Friday, April 7, 2017

Peru Trip: Sacred Valley

Today we traveled to Cusco by overnight bus. It was a partially reclining bus. None of us got good rest and only ‘slept’ until 5 pm. As soon as we arrived we were approached by a herd of eager taxi drivers trying to drive us to our destination. It took us a while but finally found a taxi driver who agreed to drive us through the sacred valley.

Our first stop was Chinchero located in a beautiful valley framed on one side by Inca
ruins and farmland on the other. The view was breathtaking. When we arrived the only people there were the workers who maintain the area so we literally had the entire area to ourselves.

I loved the contrast between the luscious green vegetation and the mist creeping from the valley below.

Once we explored the terraced ruins we decided to catch breakfast while we waited for the local colonial church to open. It is supposed to open at 8:00 am but apparently, 8:00 am Peruvian time is a different thing altogether.  Finally, shortly before 9 am, the church was open and we were able to admire its interior. The church was built on Inca foundations that can still be seen in some areas. The walls and ceilings are decorated with beautiful floral and religious frescos.

The drive to Moray was stressful at times especially on the way back. The road is not paved and very narrow with several sharp turns. Our driver would honk his horn before making such turns to ensure no one coming the opposite direction was there.

The ruins consist of concentric circular terraces forming an amphitheater. Archeologists believe that they were used by the inca to determine what crops to plant at different altitudes. There is a 27° F difference from the top section to the center.

Six kilometers from Moray is Salinas. The area is made by 3000 small of adjacent rectangular rpools fed by a natural underground spring. The water fills the pools and then evaporates leaving a layer of pink salt. In ancient times salt was very valuable as it was used not only for seasoning but to preserve food. Nowadays salt is a cheap commodity and it does not yield the profits it once did. The pools are owned by people in the nearby towns and passed down from generation to generation.

Our last stop for the day was Ollantaytambo. It is usually a pass-through town for those who catch the train going to Machu Picchu. Inhabited in the 13th century, the city streets are narrow and made of cobble stone. Our taxi driver, Hernando dropped us off at the train station where we purchased our Peru rail tickets for Aguas Caliente.

With the evolution of smart phones wi-fi (or wee-fee as the locals call it) has driven many internet cafĂ©’s out of business. It took us a bit of searching and thinking to figure out how to print the Whitney’s Machu Picchu tickets but we did it!

The computers were filled with elementary age kids playing online games or watching Youtube videos. Maybe I should start charging my kids pay for their internet consumption.

On the hillside above Ollataytambo rise the ruins named as the town. They consist of a temple, a fortress and farming terraces among other things. In 1536 Hernando Pizarro led a force of 70 calvary men to the town, supported by large numbers of indigenous and Spanish foot soldiers in an attempt to capture Manco Inca, the city’s leader. The soldiers reached the lower terraced farming levels when, in a brilliant move, when Manco Inca flooded the plains below the fortress through previously prepared irrigation channels. With Spaniard’s horses bogged down in the water, Pizarro ordered a hasty retreat. This was one of very few places where the Spanish conquistadores lost a major battle.

The stone for the used to build the ruins was quarried 6km away. These massive stone blocks were transported by carrying them down to the Urubamba river and then diverting the river by building channels to their desired spots.

It is incredible how much Inca were able to do without the use of the wheel. I just wished they would have made climbing their cities easier. To reach the top of the Ollataytambo ruins had to climb a lot of very steep steps in high altitude. I’ve noticed that straining myself at these high altitudes makes my entire hands very tingly.