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The Valley of the Incas

Heading into the Sacred Valley
Heading into the Sacred Valley

This morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast next to the fireplace at our hotel and then checked out and met Ayul in the lobby to head off to the Sacred Valley.  He had already picked up Sandy and Rich and we joined them in the mini bus for our journey.  On our way out of Cusco, we stopped at some nice viewpoints so we could get a great view over the city and pictures of the giant statue of Jesus that overlooks Cusco.  Everywhere we stopped, there were women dressed in the native clothing of the area posing with llamas for photos.
We continued on to a weaving center just outside of town.  We watched women from different regions of the country using their native weaving methods.  We also learned all about the different types of materials, how they were spun and the different plants and minerals (and bugs!) used to dye them.  We also had a chance to shop for tapestries, scarves, hats and more in their shop, and all of the money goes back to the community where the weaving came from.
While learning about the weavings was really neat, my favorite part was feeding llamas!  They had several pens full of llamas and we were able to grab big handfuls of feed for them and go into the pens.  There were all types and some were very funny looking.  They were very friendly and swarmed us trying to get the food.  I don’t think I stopped laughing the whole time!  Ayul practically had to drag us away!
Our next stop in the valley was the town of Pisac and the Pisac ruins.  There were locals set up all along the road into the ruins trying to sell their wares.  There were ruins of lots of old buildings at the top of the hill with old agricultural terraces leading all the way down the mountain from them.  Across from the ruins on the next mountain, you could see the old Quechua burial grounds.  They used to dig holes in the side of the mountain and placed their bodies in their holes.  There were hundreds of holes and you could see the skulls of some of the bodies.  They just looked like specks of white, but with binoculars you could make out the whole skull!
We explored the ruins and were shocked at some of the other tour groups we saw.  Here we had just the 4 of us with Ayul, but we saw other groups touring around that had 50 or more people with them!  They all had matching neon sombreros so they couldn’t be missed!  We were glad to have a more intimate tour!
While exploring the ruins, Ayul showed us how the people built intricate systems of locks for the doors, and you could still see remnants of them in the stone.  He also explained that the buildings there were actually completely covered in red clay back in Incan times, so they were solid rather than the stone layers we see today.  That is part of the reason why many of the stones are still so well preserved.
After the ruins, we continued down into town and wandered through the markets.  I bought some tiny dried gourds that had been carved and painted to look like owls, and Kepler bought a money pouch for all of his Soles.  We paid a Sole to use the bathroom and stopped to listen to one of the locals playing Beatles songs on his Peruvian pan flute!
As we moved along through the Valley, we kept seeing long wooden poles sticking out horizontally from houses along the road.  At the end of the poles there were plastic bags attached in various colors.  Ayul explained that this is how homes and shops announce they are serving chicha (a fermented corn drink).  The different colors let you know what they serve with the chichi (roasted corn, peppers, etc).
We weaved our way through the Valley and the crazy Peruvian drivers and made it to a cute restaurant for lunch.  The restaurant is set up for tourists and serves a big buffet of Peruvian foods.  There are so many options that you are bound to find something you like, and it was a great way to get to taste so many different things without having to commit to one unknown!  We tried soups, salads, main dishes and desserts, and I also had my first bottle of Inca Cola – it is neon yellow and tastes like bubble gum.
While we ate, local musicians played Peruvian music in the background.  The whole area was beautifully landscaped with gardens, flowers and a little stream, and halfway through lunch they had a chagra show in the courtyard.  Chagras are the Latin American version of cowboys.  The chagra did some neat tricks and dances with his horse, and a beautiful local woman joined them for some of the dances.
After lunch we headed for Moray enjoying beautiful views of mountains and glaciers as we went.  I was so full from lunch, though, that I kept nodding off and missing parts of the journey.  We arrived in Moray and made our way over to the ruins.  Moray is a huge set of agricultural terraces from Incan times.  They are such amazing proof of how advanced the Quechua people were!  The terraces are geometrically perfect circles and were built to completely maximize the growing areas (even the steps were built so that they did not take up any ground space)!  Each level was a different micro-climate.  The Quechua would bring in plants from all over the country and used these micro-climates to acclimate the plants to the higher altitude of the valley.  They also did experiments on the plants and worked on cross-breeding many new hybrid species!  The views here were spectacular!
Next we visited Maras, the famous salt mines.  When I pictures salt mines, I thought we would be heading into a dark cave somewhere; I was in for quite a surprise!  Rather than being deep in a mountain, these salt mines are outside the mountain, terracing down the side of it.  These were developed in B.C. times and are still used today.  Now, the over 7,000 pools are managed by around 300 families.  There is a tiny stream of warm salt water that flows out of the mountain and a series of intricately built aqueducts carries the water to each pool.  People are hired to manage the water flow, and the pools are re-filled about every 3 days.  Ayul taught us all about the process as we watched people harvesting the salt.  On our way out, we had a chance to buy different varieties of salts in the little shops.
Finally, we made our way to the living Inca city of Ollantaytambo.  It is a cute little town that still utilizes roads and building bases from Incan times.  We checked into our hotel, El Sauce, which is a cute family run hotel on a busy corner in town.  Sound-proofing was not great, but the hotel and rooms were very cute, and our windows looked out onto the great Ollantaytambo ruins (that’s a beautiful view to wake up to!).
There was a tiny little pizzaria right next door to the hotel so we went there for dinner and ran into Rich and Sandy who had decided on the same thing.  The brick oven pizza was delicious and the young daughter of the owners was adorable!  There were no TVs in our hotel rooms, to Rich and Sandy were enjoying some beer and the Canada vs London volleyball game on the restaurant TV.  After dinner, we walked to the corner market to stock up on water for the next day and headed to bed.

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