Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Peru Trip Part 2: Cusco and the Sacred Valley

We flew from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco and got checked-in to our hostel before going out to explore the city. We started at the San Pedro food market, where I had a lucuma con leche drink (lucuma is a fruit that has a caramel style flavour + condensed milk). There were a lot of different booths - some with food items (prepared and ingredients), some with flowers, some with tourist goods for sale. I also tried choclo, the giant corn on the cob. I was expecting sweet corn as that’s what we have in Canada, but the kernels were hard and dense and I couldn’t finish it.

We made it to the Plaza de Armas (central square) around dusk, and so got some nice pictures of the Cathedral and Jesuit church (La Compania de Jesus) as the sun set. On the mountains in the distance, we could see the white Christ statue and three crosses. For dinner we went to Limo, which had great food presentation (tasted great too). The crescent moon looked really cool, lit from the bottom instead of the side like at home.

The next day we had breakfast at our hostel and then waited in the front lobby for our 8:30-9am pick-up for our day trip. At 9:20 we were still waiting, so we called the booking office. Six minutes later a frazzled looking woman came in, and hustled us out to the nearby square. There she hailed a taxi and got in with us. She didn’t speak much English and didn’t tell us what was going on, just talked to the taxi driver for a minute. Then she got out and the taxi drove away with us inside.

The taxi driver didn’t speak much English either, so we weren’t sure what was going on. Was he our guide for the excursion? Was he driving us to meet the bus? Was he driving us to one of the sites? We eventually communicated enough to know we were going to Chinchero, the first stop on the tour. It was a wild ride - traffic’s pretty crazy in Peru at the best of times, and our driver wanted to pass a lot of cars and drove quite fast down windy roads.

We made it to Chinchero where our tour group was just starting to hear a presentation on textiles - how the wool is prepared, local natural dyes, and what some of the patterns mean. It was quite interesting and I’m glad we caught it. We then had time to shop.

The next stop was the ancient agricultural site of Moray. The belief is that these giant circular terraces (one’s been restored but there are 2 others that are unrestored at the same site) were used to create seeds for corn and potatoes that were acclimatized to the conditions at different altitudes. The first crop of potatoes would be grown in the bottom ring, and then would spread up and up and up, eventually covering all of the circular rings. The corn worked the same way, but was planted at the top of the straight area and worked its way down. The seeds would then be sent to people living at those altitudes, giving them hardy crops. Our guide on the Incan Trail believes the site was for growing medicinal plants, so not everyone agrees on its purpose.

Our last stop was the one I most wanted to see, the Maras salt flats. Water with 70% salt content pours out of the mountain and the local people channel it off during the rainy season. During the dry season (when we were there) the water evaporates and they can harvest the salt. The flats were down a steep cliff that provided some amazing views. The flats themselves looked amazing. There were a lot of shops where you could buy the salt (white and pink for eating, and black for bathing), salted chocolate, seasoned salt, and the regular souvenirs.

After the tour we had some free time in the city and so went to the Q’oricancha (Incan Temple of the Sun), now the monastery church of Santo Domingo. It was once covered in gold, with life-sized gold statues of people and animals in the courtyard. The Spanish pillaged the temple, tore down as much of it as they could, and built their church on top of the remains.

A festival was going on in the grounds, so we got to see some folk dancing.

We walked down some side streets and found the famous 12 sided stone, monument to the precision with which the Incans built their edifices.

The following day we had our Sacred Valley tour. We got picked up as scheduled and were on our way. We had a few short stops for shopping and admiring the view, with the first main stop at the archaeological site of Pisac. The Incans liked building close to their gods, so many of their cities were high up with incredible views. The walls of their cities were built with a slight incline, to help them weather earthquakes. Their doorways were also slanted towards the top, to help prevent damage.

We had a bit of time to shop in the market of the colonial city below the Pisac ruins before heading to our lunch buffet in Urubamba. We passed a street stall/restaurant cooking the local delicacy: cuy (guinea pig).

Then it was off to Ollantaytambo, the only remaining fully Incan planned city and its ruins. Due to the sun’s position, I didn’t get a good shot of the ruins from below, but I got some nice shots from above, and some of the other side of the city - with the ancient granaries and the face carved in the mountainside. There were some gigantic stones used at the top of these ruins for the Temple of the Sun. Our guide explained that the richest people were at the top, with the best architectural buildings, while poorer people were lower down, with their stone work not being quite as precise. It’s amazing how many of the old Incan aqueducts and fountains are still in use today.

The city of Ollantaytambo is quite small, just a plaza, the train station for Machu Picchu, the ruins, and a small series of narrow cobbled roads dating from Inca times (when room for cars wasn’t necessary, so they’re all pedestrian lanes). Doorways on either side of the narrow paths led to large open courtyards of houses that were quite beautiful (when you could look in). Our hotel had a beautiful garden outside the building.

There was an abundance of motor taxi’s, motorcycles with coverings and seating for 2 people inside, in the main square. Some had fanciful designs, like the Batman logo. At night there were so many stars in the sky. But I didn’t have a tripod and the confluence of valleys in the town meant the wind was so strong I couldn’t get my camera to stay still enough for a decent photo.

Cusco + Sacred Valley from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

Tomorrow it's on to the Inca Trail.

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