Our three months in Cusco is rapidly coming to an end. In just 11 days, we will be on a plane to El Salvador. The final three weeks before we leave a place always turn into a panic, as we realize that we didn’t actually do all the things we planned to do when we first got here. (Cambodia was the same.) We always end up trying to cram at least half of those things into the final few weeks. This time one of those things was to go out and see a few places in the Valle Sagrado, some of which we had visited two years ago, and a few new places as well.
Since we didn’t have time to do more than a few days trips (rather than a longer extended stay in the valley), we decided the most efficient use of our time, if not of money, was to book a few day tours with our favorite tour agency here in Cusco: Peru Viajes y Excursiones (over on Calle Garcilaso). They handled our Inti Raymi tour just beautifully and they are local and super nice. Most of their tours are run by a local company called EcoTours Peru, who are just fantastic as well.
So we booked a couple of tours with them: their Sacred Valley overview tour and one out to Moray. Last Monday morning, we were all set for them to come and pick us up at our hotel at 8:10. We were outside waiting for them bright and early at 8 am. By 8:30, nobody had showed up, but it’s Peru…that’s not really late. By 8:40, we began to get worried. We live in an apartment in a brand new hostel, and nobody really knows where it is, although it is on a famous old Incan road. We had given the girl our street address when we booked, but I don’t think anyone on the tour bus bothered to look at it. So, we called Peru Viajes. Turns out that they had been looking for us all over, and that nobody on the tour bus knew where our hostel was. The woman asked us to take a taxi to the office and she’d get it all straightened out for us. So we ran over to the office (because it is so close that it was faster to walk than to hail a cab). Once we arrived, she told us that the bus had already left town, but that the three of us would take a taxi and try and rendezvous with the bus en route.
We hopped into a taxi and she told the driver that we needed to drive very fast to try and catch up with a tour bus between here and Pisac (a town in the valley about 30-40 minutes away). He took off and we headed out of town. Meanwhile, our tour company lady was on the phone trying to get the bus driver’s cell phone number so she could call and find out where the bus was. But the cell coverage on that stretch of road is not great, so eventually, the driver pulled over in a spot overlooking town that has good cell coverage, so that we could try and track down the bus. After ten minutes of watching the woman from our tour company pace anxiously back and forth on the side of the road while talking on the phone (& having a very nice conversation with the taxi driver), it turned out that the bus was already in Pisac. And that we would have to hurry to catch it, or else we’d have to try and catch it someplace else along the route.
So we took off for Pisac, with our taxi driver doing a brilliant impersonation of Mario Andretti. If you’ve never been on the road to Pisac, let me just tell you that it is a serpentine road with lots of blind curves. Our driver decided to drive about twice the speed limit and cut every corner and curve. It was one of those rides where you end up swaying back and forth in your seat, trying to hold on to something to steady yourself, and hoping that you don’t hit your head on anything, like the window, your husband’s head, or the seat in front of you. After squealing tires on a few curves, the tour lady asked if he could slow down a bit. And he did, just enough to not squeal the tires.
We pulled into the beautiful little town of Pisac in record time. Our bus was still in the main plaza. But, because it is such a small town and such a popular tour destination, traffic into the main plaza is restricted. No taxis can drive there. Luckily, our taxi driver knew just where he could park so that we could walk into the plaza. He pulled over to the side of the road, and pointed us down this long narrow street, with vendors on either side selling touristy goods. “Just ask people along the way for the plaza and they’ll point you in the right direction” he said. He went to get back into his taxi. And then he realized that the lady from our tour company wasn’t getting back into the taxi with him. So he got back out of the taxi.
They proceeded to have a very heated discussion in which he stated that he didn’t trust her to come back to the taxi (& wanted her to pay him for the ride), and she didn’t want to pay him yet because she was afraid he would leave without her & she wanted him to drive her back to Cusco after she dropped us off. She tried to give him her keys to prove to him that he would come back but he refused to take them and said he wasn’t letting her out of his sight. So the four of us set off down this passage. Kyle and me and the tour lady in front, and the taxi driver following us (while pretending not to) about 20 feet behind. We walked and walked through the maze of the market, hoping we would get to the bus in time, dodging tourists along the way. Eventually, we took a turn and ended up on the steps of the church located in the main plaza….which was on the opposite side of the tourist market from our bus.
We dove back in to the market, asking for help and directions along the way as we made our way through the maze of streets. Eventually, we saw daylight ahead and stumbled out onto the street right in front of our bus. We’d made it! There were cheerful greetings all around as we all started talking to our bus driver, Mario. The taxi driver and the lady from the tour company said goodbye and we all wished each other a pleasant journey. They headed back into the market and Mario took us to meet our tour guide. She came walking around the corner and we realized it was Flor, the fantastic guide we were lucky enough to have for Inti Raymi 2 months earlier. We all laughed. She told us we had about 40 minutes in Pisac before the bus was leaving. We knew exactly what we wanted to do.
Pisac has the most amazing places for empanadas, cooked in a traditional wood fired horno. And next door to a jewelry store just off the main plaza, is a wonderful little restaurant called Santa Lucia. Inside is a full-sized horno colonial, some tables and chairs, and the most delightful abuela who prepares and cooks empanadas in a multitude of flavors. We ate here back in 2012 and our main goal for Pisac that day was to go and eat a bunch of her empanadas. We were elated to not only still have the time to do so, but that she was open so early. She had two kinds of empanadas that day: spinach with cheese and quinoa with cheese. We ordered several of each and chatted with the abuela a bit while her grandson cooked them for us.
We were like happy kids on Christmas morning, enjoying our empanadas. They were just as wonderful as we remembered. When we finally went to get on the bus, it turned out that they had saved two seats for us in the very back, so we even got to sit together for the rest of the day as well. We settled in and enjoyed the rest of our trip. We’ll share more stories and photos from our time in the Sacred Valley on Wednesday.
A few days later, we had another tour, this time to Moray. The lady from the tour company asked us to come to the office and be picked up there. Worked like clockwork. And then, on our first stop of the day (a weaving cooperative in Chinchero), we walked out to the bus to see a taxi pulling up, and two ladies who had missed the bus got out and joined our group. Apparently, it happens all the time here in Cusco.
And hey, if you’re ever in Pisac, go visit the lovely family at Santa Lucia. And eat some empanadas for us!