visit, even years before our visit, Miguel, did a lot of treking around Pisac.
His stories always seem to amuse us. Mostly because they begin with him at the start of a marked mountain trial, and by the end, he would have detoured off the trail, climbed across rock barriers, over cliffs, fell a few times, was attached by thorn bushes, all the while collected seeds, spices and plants for observation – or for snacks. He often gets lost when he hikes and doesn’t return home until after dark. Good thing he always carries his headlamp, and extra quinoa!
We knew Miguel would be a good guide to help us explore the Incan ruins in Pisac. It costs visitors around 70/S ($30 USD) per person to get in the Incan ruin territory. Rest assured, with Miguel as our guide, we wouldn’t have to pay this toll.
Miguel guided us along a riverbank, over wobbly wooden bridges, through quinoa farms and thorn bushes, up the backside of a hill along large Incan farming terraces to arrive hours later to some of the most beautiful Incan ruins in existence.
Not once during our three-hour hike to the ruins did we see another hiker or tourist.
Maybe it was the beauty, the sounds of nature or the fresh smells, but it felt right. I knew that on this day, at this time, I was meant to be here, sharing this experience with such wonderful people. It was perfect.
Nearing the entrance to the ruins, we kept our eyes peeled for the park guards. We already prepared our selves with 10 soles and a few yummy snacks incase we got caught trying to get in without paying. Luckily we didn’t get noticed and entered the park with no problems.
Once a flourishing Incan society serving a number of purposes, the ruins have agricultural areas, military areas, the largest known Inca cemetery, hundreds of huge terraces, urban areas for the wealthy and the not so wealthy, Inca baths, complex water engineering and irrigation canals, cliff-hugging storage buildings, defensive walls and stunning religious and ceremonial areas with some of the finest Inca brick work we’ve seen.
Waiting for the guards to go home at five, we spent the afternoon exploring the park, with the rest of the tourists.
Around three we started to feel sprinkles, the winds picked up and the temperature dropped. It never started to pour, however, we were cold. After the guards left their posts, we began our hike down the hill toward the entrance and village of Pisac. With moments of rain, and into the sunset, once again beauty of this country amazed us. We were happy—damp, hungry and tired.
Most guidebooks highlight Pisac for its famed artisans’ and antique market.
And, if I didn’t mention it, then you might be disappointed. Each day, starting in the early dark morning hours, families work together to set up hundreds of stalls in the central square. Here, at about 8 am, you can find neatly displayed hand woven tapestries including rugs, pillowcases, blankets and ponchos. Other unique souvenirs include hand-sewn dolls, spiritual and religious ceramics, wooden masks and tons of silver jewelry. It’s beautiful.
Sundays are the most popular. On this day, a large farmers market also takes place here. It’s probably the busiest day of the week, not only for the market but for Pisac. Between the full busses dropping off tourists by the hour and tour guides explaining the Andean culture to large groups of retirees, it’s a mad house. For me, I loved the energy, the mixture of people, the smells and variety of foods.
To get the best prices—the kind of prices you want to brag to your friends about—then knowing how to bargain is key.
If you are a gringo, don’t speak Spanish and look confused, then I can guarantee that the price you will be quoted will be three times the actual price of the service or product(s). And, if you are like Brandon and don’t like to bargain, then you will get ripped-off.
The biggest secret about bargaining with people at the markets—anywhere in Peru—is to always ask the seller for the price and then offer him or her half what they’re asking. They will usually settle for a third of what they initially asked. Brandon and I had to bargain for everything in Peru including cab rides, food at the local markets, even our massages in Cusco. The only times we didn’t have to do this is at actual stores and restaurants with set prices.
After a lot of practice, and Miguel’s help translating a few words, I saved us a lot of money at the Pisac market.
On nonmarket days, bustling Pisac becomes a very quiet. Just us and the locals. These are the days we enjoyed most.
After Pisac Brandon and I headed to Cusco, grabbed our things and jumped on a night bus to Arequipa, Peru’ssecond largest. It was our last stop before heading to Chile.
Although it is famous for its food scene, history and churches, most people and packers come here to before heading to the colorful Colca Valley to hike the Colca Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon at 13,650 feet—more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US.
After a 10-hour freezing cold bus ride, into another over-populated city, Brandon and I decided that we were over hiking Colca Canyon. We were done with the cold. We needed to get back to what we loved the most.
Although Peru stole our hearts and changed our lives forever, we needed to get back to the beach. It was time to continue our journey south, crossing another boarder, seduce our taste buds, experience new ways of life, and try our luck with the surf—in Chile!
Before we adventure in to the next chapter of our travels it is important to know how much was actually spent:
In one month (exactly 30 days) travelingthroughPeru we spent a total of $1,815.12. On average, as a couple we spent $65 USD a day, or $32 USD per person. Most days we actually spent way less than $65 USD. Our days in Lima, Cusco and the money we spent to get to Machu Picchu, slightly broke our $1,600 a month budget. Not bad!
After the damage we spent in Ecuador, I am proud of our budget saving efforts in Peru:
- Bunking up with our friends Nate, Jesse and John in dorm rooms,
- Only staying at hostals with a communal kitchen,
- Shopping at local food markets,
- Cooking and drinking at our hostal,
- When we did eat out, we took time to find whole-in-the-wall restaurants with a menu of the day to save money. In fact, we actually never went to a bar or out for an expensive dinner in Peru.
- Always pricing out taxis and busses.
Overall, we could have spent less on the stuff that I like to call “quality of life” items. Did we need buy extra indulgences like beer, wine or chocolate after a long day? No. Did we need to spend money on souvenirs? No. Do we wish that we’d avoided those things in order to save a couple of bucks? Absolutely not.
Next stop, Chile!
For more pictures of our adventures, visit our Facebook Fan Page.
Until next time, keep shredding and living. Much love, Katie and Brandon.