It was my first Saturday in Cusco and after a full on week of volunteering Teaching English and learning Spanish, I was ready to play tourist. With my housemate C we went off in search of San Pedro markets to meet up with some other volunteers. It had looked like a sunny day but within two hundred metres of leaving the house, the skies darkened and I suddenly regretted not bringing a rain jacket.
We met with our new pals at the front of San Pedro markets and quickly decided to have coffee as the rain started to fall. I was happy to see none of them had brought rain jackets either; I wasn’t the only stupid gringo. We went to a café recommended by my Spanish teacher called La Bon Diet, just the next square down from San Pedro. It looked uber fancy and expensive but with three of the five of us being Australian coffee snobs, we were desperate for some decent coffee. Much to my delight it was actually cheaper than the coffee place I had been going to all week so I could smell a new favourite of the cards. Deciding to lash out, we ordered coffee and fancy cakes for a mid-morning sugar hit.
The cakes tasted as good as they looked and the coffee was definitely the best I’ve had so far in Peru. Thumbs up for La Bon Diet! We stayed in the café, chatting away until the rain disappeared and that pesky sun decided to return. Making a run for it, we grabbed a cab that took us up to San Cristobel – a church that overlooked the whole of Cusco. It was a spectacular view, the burnt orange roofs that made up Cusco sat in unison in the valley below. We could see Plaza De Armas and San Francisco square and tried to work out where our home-stays were.
After taking in the views, we negotiated a price to take a horse-riding tour through the ruins even further up. Managing to whittle the salesman down to 55 soles each (about AUD$22), we jumped in their battered Mini and headed towards the stables. It was starting to sprinkle again and I was cursing myself for not being smart enough to bring a raincoat – it’s the rainy season here! Of course it will rain every day! Passing the ruins of Saqsayhuaman and Cusco’s version of Christ the Redeemer – Cristo Blanco we went high and higher into the mountains. We were dropped off at the ‘stables’ and the young men working there led out our steeds for the day. I had expected little mountain ponies but these hardy looking animals looked so sad and sorry, I almost didn’t get on.
I told myself that these ponies do this everyday and I jumped on and off we went. The first part of the trail was uphill and due to the rain, the thick mud made it difficult for the ponies to walk in. We sludged uphill until we finally reached a flat area of green grass for them to walk on. Being trail ponies, they followed each other nose to tail and didn’t like to stray off the path – I tried some of my basic horsemanship skills of them, but they were too far gone – trail ponies for life. Our first stop was Puca Pucara otherwise known as the ‘Red Gate’ which was the entrance gate to Cusco during Inca times so we dismounted and went for an explore. These ruins were a cluster of rocks that created caves and led up to a great viewing point. We explored the area and were asked to be in photos of a Peruvian family vacationing from Arequipa. Nothing like being tall and blonde to attract attention!
When our impromptu photo shoot was done, we headed back to the horses and jumped on to ride to the next stop. There was no doubt that the view was incredible. The lush green mountains stood before us and despite the grey, cloudy skies the scenery was perfect. We rode past a little house and further into ruins. By now the wind had picked up and combined with the rain, we had turned into shivering, soaked messes. All of us laughing at ourselves for forgetting rain jackets in rainy season, we continued riding until we reached the Temple of the Moon. We dismounted once more and hightailed it to the Temple of the Moon, I was so cold and wet that seeing it wasn’t that interesting and the others seemed to have the same thought. We huddled behind a rock that blocked the wind until it was time to get back on the horses.
The poor ponies were soaking wet and shaking in the cold wind. We made a group decision to head back out of this weather so jumping back into the wet saddle off we went. Reaching a small forest that protected us from the wind, we walked along until our tour guide told us to stop. Here we could walk down to Cristo Blanco, while they took the horses back. They sure had a unique way of taking the horses back; the guide took off the bridles of all of the horses bar one, jumped on him and let them run – he disappeared before we could even say ciao!
The rain had ceased by now and we were still protected from the wind, so life suddenly wasn’t so bad. We walked down towards the asphalt road and to another set of ruins. C and I continued walking to Cristo Blanco, we’d seen enough ruins for the day. Cristo Blanco is like a mini version of Brazil’s Christ The Redeemer and in my usual dorky ways, I was super excited to see such a blatant tourist attraction. We took about a thousand selfies and suddenly realised we were starving. It was about 3:30pm and the coffee we had at 10am seemed like a distant memory. We started to walk down the hill towards Cusco, not entirely sure if it was the right way, but hoping to flag down a cab. Of course, no cabs were coming down, so we jumped on a colectivo (shared bus) and made our way to the city. Still not entirely sure where we were going, we paid our 0.70 soles and flagged down a cab. For 4 soles he drove us into the centre of Cusco, right past our house! We weren’t far away after all!
By now it was close to 4pm and the hangriness was getting out of control. We planned to lunch at a nearby café but it had shut for the day. Holding in our despair we speed-walked to Jacks Café, which is the Western travellers version of heaven. Ordering burgers and tortillas, I could actually feel the world starting to make sense again with the first bite of my burger. After our pig out, we headed home to shower and change, both of us resembling drowned rats that had been chucked in front of a fan, not your best look for a Saturday afternoon!
It had been a fun day exploring the ruins above Cusco and learning that you probably shouldn’t ride horses that aren’t your own and that you definitely should take a rain jacket with you, no matter how blue the sky looks!