Monday. After breakfast we joined a party of departing guests for the upriver cruise to the port at Puerto Maldonado and the short drive to the airport. Whether it was the oppressive humidity or simple tiredness, there was little chatter among the nearly departed. A two-hour wait culminated in the arrival of the plane and we were once again flying above the mountains and back to Cuzco airport to connect with our driver for the journey to the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
On the drive through Cuzco, we made a brief stop at the hotel Eco Inn to put our suitcases into storage to await our return in four days. We’d been informed that the train to Machu Picchu lacks storage capacity for large articles so it was suggested we take a backpack for the ‘essentials’ of the next three nights in the Sacred Valley.
Cuzco is a breathtaking city, in a very literal sense. At 3300 metres (for those old-schoolers like me, that’s a tad short of 11,000 ft) the air is much thinner and altitude sickness is common among visitors. For this reason we chose to acclimatise by spending a couple of nights in the Sacred Valley, then visiting Machu Picchu before returning to explore Cuzco and later Lake Titicaca. This was especially important to me because a 20 year bromance with messrs Dunhill, Kent, Benson & Hedges has left me with a lung function at only 60% the level of my peers which means oxygen comes at a premium.
Our journey took us high over the ring of mountains surrounding Cuzco and down to 2700 metres to a wide flat plateau and in an hour we arrived at a charming little market village named Pisac. We pottered around the markets for an hour or so, admiring the local handicrafts and the indians going about their daily business before settling into a small café for a light lunch of fruits washed down with cerveza Cusquena, Cuzco’s home-brew. Wandering back to our car we encountered a sweet little indian girl leading an alpaca who stretched out a hand in the universal gesture of begging. In trips like this we often carry a supply of pencils to give in just such an occasion, but lacking those, Michelle plunged a hand into her pocket and placed a small coin in the girl’s palm. Her eyes lit like sparklers and she scarpered off happily. Instead of a few centimos the child received five Soles – probably equal to her family’s daily income. We never could get the hang of that currency.
Just above the town of Pisac we visited the ruins of an Inca citadel established to guard the road to the east. Set high above a valley floor patch-worked by patterned fields and rimmed by vast terracing, the stonework and panoramas at Pisac’s Inca citadel are magnificent. Terraces, water ducts and steps are cut out of solid rock, and in the upper sector of the ruins, the main Sun Temple was a magnificent example of Inca stone masonry.
The driver then took us to our hotel, La Casona de Yucay, a converted hacienda in a small village named Yucay, on the banks of the Urubamba river in the very heart of the Sacred Valley. The hotel was probably three star at best and our room was similar. Twin single beds, a toilet more suited to the Baggins family beside a bipolar shower, and no entertainment save the Book of Mormon in a drawer and the emergency evacuation instructions on the door. Outside, however, were pleasant gardens and picturesque mountain scenery. We wandered around the small village for a few minutes before but found little of interest and returned to the hotel for some much-needed sleep.
It was only when I decided to write this musical adventure that I realised this entire day was devoid of music; not even the radio in our guide’s car provided any entertainment. My last thought before sleep was a memo to self to ask the driver for music tomorrow.