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Today was our day for planning our stay in Cuzco. After breakfast we went in search of a good tour agency - there are absolutely loads of them here. The first one we tried (from the Lonely Planet "bible" and recommended) was at the back of an internal courtyard. Even though it was 10:30a, it looked shut but someone opened the door and called us in as we were walking away. For a tour company in the tourist high spot of Perú Stef was not impressed that they could not speak English so we walked away.


The Inca flag still flies over Cuzco

We plumped for another Lonely Planet recommendation, Milla Tourismo. Only later did we realise that they did not run tours themselves, we were simply pooled together with people from other companies. We ended up booking to "do" everything by tour - city and local archeological sites this afternoon, Sacred Valley tomorrow, Machu Picchu Monday and we also booked our lights back to Lima on Tuesday. They have a clever system here to extract money from you To see the sights you have to buy a boleto turistico , a multi venue ticket covering many things to see. Even if you don't want it, you have to buy it because you cannot pay separately at individual sites. But it conveniently does not cover some of the main sights! At 70 soles each (about £13) its not excessive compared to London prices but even so ....

At the allotted hour we were picked up for the city tour - that is when the fun really started! The first stop was the Temple of the Sun, Coricancha, an old Inca Temple site, well and truly looted by the Spanish. It used to be covered in gold from top to bottom, now only some of the stone walls remain so a lot is left to the imagination. It seems like every tour company in Cuzco follows the same tour route and that all tours start at the same time. Our English only tour from Milla Turismo (described by Lonely Planet as providing first class services) ended up being a pooled tour of forty people. Within the group people were translating from English into French and German. Combined with the sheer volume of people in one place at a time it made it difficult to follow what was being said. I left with the impression that I hand not really seen what there was to see.

That said, I did learn a lot about Inca building techniques, techniques that are earth quake proof. Walls are wider at the base tat the top. Within them they have trapezoidal spaces (the Incas did not know arches), partly to provide spaces to display statues and offerings but also as strengthening for the walls. The stones were individually carved, incorporating joints again to provide strength, and were shaped and polished so perfectly that no mortar was used in construction (for high status buildings). In essence, their buildings are huge three dimensional jigsaw puzzles.

After the Temple of the Sun we were herded (literally) to the next stop on the trail, the Cathedral. This is in fact three separate churches which are linked together. Again we were shepherded through and at one point even our guide seemed cross at how many groups there were. More people had joined our already large group at this point!


Mighty Inca walls at Sacsayhuaman

The churches were highly ornate with heavily carved cedar wood altars that had been covered in gold plate. Chapels lined the sides and the walls were also decorated with huge paintings from the Cuzco school (of art). It was all very baroque but the local painters had carried Inca iconography into an otherwise very European style. This was also true of the choir what had carvings of barely clad ladies symbolising Pachamama (Mother Earth) - not what you would see in a European church.

The cattle train then set out to see the archeological sites on the outskirts of town. The first, Sacsayhuamán, was a really interesting place. In Quecha the name means Satisfied Falcon. The site was a fort, mostly demolished by the Spanish (they demolished all temples, forts etc of the Incas as they went) but also by the local Cuzquenos who had free right to use the stones to build there houses.

What is left is still impressive. You can see the shape of the fort and the foundations of the central tower (they think used as a water tower). A large open square bridges the space to another site which is believed to have been some sort of observatory. As soon as we arrived here we were told "time is tight, it gets dark in forty five minutes and we still have three more stops to make". By this time we were both getting wound up. This was somewhere to have spent quite some time but we were rushed through. They must know how long is needed to complete the tour so we could not understand why, in winter, they did not either drop bits out or start earlier. Progress was not helped by the inevitable few who always had to be chased to get back onto the buses (there were two because the group was so big).

We then did a whistle stop tour of Qenko, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay. At each we were herded off the bus, talked at for five minutes and then herded back onto the bus. There was no time to look around or explore or really see these places. This was most disappointing at Qenko as from the description in Lonely Planet it sounds like an interesting place to look around. To really round off our increasing frustration this tour then ended up in the inevitable tourist shop selling handicrafts, woven this, alpaca that....

For a first class tour company we were not impressed with Milla Turismo and did not really feel that we had got what we expected from the tour. When we got back into town we went to complain. It was only then that they told us it was a pooled tour and they had no control over the group size. Even they seemed surprised when we told them that the group was more than forty. We checked what the state of play was for the next two tours - Sacred Valley will probably be the same but we were assured that the group for Machu Picchu would be no bigger than 20.

Feeling very wound up we decided to go for a drink and against our better judgment/traveling principles (call it what you will) we headed for one of the two Irish bars in town - I know it was a cop out but we both felt like having a strop in "home" turf. Even though it was early (about 7pm) the place was packed, with everyone sat in rows watching the TV - footie was my initial groan but it turned out to be the last twenty minutes of the British Lions being trounced by the All Blacks. As with the footie in Uruguay, as soon as the match was over the bar emptied leaving just a few people munching on their cottage pie. Much as we were tempted we did not think it would really be the taste from home we were after so we went for Japanese instead!

Heading back to the hotel I started to lose my temper with the endless stream of people trying to polish Stef's shoes, sell us postcards/paintings and/or trying to get us into their restaurant to eat. All in all a frustrating day in a totally tourist focused place.