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An unplanned medical adventure
Inca Pathways

Well, this morning we had an interesting but completely unplanned experience.

Bob had a spell of running to the bathroom in the night, although repeated applications of Pepto-Bismol had cleared it up by morning, leaving him feeling OK if a little weak. But I woke up with a very swollen left eyelid, obviously an infection. So I got dressed and actually had to wear my glasses instead of contacts.

When Vidal arrived a little after 8 AM, I explained that I needed to see a doctor. Vidal knew of a private hospital, so we went there. As we were all trooping into the clinic, the others were teasing me that the llama fetuses we saw in the market yesterday were likely to come into play. A very nice doctor immediately took me into a large office with Vidal to translate, Bob for moral support, and Steve so he wasn't the only one left behind. The doctor diagnosed blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelid.

The doctor gave me two prescriptions, one for drops and one for pills, and a receipt and diagnosis in Spanish to submit to my insurance company. Since the total bill was about $15 it's less than my copay. They were able to fill one of the prescriptions at the pharmacy in the clinic (less than seven dollars for the pills) and the other at a nearby pharmacy (about seven dollars for the drops). And the entire thing took less than one hour! Way better than at home.

Finally at around 9 AM we set off to our first stop of the day, Tambo Machay. These are small ruins near Cuzco, not too far above Sacsayhuaman, where we went yesterday. With a brief walk you can see the remains of a temple and water driven in channels.

Leaving there we headed on into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The views are really quite spectacular. Descending into the valley, we approached the town of Pisaq. On a steeply terraced hillside far above the town are some Inca ruins. We drove the winding road up to the extensive ruins of Pisaq. Of course, the ubiquitous vendors greeted the van, and then we walked onto the military ruins that began the complex.

As you walk through the military barracks section and around the corner you come upon a striking bowl of steep terraces. On the opposite side of the bowl were the homes in this complex. Walking over to that section we saw Quechua women talking and knitting. They had just completed the breathtakingly steep climb up from market day in Pisaq, and were resting before crossing over the mountain to their home, which Vidal estimates is a four hour walk from here. One of the women approached us to see if we were interested in buying her woven belts. Vidal asked her how far it is to her home and she said maybe one hour, maybe two, maybe three.

We continued on past Inca graves (caves in the hillside) and passed the area of Inca homes we had seen from the other side of the hill. Then we walked on a hair-raisingly narrow trail with steep drop-offs and the occasional steep and narrow set of steps. The views were gorgeous, but if you wanted to have a look you really had to stop in order to avoid walking off a cliff.

We came to the religious temple area of Incan Pisaq and walked around there. In many directions you could see the walls of additional Inca buildings. It was a really lovely place.

At mid-day we left the temple area and began walking down to the town as quickly as we could. Even so, it took 40 minutes to climb quickly down the steep slopes and we entered town at about 12:30. In town we had a Quechuan buffet lunch, then walked through the extensive market for a while. Thursdays and Sundays are the market days in the modern town of Pisaq. The large and thriving market originated as a place to sell items looted from the Inca graves above.

Next we visited the salt mines at Maras. We climbed in the car up to the other side of the Sacred Valley and saw snowcapped mountains. We crossed an empty plateau, seeing only the occasional animal herder, then descended began to the salt mines. The mines were first established in pre-Inca times and were extended by the Incas. They are not worked at their full capacity now, but do still supply people in the local region with salt.

A salt-water spring bubbles up high in the fold of the valley and below it a series of terraced shallow salt pans had been built. The salty water flows in, gathers in a pan, and the water evaporates leaving salt behind. The salt pans form terraces steeply down one side of the hill. Our driver dropped us off at the top, and then left to meet us at the bottom. As we approached the mines we saw donkeys going by us loaded with salt and tools such as baskets to strain salt out of the water.

We began to walk on the thin layers of earth between the pans. It really felt like tight-rope walking. Partly that was because the ledge was narrow. Partly it was an optical illusion. The layers of the ledge had become covered with salt and it looked like ice. So even though the traction was very good, you expected it to be slippery.

We picked our way through the salt pans, seeing people at work gathering salt in some distant pans and watching a boy skip among the pans. Eventually we came to a dirt road and continued walking down the hill. We came upon a family coming down to their village after a day of working in the mines. They had stop to gather some rocks. When Vidal ask them about it, they said that the rocks can be broken to release mica, a crystal which is boiled with beans to improve their taste. The family filled a blanket with rocks and carried it down with them. We talked a bit with them (mostly through Vidal’s translations) about the use of herbs.

Atthe bottom of the hill we met our driver, who brought us to Ollantaytambo. This is a small town located near more Inca ruins. There was about an hour until sunset, so we could tour the Inca site but a) we already had had a full day b) we could get a look at the ruins from our hotel and c) I thought a shower might be a higher priority considering that after this I will be three nights without one. So we went to the hotel.

It is a small hotel but very attractive and relatively new. There was no heat at all, but we are getting hardened to the cold and it didn't seem that bad. The temperature was probably in the 40s. With the bathroom door closed the hot water of the shower warmed things up enough to be tolerable. I couldn't call home directly from the room, but I got the desk clerk to put the call through. We had dinner in the hotel (the rest of the village is a very minimal) and went to bed. I confess that I'm feeling a little scared about the difficulty of the Inca trail hike that we begin tomorrow, especially the second day which is supposed to be the toughest.

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