Day 195 of 400: Cusco and the Sacred Valley – Peru

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Thankfully, we felt much better today…which is a good thing because we had a private tour of the sacred valley scheduled.  Our driver was $90 and would drive us as well as show us some of the major sights from 8:30AM to 7PM.  The day would be long and jam-packed but exciting and educational.  This blog is a little long but there was a lot to cover!!

Our driver spoke very little English but together with our small amount of Spanish and the Spanish to English dictionary…we made it work.  Our first stop was at an archeological site called, Saqsaywaman which at one time was the capital of the Inca empire (pronounced sexywomen).  Like puzzle pieces, these huge boulders were clearly cut to be of a certain shape and size and then fitted together to create walls and steps.  Not only was each piece angled perfectly together but the walls were curved uniformly, some of these boulders were so big…it’s a wonder how these rocks were moved from one place to another.  The whole area was massive…but were clearly ruins.  How big was this place in earlier times?  The architecture was very distinct…and these huge boulders were placed on top of each other without mortar…impressive.

We continued on, driving through huge brown mountains and curving roads.  Our driver pulled over to show us the sacred valley below.  There were mountains all crisscrossing each other with a river running through the center.  The town of Pisac was also close to the river.  We could see what looked like wide and thick shelves carved right into the mountains.  These were actually used for crops by ancient civilizations, particularly the Incas.  Each level had various crops planted on it, probably those needing the most sun closest to the top.   They also had a water system built in…it had a trickling effect so the water from the top would trickle to the bottom and they always built their cities near some type of water supply.  I wonder why farmers today don’t use this method anymore.

Driving to our next destination, we had to pause as a few cows went running across the road with a Peruvian women close behind chasing them from one area to another.  She was dressed in bright colors and smiled for our camera with her hand-held out as we drove by.  We arrived at the next old Inca village or at least what was left of it.  It was made again of rock built into the mountainside.  Below were more of those shelf-like structures where the village crops were once planted and at the top were the houses all built on top of each other.  The houses blended right into the mountain all in the same burnt orange and brick-red colored rocks.  We climbed up to the top, walking in and out of the remains.  We noted the size of each individual home was quite small in comparison to today’s average size.  They did have the windows cut out of the stone and even shelving to display things. After much exploring and pictures we were back in the car driving to the next Inca site.  We drove through a few small villages which consisted of weathered and abandoned buildings as well as a restaurant or two along the way.

We arrived in the town of Pisac which was known for its crafts market.  There were tons of vendors set up side by side, tourists were walking through bargaining for various items and a parade was coming through the walkway.  It must have been some kind of festival as locals were dressed in bright-colored costumes with sombrero type hats carrying a small float on their backs.  They were also playing instruments as they marched through the crowds.  A couple Peruvian women asked if we wanted to take a picture with them…Giff took their picture with me and then the three of them immediately ran over to him with their hands out for money…we learned our lesson on that one!  We picked out a very cool hand-made chess board with the pieces on one side representing the Incas and on the other the Spaniards from one of the vendors.  We also bought a high quality alpaca blanket and a little hand-made zip pouch to hold stuff.  It was all very cheap…but handmade quality.

Back on the road, we drove through a couple other towns and stopped for lunch.  The three of us ordered the grilled chicken and French fries which is what our driver recommended and since we saw chickens running around freely…we thought it was a good choice.  The meal was juicy and fresh tasting…real chicken.  Back in the car, we were on our way to the next site…we were on a schedule!

The archeological site of Ollantaytambo was another Incan town built directly in the mountain and the walk through the crop area to get to the top was steep.  We climbed up to the top catching our breath and taking in the view.  We noticed a portion of one of the walls had the same type of rocks and detailed puzzle pieces that the first site had…must have been built by the same or similar civilization.  There were huge mountains surrounding these ruins and we could see other buildings built into those mountains as well.  One of the larger building we saw so high in the distance was what they once used to store their goods where the temperature was cooler to help preserve the food.  At the very bottom was a separate structure with tall rectangular spaces built-in the rock next to each other and separated by smaller rectangles…we overheard someone say they were once used to bury the dead with the smaller rectangles to hold the goods they would bury with them for the afterlife.

On our way out of these ruins and back through the small town which consisted of one main square, we walked by another group of vendors.  By this point we were recognizing the types of crafts being sold by the locals so didn’t stop to browze.  Our last stop on the tour was in a town called, Chinchero and in its main square was a 17th century church.  The outside of the church seemed very typical and sort of rustic but the inside was very interesting…every square inch of the interior was decorated in detail in bright colors and a lot of gold-definitely Spanish influence.  And it was so well-preserved.  We were not allowed to take pictures but did capture both the outside of the church and the many Incan rock walls surrounding it.  We recognized right away the Inca architecture in the walls but also saw an additional style of stone added to the walls.  You could see the line where the old Inca architecture stopped and the new varied style began.  It looked like one civilization built right onto of the other instead of tearing it down to start over.  As we looked into the distance, we saw many of the surrounding areas had the Inca crop designs (shelve-like formations) in the mountains.  It is amazing those crop designs are still easily visible from so many years ago…now overgrown with grass but still clearly there.  As we started to walk back through the church yard, we saw mushrooms all over the ground.  Our driver said they were just being dried but would be for human consumption.

Our day was coming to a close…it was such a special day to really get to see some of Peru’s ancient villages and history.  We stopped for one last picture as the sun was setting over a beautiful mountain in the distance before getting back to Cusco.  Our driver dropped us off at our tour guide office, Llama Path for our 7PM team meeting.

We met the 7 other people hiking with us as well as our two tour guides.  We were all pretty close in age and from various countries.  Our guide had a map set up showing the route we would take over the next 4 days.  He included the height of each mountain with the highest and hardest day being on day 2 of the trek. We would climb up to 4200 meters (13,779 feet).  He went over things we needed to bring and expectations of how long our days would be etc.  He told us we needed to be at the meeting point at 4:30 AM tomorrow with all our stuff.  He gave us a couple of waterproof bags to keep our clothes inside.  He explained there would be 14 porters traveling on the trek…they won’t be hiking with us but we will see them on our hike as they trek ahead of us.  They will be carrying all the tents, cooking supplies, food, sleeping bags and some of our personal things (this sounds like my kind of hiking).

Tired from our long day but still needing to pack our backpacks we left the meeting.  After grabbing dinner, we packed which took much longer than planned…we got to bed way too late, about 1AM with our alarm set for 4AM.

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