How to Peru in 2 weeks – Day #10: Route of the Sun
We were so ready on the 10th day of our journey, waking up very early to be on time for the next leg of the trip. We didn’t call for a taxi, as the Plazoleta de San Blas was right at an arm length down the narrow street where we got accommodation for our 2-night stay in Cusco. A small plaza full with cars and street vendors was ready for us at that early time in the morning with a taxi, which took us in no less than 20 minutes to the Inka Express boarding location. More tourists appeared shortly in groups or pairs, and I was amazed how many people were suddenly surrounding us. Very well organized, the tour representatives took our names, handing the luggage tags, and the VIP passes. Around 7 am we were all boarded, heading to our new destination.
The bus tour Cusco to Puno, known as Ruta del Sol/Route of the Sun, lasted about 10 hours, with 5 short stops in touristy places along the way. It might sound a long way, but the day went by pretty quickly actually.
It took us longer to get out of the city of Cusco than arriving in Andahuaylillas.
Andahuaylillas (called Sistine Chapel of America) was our first stop at 3122 meters of altitude. Here we found the church of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas, built by the Jesuits in the 16th century. Like any other Spanish and religious construction of that time, this baroque church was built on top of an existing Inca sacred place. You might notice right away the reason why it is known as the “Sistine Chapel of America“: it is richly decorated with magnificent frescoes, paintings, colourful dressed statues, and the gilded altars make you wonder how lavishly the Spaniards decorated their churches. After all, they took the gold from the Incas themselves, right? On the outside, the church is very humble, modest, but I was stunned by the gilded intricacies all over the walls once I stepped inside. Jaw dropping, I barely took a look around while listening with half ear to our guide. One could easily spend at least an hour admiring all adornments and intricacies, but sadly we only stayed about 20 minutes inside. The church deserves so much more than that.
We arrived at Raqchi after a couple of more hours’ drive to visit the Wiracocha Temple. Located at 3450 meters altitude, it is said that the temple was built to honor and appease Wiracocha, a deity who created the sun and the moon, and gave all life on Earth. It is said that he made a fire fall from the sky when the locals tried to fight with him, and to ask forgiveness, the locals later built a shrine to honour and give him offerings. Architecturally, it is classified as Kallanka, which is a tall building completely covered with straw (wood and ichu) and it is 92 meters long and 25.25 meters wide, with one row of 11 columns on each side, to support the building. It is surprisingly tall in its graciousness, and accordingly with the chronicles, the Incas had a special recipe for the bricks, using clay, ichu and alpaca/lama dung. Located in a valley known for sacred sites, along the Inca trail, this 2 story-level temple had a primary purpose as a control point (as we could see many qullqas/storehouses), as the empire expanded in this area. Before the Spaniards destroyed the temple, it is believed that the temple had the largest single roof in the whole Inca Empire, with a peak on the central wall.
We didn’t stay too long here also, and we only had 10 minutes to walk around after the guide finished explaining a bit of history to us. The archaeological site in Raqchi is huge, and totally different than the other sites we visited in Cusco, Lima, or Ollantaytambo. There are also some living quarters attached to the temple, ceremonial baths, about 150 storehouses, and an artificial lake fed by a natural spring. We walked by the little lake, and take a photo of some visible remnants of the 40,000 km long famous royal road Inca Trail.
The buffet lunch included in the tour took place in the city of Sicuani, in a nice, spacious restaurant, with live music from a person who was trying to sell his CDs after playing a couple of songs. Sicuani is a relatively large city of the highlands, located at 3552 meters altitude and important intersection between Cusco and Puno.
Another stop scheduled on our way was the pass La Raya at 4338 meters above the sea level, the highest point on our trip for this day. We could feel the thin air as soon as we stepped outside the couch, and again, I started to breathe slowly but deeply, the way I’ve learned its better. The Andean mountains look cold from this point, majestic in their greatness but solitary in their empty world. The snow-capped peaks looked dark and brooding, witnesses of millions of years that have passed by them. Our stop was short, just enough time to use the rustic toilets (for 1 CUC), and buy some souvenirs.
Soon after leaving the pass we started descending, and the last stop was at Pucará Museum, at 3900 meters altitude.
Pucará was the first regional population nucleus in the north basin of Titicaca lake during the Late Formative Period (500 BC-200 AD), and provides valuable information about the origins of the Andean civilization in the highlands. Pucará is famous for their impressive multi-coloured sculptures and ceramics, including the bulls we found all over the country. We finished to visit sooner than we imagined the small local museum, but stayed longer instead in the little souvenir shop few meters away. They are praising their local coffee as the best organic Peruvian coffee, but the price was way above our budget, and we left wondering if it is indeed as they say. Instead, the most impressive building we noticed in Pucará was the church just across the alley: it was huge, old, majestic, but closed.
Life in the Peruvian Highlands
The Andes (Cordillera de los Andes) are the longest continental mountain range in the world, forming a continuous highland along the western edge of South America, extended through several countries. Leaving behind the rich and green Sacred Valley, we noticed less and less patches of cultivated lands as we were heading to the higher altitudes. The vegetation becomes sporadic, and distances bigger between towns. In certain seasons the temperatures drop a lot. After a while we noticed that there is no longer any tree along the road, and even the grass became scarce, looking thin, dried, and frail. The bone-dry land looked sad sometimes, same as some of the unflinching faces of the locals. But the life goes on, good, or bad, or just the same as it went by for hundreds years.
The bus left us at the bus terminal in Puno, where we took a cab from, to our hotel.
Tip(s) of the day:
*Each touristic stop lasts 20 to 40 minutes, and they are optional, not included in the tour. We paid 50 soles to the guide for each of us, for all 3 venues;
* There are amazing markets in Andahuaylillas and Raqchi, but the time was too short to have time for shopping;
* La Raya pass is a great place to make good deals if you’re looking to buy souvenirs. Do not stop at the vendors from the center, as most of the tourists will go in the middle. Pick the ones from the far right, or the far left, as less people tend to go to them and sellers might be willing to offer you better deals.
~ visited in April 2019