Beauty Queens, Poker Players and Guinea Pigs

We’re sitting on a coach heading to Pisac, Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley just outside of Cusco. There are 15 people in total and our guide, Adriel. We’re sitting near the front and briefly talk to the four people in front of us, Ash and Elizabeth, two retired professional travellers from Canada and Lesley and Gloria, two wanna-be beauty queens from Puerto Rico dressed in form fitting body suits (one purple, one grey).

Adriel explains the day ahead- we will visit the ruins of Pisac, then go to the market there and then on to Lunch. After lunch we’ll stop at Ollaytantambo to see the ruined Inca city before catching the afternoon train to Aguas Calientas Pueblo where we stay the night before visiting Machu Pichhu in the morning. Adriel then goes on at length to explain about his son’s soccer team, and their various tournaments. He delivers everything in the tone of a stand up comic, except that none of it is amusing. I’m tiring of him before we’ve even got to a ruin. He tips me over the edge with his repeated use of the terms ‘okey dokey’ and ‘the icing on the cake.’ 

Both Pisac and Ollaytantambo ruins are very impressive, though it’s hard to really understand how the Incas used and lived in them. Adriel isn’t really that informative, preferring to go on and on about his own personal speculations rather than tell us anything factual. We ‘learn‘ that whilst most experts and books will tell us that the Inca’s terraced the hillsides around their settlements for agricultural uses that in fact he believes it was to stop mountain (pronounced Mon-TAIN) corrosion. 

He also contradictorily explains that whilst the Incas were both small and extremely large and muscled they built steps that varied between 10″ and 40″ high. He tells us about grain stores, used to supplement local Inca communities in times of drought or other natural disasters, and that most Inca cities were built on the top of hills (except for the two we are visiting) and that the most important buildings and wealthiest people lived at the top. We tire of Adriel’s voice and random speculation and wander off to look at the ruins on our own.
From what I’ve read so far the Inca Empire grew quickly in South America during the 15th and 16th centuries. It took over most of the western side of the continent for about 100 years until the Spanish colonised the area in the mid 1500’s. It appears that the civilisation was advanced, similar in many ways to the comparable European civilisations of the time. It is interesting however that very little survived after the Spanish colonisation and as such we really know very little about them.As we journey to each site Elizabeth the Canadian fills the journey with random questions:

“Does Quinoa grow underground?”
“Are the terraces the Inca Steps?”
“Do adobe bricks contain egg?

When we get to each ruin site we watch Lesley and Gloria take photos of themselves. They seem to ignore the ruins and, not surprisingly, most of what Adriel says and strike startling model poses so that they can take each other’s photos. Purple clad Lesley in fact has her own selfie stick with a constantly recording video camera attached to the end of it- she offers it a running commentary of what she’s doing as the camera films her (not the ruins) and occasionally pulls a model pose for its benefit.As the trip draws to a close we are leaving  the Ollaytantambo ruins and heading for the station to catch the train to Machu Pichhu. Gloria and Lesley are no where to be seen. We wait for them but they don’t arrive. Elizabeth the Canadian suspects that they might have fallen off the edge of the ruins whilst striking a pose. Eventually Adriel suggests we head off to the bus to get to the station. As we leave they arrive claiming they got lost in the ruins.

We board the train at the station and are disappointed to find it doesn’t compare to our journey from Puno earlier in the week. This is a cattle wagon, with people shoved in to tight little seats in a packed carriage. We’re sitting opposite a professional poker player from Las Vegas. He’s a large lump of a man who takes great pleasure in telling the three Argentinians next to him all about himself- at length. I too am subjected to photos of his family, photos of him playing poker, photos of him standing with Las Vegas Show girls and a very dull story about his name being on the Hollywood walk of fame- but it’s not him.
Thankfully we arrive at Aguas Calientas and we’re able to escape the cattle wagon of a train and head up to our hotel to prepare ourselves for Machu Picchu tomorrow by eating Guinea Pig for dinner.
Liam, the Sacred Valley, Cusco, Peru, 25 January 2017

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