Sacha Lodge, Ecuador (Yvonne Smith)
At 7:00 am Ayul picks us up in a private van. We leave Cusco and begin our journey through the Sacred Valley (''Secret Valley'' as Nicky calls it). Our first stop is an animal sanctuary. This was an unexpected surprise for the kids and even left a strong impression on Steve and I. We see McCaws sitting freely on some branches. The operator tells us that they were rescued from smugglers. We are told that a common method of illegal export is to stuff a half dozen or more in a PVC pipe and hope that a few survive, very sad. We see two beautiful mountain lions rescued from a nightclub fire in Lima. The highlight for the kids however is seeing 3 enormous condors, the largest birds with 10 ft wing spans. It is feeding time and these monsters swoop down just a couple feet over our heads. There were sad stories behind many of the animals but it was uplifting to see how many were being helped and reintroduced to their natural habitat by the shelter. We are happy to make a small contribution when we leave. We move on and drive to the first archeological site of the day. A place called Moray where we find a deep recession in the highlands which have been terraced in concentric circles. It is believed that these terraces were used for farming by early Quechan peoples. However, this particular site was something of a laboratory as the protected nature of the valley produced different microclimates where the Quechan experimented with the growth of different crop species. It is another example of the surprising sophistication of this early civilization. After trekking down a couple of hundred steps and back up, we stop for a nice lunch before continuing to our ultimate destination of Ollantaytambo. Our next stop along the way is the Pisac market. This is one of the largest outdoor markets in the area with a broad assortment of fruits, vegetables as well as beautiful artisan crafts. We do our best to support the local economy! We continue on and finally arrive in Ollantaytambo. This quaint little town marks the beginning of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. For those not inclined to make the 4-day hike, it is also the place where you can catch the train! We will spend the night in Ollantaytambo giving us time to explore its own impressive ruins. For a little added excitement that evening, a large tree near the centre of town topples over around 6:00pm leaving the entire town without power. While most restaurants have had to close, we are fortunate to stumble across a little cafe with a wood burning pizza oven. After a candle-lit dinner, we head back in the dark to our candle-lit hotel and turn in early.
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