Carnival in Cusco. A very bad city tour. Rafting on the Urubamba.

Travelogue Peru 2006
Cusco and Rafting on Urubamba

It might be little surprising for you that we got up very early the next morning, this time we had to catch the morning train leaving at 5:45. From Ollantaytambo we took another Colectivo but the fast and luxury version with only four passengers. One hour to Cusco is a very good time.

In the afternoon we did the so called City Tour of Cusco which I had wanted to do since we arrived. Unfortunately it turned out to be the worst tour we did in Peru. Our guide was worthless. She told a lot of things but they were mostly questionable or even wrong, the really important information about the places we visited was not even mentioned. Once again „The Bible“ helped a lot. The City Tour begins at two and lasts some four hours. It includes the ruins of Qoricancha, mentioned above, the Cathedral (those two we had already visited ourselves) and four other ruins. Four hours are definitely not enough time to see those places and when we were in the last ruins we did not have enough light anymore to take proper pictures. I haven’t heard about alternative tours to those places starting earlier in the day and lasting a bit longer. So unless you find a better tour I’d recommend visiting those ruins on your own.

Peru, Cusco: Sacsayhuaman

The giant walls of Sacsayhuaman, fitted perfectly into each other as all the others. Sacsayhuaman is a fortress sitting above Cusco. It had not only military but religious functions.
In 1536 Inca Manco fought the Spaniards from here. The Incas shot fire and arrows on Cusco which had been taken by the conquistadors.
At this time the whole country was in upraise against the Spanish invaders. The Spanish troupes were loosing battles on all front-lines. But finally they managed to capture Sacsayhuaman, probably because it had not been finished when the Incas were surprised by the arrival of the Spaniards in South America, the walls had not been finished. This loss is considered the final turning point in the war between Incas and the Spanish invaders and led to the downfall of the Inca Empire.
After the end of the reign of the Incas Sacsayhuaman was used as a quarry till the 1930s to supply stones for new buildings in Cusco. Only the huge outer walls remain intact as their stones were too big to be taken away.

Whether it was a good tour or not it was one of the few things one could do on that day. February is carnival in Peru , most important the Sundays and of those most important the last one which happened to be this day. The main carnival activity in Cusco is apparently soaking each other with water pistols, water balloons or simply buckets. Alternatively they spray each other with special carnival foam from cans till everybody looks like a cream gateau. In my guide book they mention flying objects which are much worse: rotten fruit, flour or even dog shit. Fortunately none of the last were thrown around the main square of Cusco , the Plaza de Armas. You have good chances to avoid getting sprayed or soaked simply by looking serious, NOT covering yourself in rain coats and by walking slowly and trying to appear very calm. Thus you signalize that you are not participating in the game and most soakers will leave you alone. Unfortunately the sprayers are less contained and I fear that soakers will soak you once you have enough foam on yourself to evoke the impression that you DO participate in the game. A warning to all good-looking, blond and maybe even tall girls and ladies: You won’t be able to look serious enough to protect you from getting foamed and soaked. Stay away from Cusco on carnival Sundays or enjoy all the attention you get. Anyway Ingrid and I were quite safe in the tourist bus, the museums and ruins.

Peru, Cusco: Rafting on Urubamba
Rafting on Urubamba
Peru, Cusco: Rafting on Urubamba
Rafting on Urubamba

Monday, our last day in Cusco . We went rafting with Swissraft-Peru, probably the tour operator taking you to the wildest parts of the rivers but probably also the safest and most qualified. The first river part we did was class four, four plus and at one point even class five, in February the rivers of the region are stronger than in most other parts of the year. Apart from Ingrid and me there was only one more tourist on board, our guide José, the owner of Swissraft-Peru was sitting in the back and steering the boat with two giant oars while we hopefully assisted him well paddling in the front. For our safety there was another river guide on a rescue raft who also took some pictures of us. It was an intense trip but the guides know the river well, have lots of experience and stopped a couple of times to first scout the upcoming rapids. Thus class four rafting might seem calmer than class 3 with a guide who can not or does not want to avoid the obstacles in the river. One time José showed us the power of only a small rapid. Without warning he got close to it (on my side of the boat) and from one second to the other I was flying into the boat. This day we rafted about twice the distance most tours do with a short tea break in the middle. Most of the tours do the part we did second, by far quieter (and less interesting) than the first. At the beginning of the second part we met another tour who did this second part with us at the same time. Though it was much easier several of their group fell into the water, one girl in a Kayak did not make it at all and was picked up by our rescue raft.

Peru, Cusco: Rafting on Urubamba
It was a good trip, but leaving the boat we were sooo cold and tired.

Well, it was a good and exciting trip but I know one thing for sure: I will not do such a long rafting tour again unless the water and / or air temperatures are significantly higher. Those guys from the other tour surely did have fun, too; therefore I dare to claim that a good rafting trip can mean two totally different things: navigating the boat as calmly as possible through most difficult waters using experience, technique but also hard, coordinated work with the paddles OR to get shaken and soaked as much as possible. Decide for yourself what suits you more.

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© Volker Umpfenbach

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