Inca Sacred Valley, Peru

Thursday August 16 – the day after the big earthquake near Pisco. We sure felt it here in Cusco last night, but no damage and no injuries here. Other parts of Peru, especially around Pisco and Ica were seriously damaged.

Today we started a three-day tour to visit the Inca Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Today we visited two sites in the Urubamba Valley, the ruins above Pisac and also above Ollantaytambo, with lots of climbing up and down. The Incas built terraces on the steep hillsides to grow their produce on, as well as to stabilize the hillsides. On top they built their temples and palaces. There were usually living quarters for the farmers directly above the agricultural terraces. There were also areas set aside for the craft workers (textile and ceramic, among others). The Incas built with finely cut stone blocks and the temples and palaces had the finest walls. At both sites we climbed up above the terraces to view their temples to the sun and moon, and the walls that once formed living rooms. Ollantaytambo is the end of the road, so we finished the day on the evening train to Aguas Calientes, the modern city just below Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu (on Friday) will be the subject of the next entry.

Saturday August 17 we continued our trip thru the Sacred Valley. We first returned to Ollantaytambo on the early morning (5:45AM !) train from Aguas Calientes. We enjoyed breakfast sitting along the central plaza in Ollantaytambo, watching trekkers getting into vans to be ferried to the road-head for their 4-day hiking trek to Machu Picchu, and watching the rafters also loading up for their day trip on the Urubamba River. The plaza was quite colorful in these morning hours as the local indigenous folks in their bright clothing enjoyed the early hours before beginning work.

When we finished breakfast, Bill found us a taxi with an informative driver and we set off into the valley to visit more Inca sites. We drive thru the farming village of Maras, with its colonial adobe buildings and narrow streets. It is in the middle of a large high plateau with rich farming. The plateau is checker-boarded with dry fields now, where in the rainy season wheat, corn and potatoes are grown. Small herds of sheep, goats, some cattle and wandering pigs nibbled at the stubble. As we passed thru the village, we had to stop for a herd of sheep and goats that were being moved out into the fields. We also had to wait for several burros that were loaded with large clay jugs that hung from each side.

We continued across the plain to the Inca site of Moray. Here are three large amphitheater-like terraced agricultural circles. The best theories say that this area was a experimental agricultural station for the Incas where they were able to experiment with corn and potatoes in different micro-climates. Two of the three bowls of concentric terraces are being repaired and we climbed down 7 of the terraces to not-quite-the-bottom of the best repaired one. To climb down we used Inca stairs, stones jutting out from the terrace wall placed not quite one above the other. We made the climb back to the road and continued on back thru Maras and across more of the plateau. Some farmers were beginning to plow the fields with oxen for the spring planting. We passed a group of pigs that contained many little ones… all eating at the stubble!

Turning off the main road we dropped down into Salinas. Salinas is a salt-producing area that has been in use since Inca times; enough high-quality salt is still produced today for international export. A very salty spring comes out of the hillside here and many ponds have been constructed on the hillside below the spring. The salty water is fed into the ponds and let stand to dry. Then the salt crystals are scooped up and bagged for shipment. The site is only active in the dry season when there is no rain and the air is dry enough to dry up the water. We took the taxi out to the main road and on to Chinchero, where we were left off to continue on our own.

Chinchero is another typical Andean farming village. Bill and I managed to find lunch, eating with the locals. There were few tourists in town as the tour buses bringing them arrive late in the afternoon on their way back to Cuzco. The Inca site actually starts in the modern village and runs uphill from it. The site mostly consists of farming terraces but stones left mark several long multi-roomed buildings as well on the upper terrace. Stones were scavenged from this site for the construction of buildings in the modern village during colonial times. The village church is constructed on the main Inca temple at the site and its exterior walls show the Inca wall remaining on its lower level. The interior of the church is highly decorated with painted mud-plastered walls of the17th century. The artwork is still in good shape (although quite dirty from the many candles burned in the church). The ceiling is also completely covered in painted designs, many Inca of origin. We also checked out the small museum on the site. It contained some pottery, including several large jugs designed to carry liquid on one’s back, but the most interesting were the farm implements used for digging and planting the terraces and the tools used in working the wool and weaving it. We took a combi back to Cuzco and we were the only riders – quite a difference as usually we are packed as tight as possible in the combies.

After three days of early wake-up calls and long days of hiking, climbing and sightseeing, we returned to our hotel in Cuzco quite tired and ready for a few days of rest.