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Day 4: Cusco to Pisac and Ollantaytambo

Wednesday, May 10, 2001. Sunny 76°

We were up early this morning repacking bags for our trip to Machu Picchu. Marco had suggested that we leave everything at the hotel that we wouldn't need, such as the shorts and sandals that we were planning in wearing in the Galapagos. The goal was to get everything down to one small duffle bag and a backpack. We started the route by following yesterday's journey to Sacsayhuaman and Tambo Machay. Our route was to cross over the mountains north of Cusco at about 13,000 feet elevation (or 2,000 feet higher than Cusco) and drop into the Sacred Valley, about 15 miles north of Cusco.

Joining us was a second guide, Wilner Araujo to aid Marco with the stragglers. As the one always bringing up the rear, Lana grew quite fond of Wilner. He had spent time in Germany learning German and then English. While he understood English very well, he hadn't quite learned to speak it. When we learned he was studying to become a lawyer, we had fun telling him really bad lawyer jokes. We also learned he had been first string on a professional soccer team in Germany.

Sacred Valley in PeruThe entire valley extends along the Vilcanota River and the waters from this river flow east, ultimately forming the mighty Amazon River. The valley provided our first glimpse of just how extensive the agriculture terraces of the Incas were. Just imagine the steepest mountain of the Rocky Mountains with terraces up and down them. To reach the land, farmers have to walk up one day and come down 3-4 days later. Most of the plots are so small (10 x 20 feet) that a tractor wouldn't be practical, but even if they were, the tractor would not be able to stay upright, because the land is so steep. Each terrace was ecologically correct for the type of crop. Some even had air vents to regulate the temperature. Marco said that if all the terraces in the Sacred Valley were farmed today, it could feed all of Peru. The Inca code of "Don't Steal, Don't Lie, and Don't be Lazy" was apparent in the terraces for no lazy people could have ever built, let alone worked, them. Looking across the valley, Marco pointed out that some of the terraces that had significance. With some imagination, you could see a condor in the terrace pattern. Amazingly while the tour books only paid slight attention to terracing, we found them awesome.Terracing in Peru's Sacred Valley

At one of the overlooks, Lanny bought a sampler of corn which must have contained about 20 different varieties - some small, others large, of many different colors, including yellow, red, and purple. He wanted to plant them to see if they would grow in the heat and humidity of Missouri.

At one point we crossed a police check point. When Don started to take a picture, Marco turned pale. Taking pictures would mean about three hours of explaining why we were not Yankee spies. Somewhere along the way, Joe broke the latch on his camera. Not to worry, Lana had plenty of tape in her medicine kit. But, the Nikon looked like a refugee. Since the trip, many of us commented on how disappointed we were with our photos. For anyone who has not been to Peru, the photos look great. But for those of us who have seen it, they just don't capture the enormity of the Andes or the wonder of the terraces.

Pisac, Peru

Climbing to Inca Temples in PeruOur initial destination was Pisac, a colonial city that was formed by Spanish as a way to gather up the Incas into one place and control and govern them. We crossed a small bridge and headed up the mountaintop to begin our hike to the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon. Marco says it is no coincidence that both Cusco and these ruins are at the same elevation at 11,000 feet. We climbed and hiked up and down and through a tunnel, called the military area. All along there were examples of magnificent Inca masonry. At one point, we could see Inca tombs in the hillside.

We spotted a Giant Hummingbird, San Anja Hummingbird (Angel of the Sun), Roadside hawk (or American Kestrel), White Bellied Swallow, Andean Swallow. Unfortunately, we never did hear the partridges (or pisaca) for which the place is named. Marco said we probably wouldn't see the Andean Condors unless we hiked the Inca Trail. But we were still hopeful to see the Joe's favorite, Cock on the Rocks.

Inca Temple Ruins in PeruThe ruins were spectacular. At the center was a circular structure that Marco said was sacred and very special. It reminded Linda of kivas, or sweat lodges, used at the sacred sites of the North American Natives.

Once at the ruins, we wondered where all these people had come from. We hadn't seen them on the trail. Looks like we had taken the more difficult, but scenic hike. We also noticed a film crew at the ruins with wine, cheese, and food. Don asked Marco where our Champaign brunch was. It looked like the descent to the bus would be easy, but after a few minutes of walking, Lana noticed that we were now below the buses that meant another sets of steps awaited us somewhere. Sure enough, the last set just about broke her heart. Don said he wished he would have a picture of the dejection on her face. But after some huffing and puffing, she reached the top. Thank goodness Wilner had a good sense of humor, because he stayed with her all the way, bringing up the rear literally and figuratively. Given his athletic ability, he probably could have hiked it in 1/5 the time.

While the group waited for her, they were approached by still more vendors. Glenn indicated it was a pretty expensive wait. Bless his heart; Glenn had a peeled orange waiting for Lana. At the end, we agreed it was a "fabulous" (Don), "awesome" (Glenn), and "spiritual" (Sandy and Linda) hike.

We then headed back to Pisac and the market. It was here that we discovered just how goodShopping at an Outdoor Market in Pisac, Peru Linda, Chris, and Randy were at shopping . They were able to find the most interesting things and bargained very aggressively for tapestries, alpaca bears, and Andean crosses. At one point, we were being pressed by a very aggressive vendor. When asked if we'd stop by later, we said maybe. Afterwards, Marco asked why we had "lied". For Marco the Inca code of "Do not Lie, Do not Steal, and Don't be Lazy" defined lying as suggesting or insinuating. Towards the end of the market, Marco had us stop at a small stand for tasty empanadas (bread stuffed with tomatoes and onions) and water.

As the bus drove us to Ollantaytambo, we were in awe of the pyramids shaped snow covered peaks. Calla lilies grew wild along the side the road, as did blooming poinsettia plants that reached the tops of the buildings. At about 3:00 PM, we stopped at a roadside restaurant in Yucay for lunch. It was an outdoor café with lots of tables, and cabañas on rich green lawns. The buffet had everything from fresh salads and vegetables to wonderful fish, chicken, and meatballs. Only the pork chops cooked in grease looked unappealing. Most of all, we liked the dessert table with flan, chocolate cake, and carrot cake.

Ollantaytambo- Last Inhabited Inca VillageLater that afternoon, we arrived at Ollantaytambo at the other end of the Sacred Valley. Ollantaytambo is the only Inca village still inhabited. It is at the foot of spectacular ruins and terraces, known as the Inca Misanca and believed to be a small temple or observatory. The curving terraces following the contours of the rocks overlooking the town. On the opposite side of the fortress is a face of Tunupa, a god carved in the rocks. At about 2:00 PM, with the afternoon sun, the "eyes" open. This side of the mountain also contained "cold storage facilities" because only the late afternoon sun hit them.El Sauce Hotel  in Ollantaytambo, Peru

Our Hotel was El Sauce at the foot of the terraces. It was a small white wash stucco and tile roof hostel, inviting for its fireplace and cute white terrier, named "Bouncy". Most importantly, unlike most South American hotels, they had washcloths. Don said it was almost as good as sex. (Don't agree with that.) Almost everyone got a beautiful view of the ruins, except for Linda, who got a view of a pigsty -- literally. Ironic because Dining Room at El Sauce Hotel in Ollantaytambo, Perushe was the one who kept commenting on how hairy the Peruvian pigs were.

While we had the option of going out for dinner, we decided to stay in and enjoy the fireplace. We ordered mostly comfort food: tomato soup and ham and cheese sandwiches. Everyone was in bed by 9:00 PM.

Footnotes:

In fact Linda and Chris agreed to go with Randy on her next shopping trip to Guadalajara and Linda offered to host a shopping trip to Northeastern Arizona to visit the trading posts on the Hopi and Navajo Indian reservations.

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