The daytime ride from Abancay, in the foothills of the Andes at 2400m, up the mountains to Cusco last Monday, was one of beauty & awe. This time our front seats upstairs on the coach proved to be as much a winner as they had been a very bad idea on the overnighter from Nazca to Abancay! That had left us sleepless & sick in the dark as our overnighter twisted & turned its way up. This time our elevated front seats gave us a superb view as we climbed ever higher towards snow topped peaks.
We’d left behind the dusty, hot, very dry, desert landscape of Nazca on the Friday night, and spent 2 nights in Abancay after arriving at 6.30am on the Saturday. In many respects the greeness of the valley there was a welcome change from the unrelenting heat of Nazca, and we even experienced our first rain after 2 weeks in Peru. During our time in Lima, Pisco & Nazca we’d become acutely aware of Peru’s very serious water shortages – in both Pisco & Nazca people only had access to water for short periods each day. In Nazca the water was on for approx 1 hour each day around lunchtime. In this time some people/businesses filled the water tanks on their roofs (mainly hotels/hostels, larger restaurants, and the homes of the wealthier), while those less fortunate had to fill a series of containers to provide enough water for the next 24 hours. In fact because the supply was suspect, people kept enough for 48hours stored at all times…if they could. The really fortunate of course had had their own wells drilled to access from the water table below.
Our ascent from Abancay in the mid morning was slow and steep, the coach approached 40kmph at times, but mostly it was nearer to 20kmph. The morning mists had cleared as we ascended the twisting roads around the sides of the mountains surrounding Abancay, which we continued to glimpse below us for nearly an hour. The vegetation here was lush & green, many small hamlets & communities we passed were engaged in small-scale agriculture on any of the less steep slopes or small flat patches of land on the mountainsides.
Our ears popped as the road finally levelled out at around 4000m, and the coach speed increased, which only added to the excitement of our front row seats as the edge of the road, or the oncoming vehicles, came perilously close! Seatbelts were on & buttocks clenched, but we remained astounded by the beauty of the surrounding landscape. We passed up & down through picturesque small valleys, harsh looking passes, and changing rock & earth colours. Above us towered snow topped peaks & barren rock. Between the small towns we continued to see the small basic homes & villages of local indigenous people clinging to the side of the valleys. We passed through ancient & historic towns of Sawhite (or Sayhuite), Curahausi and eventually as we left the Apurimac region for the region of Cusco, we passed through Limatambo.
From here on as we got closer to the city of Cusco, the population slowly increased, becoming denser as we passed through Anta. The ever expanding suburbs of Cusco soon approached and traffic became ever busier, louder, and the people thronging the streets denser. Welcome to Cusco (or Cuzco, Kusko, or Qusqu), one of Peru’s most famous & historic cities. Sitting in a stunning valley at some 3400m above sea level, with a population of some half a million, it is of course best known as the onetime capital of what we Europeans call the Inca Empire. There’ll be plenty more to say about this once we get our breath back & acclimatised to the altitude!