Day 8 – what to do with an unexpected last day in Cusco

I had a bus from Cusco to Puno at 10:30pm. And I had expected to get back from a trek at 7:30pm. Now I had an extra day. What to do? Have an adventure, of course!

I decided to try my hand at public transportation. I had loved driving past all of these small towns during all of the treks. I wanted to explore at least one. The closest was Chinchero. This town is known for its textiles. Plus, it’s on the way to Maras and Moray, classic tourists sites.

Public transportation started off about six blocks from my hostel. Common busses called colectivos sit and wait to fill up with passengers. These are sixteen seaters and cost six soles. I was one of the first, but it quickly filled in five minutes. While I had told the driver my stop, he must have forgotten because we flew past the main square of Chinchero. Instead, I was dropped off about a kilometer down the road. This actually turned out in my favor. I didn’t know anything about Chinchero expect for the fact it was about 45 minutes away and gave textile demonstrations. While walking, I happened upon a sign for an Incan ruin. Ok, why not?

I took a more local route through the town and ended up in a main plaza. I paid 5 soles to see a church, which was crazy decorated with stuff. I even accidentally happened into the living quarters of the priests. It was like a clergy hostel in the loft of the church.

I then made my way out into the Incan ruins. Like many ruins, the church is built on top of it. It was like the church tried to erase the culture and failed miserably. The rocks still stand and let’s face it, we all come to see the Incan temples over the Catholic Churches. I will say at least the churches in Peru are decorated. In most of the Latin American countries they are quite bland. But even in this small town, there is serious catholic pomp and pageantry.

But the Incan ruins are spectacular and have the most stunning views. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to pay, but I think because I was a random single and walked in from a different way, I got away with entering the ruin for free. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. The mountainous background and surrounding farms made it picturesque. And the ruins are pretty expansive. I spent a good half hour just meandering around and sitting taking in the buena vista.

I really wanted a good textile demonstration, so I asked one of the workers at the ruin which one I should go to. She gave me some backcountry directions, you know the type where your turn at the barking dog? Well, miraculously I found it. And it was completely worth it. I was the only one. In fact, I don’t even think the lady was supposed to give a demonstration, but she ended up doing so personally for me. She showed me how the wool was spun, the different natural ingredients used to dye the wool. She even demonstrated how a blanket is woven. She desperately wanted a sale, but everything was a little too much out of my price range, especially since I am at the beginning of my trip. We ended up talking about random life stuff. She told me it takes about 90 days to do a scarf. There was one I really loved. It had symbols of mountains, duality, and the life. But it was baby alpaca, which is the most expensive. I tried to find another one in a cheaper material, but there was none. By the end of the bargain, I went from 200 usd to 55. I felt a little guilty considering the amount of time that went into this piece, but it was worth it. I absolutely love it and have a personal connection with its maker, Ilda.

After the demonstration, I walked back to the main road and found the market, but it was closed. Apparently it only opens on Sunday in this town. The ladies were very nice and pointed out the bus stop. My next stop was Maras. While waiting for the bus, I was stopped just outside of a hair salon. The hairdresser was just finishing up sweeping when she noticed me. She asked did I needed help and I told her no, I was just waiting for the bus. Her name was Julieta and we ended up talking the whole 15 minutes it took for the bus to come. We talked about our lives and the weather of Cusco. She was amazed I was traveling alone and wished she could do it. It was great and one of the reasons I am so glad I now know enough Spanish to have real conversations.

The bus came and I said my goodbyes. I had no idea where my stop was and once again ended up passing it and having to walk again. Thankfully, it wasn’t far and it only cost 2 soles for this bus.

When I got to the entrance road to Maras, there was a line of taxis. One driver told me that it would cost 40 soles because it was far. I was not about to pay that for what I knew was a 15 minute car ride. So I noticed a family waiting around. I asked them if they were going to the ruins and they said yes. I asked if they had an extra space. Of course, hop in. So for 5 soles, I bummed a ride with what turned out to not be a family at all but a bunch of teachers from Lima and their principal. We talked teacher talk the whole way to the ruins.

Maras is a cute little town, but we were heading to the Incan ruins of Moray. These ruins are circular structures that were theorized as an agricultural laboratory. They look like a Roman amphitheater and span a good kilometer or so. There are four main sections. Our driver told us we only had thirty minutes, so I ended up basically running around the paths snapping pictures as fast as I could. I should have known better. I was dealing with Latin Americans. Thirty minutes means fifty minutes. It didn’t really matter. I was only paying 5 soles.

We got back into the car and headed toward the little town of Maras The teachers from Lima were going to the salt mines in Maras, but Dayvit had told me to skip it. Apparently they are dark at this time of year because of the rain and therefore are not very impressive. So I was going to walk from the turn off back to the bus stop. But before that, we stopped in the town square and took pictures. We happened to be there as a funeral passed. Not only does the whole town show up for this funeral, but there is a full band playing this really lively music. They carry the casket from the church to the cemetery about a five minute drive down the road. It’s pretty impressive. And wasn’t very sad. The music kind of made it more of a celebration than anything else. (I think this was unique to that area because I saw another funeral in Puno and it was much more somber. )

True to his word, the driver dropped me on the side of the road. I said goodbye to the teachers and started to walk. I remembered it was quite short from the bus stop. However, I thought I was being so clever and thinking I found a short cut across a field, ended up adding twenty more minutes to my walk. Nevertheless, I got back on track and found the bus stop.

Now, here is where it gets great! Thinking back, had I chosen to go to salt mines, had we not stopped and watched the funeral, had I not accidentally taken my detour, the next adventure would never had happened. The busses run every 20 minutes from Umbama to Cusco. I got on the public bus and it was literally standing room only. I was squished between a man in front of me and a family of children behind me. Now, I’m going to explain step-by-step how I ended up having the most fun. First, a man got off so the man in front of me took his seat. More people got on. Then more people got off and we ended up maneuvering so they could come from the back. Somehow, I ended up at the very front of the bus. There was an old woman sitting on the floor of the bus by the stairs. She and her husband got off and so I thought the floor was a much better alternative to standing and getting shoved every stop. So I dropped my stuff and myself to the floor at the feet of a woman and a man.

Because I was by the door, I ended up being the hand holder of all the old people struggling to get off the bus. Those stairs are steep and the Peruvians are short little people. It was kind of nice having this momentary physical connection to so many people. At one point, I thought I was going to have to hold a little boy on my lap. He was the cutest. I would not have minded, but his family found seats in the back.

I was sitting cross legged and my calves were cramping a bit so I scooted my backpack over and leaned against the wall of the bus to stretch out a bit. But I also leaned against this lady’s bag. All of a sudden I heard noises. And the bag started to move. She started to shush the bag. Then I heard distinct clucking noises. Is that a chicken? I asked her. She opened the bag and sure enough. I was literally sitting on the chicken bus. First, I needed to take a picture just so people would believe me. Then I started to giggle. I was giggling so hard, tears were rolling down my cheeks. I just pictured my Gram with me laughing at this scene that was out of a movie and I laughed even harder.

The lady eventually got off and I took her seat for the remainder of the trip. But it was the best 6 soles I have ever spent and my favorite public transportation experience. I don’t think anything will top the chicken bus.

I got into Cusco and did some reshuffling of my bag. I had a night bus and would immediately get to the hostels and then head to a homestay so I needed my day bag to be packed and ready. I also decided to have one more adventure in Cusco eating the local delicacy, but more on that when I talk about Cusco food.

I really loved Cusco. Every day was one new adventure. I loved the people and the stuff you can do. I could spend several months in this amazing city. Even despite the cold weather, I am a huge fan. I know I will come back. It’s one of those cities where I feel completely at home. Thank you, Cusco, for a great beginning of my Fuck Cancer trip.

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