This day started with a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call. We went to the hotel dinning room for another scrumptious breakfast. When we finished breakfast we hauled our luggage out to the lobby, checked out of our room, and waited for Ayul to pick us up for another day of sightseeing. This day was going to be different because we were going to be traveling by van to pre-determined locations.
Our first stop was the Pisac Market. During the drive from Cusco to Pisac we could see the devastation caused by the heavy rains and massive flooding for the first time. Many houses in the small villages, and crop fields along the Urubamba River, were destroyed. Signs of landslides and water erosion could be seen all along the roadside. Huge sink holes that would swallow a car were evident along the road to Pisac. The detour signs around these sink holes were more dangerous than the sinkholes themselves. Large rocks and boulders were placed around the holes so you would not drive into them. Sometimes the boulders were as big as the cars that were driving on the road. Once we arrived at the village of Pisac we were dropped off in front of the village and had to walk across a temporary foot bridge because the main bridge was destroyed by the flooding. Our driver was forced to drive another hour in order to find a safe location where he was able to cross the Urubamba River. We were going to visit the Pisac market; another local market where the local farmers sell and trade (barter) their crops and merchandise with other farmers and merchants. I will say that this market was not as much of a slaughter house as the market in Cusco, but it was the first place that I saw roasted Guinea Pig on a stick. Unfortunately, it was not cooked yet, so I wasn’t able to sample it. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t have another opportunity to try guinea pig during our trip. Everyone told me it was delicious.
We had the opportunity to visit a local jewelry maker’s workshop where he designs and makes silver rings, necklaces, earrings and some of the most intricate silver Inca statues. It was a very expensive shop. He told us that his large statues sell for around $5,000 US dollars. All his jewelry is hand made in the work shop located behind the store front.
After we left the market we were reunited with our driver. He told us that he was delayed because the road was very treacherous and that at one point he had to physically place stones in a sink hole so he could cross. This daring moved saved him about 2 hours of driving time! After experiencing the driving conditions the local drivers face everyday, if he said it was treacherous, it would have been terrifying to us! After leaving the market, we headed up to the ruins above the city called the “Pisac Inca Place”.
This was our first impression of what it was going to be like trekking the Inca Trail. The trail was not long but had steep stone steps that wrapped around the perimeter of the mountain. We were above 12,000 feet and looking out over part of the Sacred Valley. This would have been a great spot to have our binoculars; unfortunately we left them back in the van. Linda began to experience an altitude headache at this height, but nothing too severe. We stayed there for about 1.5 hours and then headed back toward the van. There were many other tour groups visiting this location while we were there. Many people trekked up from the village of Pisac to the ruins, it looked like a far distance but they probably got their faster than we did because they traveled as the crow flies; straight. We took the luxurious way and traveled by van along the winding switchback roads to the ruins.
After leaving the Pisac, we followed the Urubamba River through the Sacred Valley towards the Village of Urubamba, the birth place of Ayul, our tour guide. As we followed the river, the aftermath and devastation to the houses and farmland caused by the flooding was still evident.
Our next stop was an archeological sight in Moray still under excavation. The road to the excavation site was a long, rough, and winding dirt road. Before we started exploring this archaeological site, Ayul and Manuel, our driver surprised us with a fantastic picnic lunch! Lunch consisted of a mashed potato, chicken and avocado casserole accompanied by veggies, fruit and a bottle of Inca Cola. Inca Cola is a local favorite that was fun at first, but soon became too rich.
After lunch we started exploring the excavation site. When looking down at the site from above, it resembled one of those mysterious crop circles that people say were made by life forms from another planet. Are the Incas from another planet? The history behind this site was that it was an experimental crop field where they experimented by producing hybrid fruits and vegetables. I believe that to be true because they do enjoy over 1,000 different varieties of potatoes, several different types of corn and some fruits that I have never seen or heard of before. After leaving Moray we headed for the salt pans (ponds) in Maras.
This was the first time, since arriving in Peru, that I felt threatened. Not the feeling of threat from the local people, but from driving down the mountain road to the salt pans. The road was a narrow, switchback, dirt road that skirted the mountain’s perimeter. When looking out the passenger side window all you could see were blue skies. If it wasn’t for the ground in front of the van, you would think you were free falling. Linda had her eyes closed the whole way down and was squeezing my hand so hard that my fingertips were turning blue! Fortunately, there were no cars coming up the hill during our descent. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain in one piece (thank goodness!). The salt pans are exactly that--small pans (ponds) filled with salt water. These small pans are filled with water through a system of aqueducts. I didn’t ask how many pans there were but I would estimate about 1,000. The question is, since the salt pans are located inland, and most of the water is fresh water originating in the mountain glacier tops, where does the salt water come from? I was given two theories: 1). Salt water from the ocean was trapped under ground millions of years ago and is slowly seeping out, or: 2). Natural salt found inside the mountain: 3). My personal theory is that it came here from another planet. These salt mines are still be used today. Ayul said it is very hard work and provides a very small profit. The ride back up was not as bad as the ride down because we were driving closer to the mountain side of the road, and not looking over the edge. We did pass several cars that were coming down the mountain and approximately five motorcycles. At one point, we encountered a small car coming down the mountain as we were going up. Since the road was very narrow, there was not enough room for both cars to pass. We had a Mexican standoff; our van and the small car were headlight to headlight. Manuel, our driver, and the driver of the small car, were in a stare down; some one was going to have to backup! No one was moving until she winked and gave Manuel a great big smile, he threw the van into reverse. What a gentlemen. No, that’s not what really happened. She had a little car and we had a big van, so she backed up the hill and almost over the edge; this time bigger was better. After we made it to the top of the mountain, we gave Manuel a big hug and thanked him for getting us down and back up the mountain safely. After leaving the salt pans, we headed for our final destination, “Ollantaytambo”, where we were going to spend the last night before beginning our trek on the Inca Trail. We checked in at the El Sauce hotel and made plans to meet Ayul in the lobby for our final instructions for tomorrow’s adventure. He gave us a list of what we needed to have in our duffle bags. The porters would carry our duffle bags and we would carry our day packs. We ate at a restaurant next to the hotel and headed back to the room to finish packing.