Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ollantaytambo and Pisac - Sacred Valley

The next stop was a visit to an Incan religious site. It was situated as a meeting place where two valleys met; Sacred and Pumamarca valleys.

Me and out tour guide. He was pretty awesome!

In this place we learned that there was a general who created this place as a religious meeting site as well as a 'way station.' We also learned that there were two types of terraces built; one for horticultural reason as certain produce grew at different elevations and as a way to support their buildings and help with erosion (It rains a lot in the area during the rainy season). When the general who created this place died, they said that since he was such a great man, his face appeared on the Incuyu mountain as a face. The face would apparently change expressions during times of the day as the sun hit it differently and during different seasons. It was almost a way to keep the people in check on the things they were doing; whether it was pleasing or not to their gods. We also learned of their religious totem which began at the top with the Condor followed by the Puma and finishing off was the snake.

This was where we saw how the people created the boulders and how they made niches to move them, ramps to push into place, and the 'tetris-like' design that has worked well over the years in staying in tact during the many earthquakes that occur. The people did not use wheels and pulleys to move these huge boulders, but more of a 'log-in-front-of-log' situation as the boulders were pushed down one mountain and up another. Then rocks were used to create a ramp to push the boulder in place. See, you could not just set the massive rocks on top of one another. They had to be slid into place. Can we say, shorter life-span? It was a feat to marvel at.

That one small rock you see in the niche is actually a part of the rock on the bottom right of the picture.

Ramp with man made handles to push into place.

It is also important to note that the larger the boulders for a building, the more important the building was. Houses were larger rocks put together with a type of cement whereas the huge boulders were just slid onto one another.

Ollantaytambo has also been currently funded by the government for more excavations. There were places where they had begun to dig about 5 feet down and are still finding ruins. This means that although we climbed a bit to get from one area to another, there are still many feet below that have yet to be discovered.

There were also guard towers on the mountain in front as well as larger buildings used for storing their food. You can also hike up to those, which we didn't do.

You can see a person on the right of the large building. Shows the magnificence and size of these buildings.

Our next stop was Pisac. This was a less important area, but had its own unique features. On our way there, we had our first taste of cacti fruit/passion fruit and it was delish!

Pisac had horticultural terraces as well as less important buildings along with am adjacent mountain that houses catacombs. It was a lovely spot and this was the first place where we were left on our own after a bit of a tour and climbed many steps. Our first real climb and the smallest we did.

 The catacombs.
 We hiked to the top of the moutain.
 And this is the site we saw.

On our way back to our Sacred Valley hotel, our guide took us to a place where they make Chicha, or corn alcohol. It was made by a tradition woman who speaks Kenchwa which is only a spoken language and not written.

We also played a little game of tossing heavy round-shaped fake coins towards a small wooden stand with a frog on top. Each hole counted for different points.

We also learned that although there was no written language, a way for them to communicate was through the use of knotting strings in different places.

There was also a guinea pig farm. Yes, guinea pig was a specialty and it tasted like rib meat.

 Here is where we tried Inca Cola, which tastes like gummy bears, ate an fire-baked enpanada with cheese and onion. Then we headed back to our hotel for some relaxation and dinner, desert and drinks with our Canadian friends. Kings anyone?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sacred Valley, Peru

I hope you enjoyed the first installment of our trip (even with the many grammatical errors I noticed after rereading it). We thoroughly enjoyed our trip. We were gone for 8 days and it was awesome!

Our third day had us wake up bright and early for an hour and a half, in-country flight from Lima to Cusco, where we would spend the rest of our days.

Lima's elevation was about 5,000 feet and we were flying to 10,800 feet in Cusco to end up in the Sacred Valley which is about 9,100 feet. To give you a perspective of the altitude difference, it is about 1,300 feet here where we live in the states. It was a huge difference and this took a toll on us the first day we arrived in the Sacred Valley.

When we arrived, we were picked up from the airport, which is really small, and was taken to our hotel. The hotel and its grounds were beautiful. We had rearranged our itinerary to get the room with an outdoor pool and waterfall shower, but the hotel messed up and gave it to someone else. They comped us $400 USD for the mistake as this was the difference between a normal room and the one we reserved originally. They had also given us a better room that still had an outdoor waterfall shower, a huge tub, a king bed and an patio set with a lovely view of a mountain.

 On our way to the hotel, we finally got a glimpse of what it was like to live in this area. It is very cheap to live here, as you must depend on the earth to provide what you need. The people here are hard workers and very resilient. I mean, they had gardens on the sides of the mountains and hiked there to plant, care, and harvest their crops. Crops ranged from potatoes, quinoa, corn, and others. Most were dressed in traditional garb and all the women, no matter the age, had dark, black hair. We found out later that they wash their hair with the same root that they use to clean alpaca fur (which is a white root that suds up).

So, after checking into our hotel, we were off on another tour. This time of the Maras Salt Flats and Moray which is the largest horticultural site in the world (not in use any longer). Before we headed to Moray, our guide took us to a place where they served us our first cups of coca tea with mint and showed us how they cleaned alpaca fur, dyed it, made it into usable threading material and how they created garments using home-made hand looms.

They used different plants, minerals, and animals to dye the alpaca.

 First, they shear the alpaca, then they use a white root, which they grated into some hot water, then strained it and washed it in the soapy water (this is the same root I mentioned above-each guide we had mentioned that there is no gray in the women and men because of using this root to wash their hair). Once the alpaca fur was washed down to a nice, soft white, it was hung to dry. Once dry, they would dye it using hand-made clay pots over a hand-made clay oven with a fire within. The concentrated color depended on how long it boiled and how much of the dying ingredient they put in the pot.

Once it was dyed and dried they began to hand spool it onto a spinning spool that they carry around while maintaining other chores. It is a technique that is second nature to them. It is a pretty thin thread, but probably not as thin as sewing thread. To make thicker thread, they would twist two or more together. Once thing that we thought was pretty neat, while others (Im sure you too) was that one of the dying ingredients was a white bug that was found on the cacti. It was used to dye the alpaca fur red, but it was also a beautiful shade of red for the lips. Yes, we saw a demonstration.

 Those bigger white chunks are the white bugs.

Also, driving through the area was just absolutely stunning! Rolling hills with snow-capped mountain peaks with glaciers in the background. It was much lovelier to behold than the beach and I love going to the beach.

Once we were finished with the demonstration on the process of making garments from alpaca fur, we went to Moray. It was enormous. The people at the bottom were very small; the same can be said when we visited Maras. There was also a smaller area that was created to do the same thing beside the original. The tiers were created because the Incas realized that crops grow better at different elevations. Hence the many varieties of potatoes. All the sites we visited were protected by the government, but you could still walk around and see parts, if not most of the historic sites. Can you image the digging and piling of big rocks in an ornate way as to keep from eroding without the use of wheels? Well, this is just a small part of the vast building the Incas did in their time.

We also saw what we termed the, 'Dr. Seuss Tree'

Next up were the Maras Salt Flats; used by the Incas and still in use today. The salt water comes from the mountains and it is by far saltier than ocean water. Each section is a bit longer than a mans height and each section also has its own tributary feeding it the salt water. It is about six inches deep and once it dries, people come in and begin 'shaving' off salt and selling it. This is where we bought some pink salt and fried corn and banana snacks. They were yummy, especially the banana. My MIL said it was an instant 'dry your mouth out' snack, but a very nice drinking snack none-the-less.

Can you spot the family working on their salt flat? This is zoomed in as far as my camera will allow.

See the top of the mountain? We drive from way up there, to way down here and we still had to walk some to get to the salt flats. This picture does not do it justice on the depth and height we drove.

As for driving there; Oh My! It is basically a winding, dirt road that is passable, but only slightly so. There are no guard rails and Peruvians honk or flash their lights before going around a turn to make on coming traffic aware. It is intense.

I also did not take as well of notes because the altitude difference had taken its toll on me and I was exhausted. I even cat napped in the back of the car and my hubs got a picture of me snoozing and couldn't believe I could do that.

That night, we went to the hotel restaurant and we ordered two appetizers and for the main course I tried alpaca and hubs tried guinea pig. The alpaca was a mix between pork and steak and I wasnt a fan of the taste. The guinea pig was not fired on a stick, which we saw later in our trip, but was a nice texture that tasted smooth and delicious like rib meat. That was the only time I tried either. We also had a glass of local merlot and I am not a fan of merlot, but it was smooth and enjoyed two glasses.

Then we went back and prepared for our next big adventure. That meant we had to pack backpacks for two nights, three days of clothes and essentials and have the rest taken to our last hotel in the city of Cusco.