It was a great ride from Puno to Cusco through more mountains with that old world Celtic feel to them, a twisty road that loved to play and had us arriving in the Inca capital with huge grins on our chops. Cusco is an amazing city, surrounded by more mountains than you could shake a stick at. Our plan was to find somewhere to stay, book for the 4-day walk on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and then organise somewhere to leave the bikes & all our kit whilst we were away. I left Mags with the bikes in the Plaza Regocijo and set off on foot to explore some likely accommodations. It was a fruitless search as the places were either too expensive or else didn’t have anywhere to park the bikes off the street. When I returned, Mags was chatting to an amiable local with the unlikely Hispanic name of Cecil. He knew just the spot for us – a good little hostel, quiet & we could park the bikes. Oh and he had contacts in the travel trade & could organise our Inca Trail trip and he was sure we could leave the bikes at the hostel. We were a little cautious at first, but decided to at least check out the hostel. The ‘Palacio Real’ was just perfect. A family run business up a quiet main draw, 5 minutes walk from the city centre; we were invited to ride the bikes into the dining room where they could stay as long as we liked. The room was spacious and clean with en suite facilities – exactly what we were looking for. We agreed to meet Cecil’s travel contact later in the evening to find out about the Inca Trail.
Alberto was a portly chap, an agent from Jenly Adventures and he soon had us sorted out for the trail walk. We’d checked prices with friends we’d made up on Lake Titicaca and he was spot on. Also as the people we were dealing with were all associates, the bikes could stay in the dining room and a lock-up room would be available for our luggage so by the end of our arrival day in Cusco we had achieved all our objectives and could settle down for a few days rest to enjoy the delights of this lovely city. Access to the Inca Trail is strictly controlled and is only available with a guided group. Damage in previous years has seen new controls limiting the numbers of people on the trail to 500 per day (including porters & guides). It takes a minimum of 4 days for the tour companies to apply for your permit for access to the trail, providing an opportunity to rest up and stock up on supplies in advance of the walk. We met loads of fellow Gringos from Puno and Copacabana, which ensured a full social life in the following nights; sampling the free drinks on offer to tempt you into the various bars & clubs around the Plaza Des Armes, the main square in Cusco.
Cusco is the most beautiful city we’ve laid eyes on in all our travels in South America to date. Its narrow winding streets in the compact city centre are full of old colonial buildings raised on Inca foundations with evidence of the finely crafted Inca stonework everywhere. There are scores of bars, restaurants and souvenir and travel shops to spend your Peruvian Nuevo Soles or US Dollars in. Our favourites were ‘Jack’s Café’ offering superb cooked breakfasts and the ‘Norton Rat Bar’ – a cracking biker theme pub run by Jeff, an American travelling biker and Norton aficionado, who put down roots here in Cusco to open this wonderful watering hole on the main square. His beef burgers were truly delicious and best enjoyed on the balcony overlooking the Plaza where you could take in the action below. Inside darts and pool were on offer in spacious rooms lined with photographs from his travels.
The down side to Cusco is that everywhere you go you are hassled by hawkers and peddlers trying to sell rubbish you don’t want. It starts with a run past the shoe-shine boys offering to polish our Gore-Tex walking boots, then on to the gauntlet of kids selling chocolate bars, postcards & watercolours, then old women flogging woven water bottle carriers, belts, hats…it goes on and on. In the evenings add to this restaurant and café hustlers trying to get you into their place for the best meal in town with offers of free drinks & garlic bread. Later the nightclub touts are out with more coupons and tickets for more freebies. There are tourist police who are trying to minimise the interference but it is an uphill struggle. Even in the shops there is no peace. We reckon the word ‘browse’ is definitely missing from the Latin-American Spanish dictionary – as soon as you go in you are set upon by the custodians shoving T-Shirts & sweaters under your nose trying to make a hard sale. For all these hassles and aggravations, it is impossible not to fall in love with Cusco. Its hilly meandering streets are a delight to roam and the plazas, surrounded by arched walkways are spacious and splendid.
We also used our rest period to explore the various Inca ruins outside the city, taking a 20 km walk out to the old fortress of Puca Pukara as a warm up for the Inca Trail. On the way we visited the huge zigzag stone battlements of Sacsayhuaman, the ruined temple of Qenko and the Inca stone baths at Tambomachay. We also had a peaceful Sunday at the colourful craft market at Pisac, which was a lot less hassle than shopping in Cusco. But eventually the day drew nearer – Wednesday 5th May – D-Day – the day we set off on the 4-day walk to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail. Sore feet here we come!