Peru Sacred Valley

Peru Sacred Valley
Machu Picchu
Buenos Aires
Iguazu Falls

Dec 9 – Fri. Its been a week since we let the US and time did fly-by. Today we take a major step toward the next part of our travels. We leave Ecuador and cross to Peru, land of the Incas. We get up at 4:30 am in order to be transported to the airport. Our destination is the Sacred Valley of Peru. But first we must go through the Lima airport and fly to Cusco, Peru. Due to an air traffic controller strike we spent close to 6 hours hanging out in the airport and another 1 1/2 on board before take-off. The landing in Cusco is as well known as Paro’s airport in Bhutan for its narrow valley and difficult descent.

We land about 3:30 in Cusco and were met by our guide who escorted us to the Sacred Valley. We timed our visit for the first rain of the season so our mountain drive from 11,500 ft to 13,000 back down to 9,500 was a little hairy on the narrow windy roads. We spot the major glaciated peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba and Vilcanota ranges while passing agricultural fields of potatoes and fava beans. The country oddly is conducting a major planting campaign of Eucalyptus trees for ground cover, timber and medicinal purposes.
The Sacred Valley runs roughly from Pisac down to the town of Ollantaytambo. We arrive in the town of Urubamba in the valley of the Vilcanota river where the snow capped mountains are said to be the guardians of the deities of the Incas. It also was the home of Paul Simon for several months in the ’70s. The valley is rich in agriculture- everywhere corn is growing along with plots of potatoes planted high on the hillsides. Our home for a few days is the Sol y Luna Lodge and its companion property Wayra. Surrounded by gardens the casitas are so comfortable you forget that you traveled a great distance to explore this ancient valley. We walked to the stables and throughout the grounds before an early dinner at Killa Wassi restaurant in the lodge.


Dec 10 – Sat. This had to be the latest (7:30 AM) we have been able to sleep in since we left on sabbatical a week ago. At 9,  we met our guide and driver for a trip up to Ollantaytambo, known as a living Inca town. While it was early we visited the fortress, Araqama Ayliu, sited on a series of carved stone terraces built to protect the city. Although never completed, It was designed to include the Temple of the Sun, the Royal Hall, the Princess baths, and the markers to trace the sun’s migration by solstice during the year. The stonework of the fortress is a combination of carved form fitting rock and more random masonry work. The rocks are fitted by T-joints filled with a molten bronze unseen on the outside. The quarry is on an adjacent mountain so the hauling of these heavy rocks was no small engineering feat.

The city has never been built over by the Spanish so it remains as originally laid out by the Incas. History has it that the Inca general, Ollanta, fell in love with the 9th ruler, Pachacutec’s daughter and was forced to leave the city until after the father’s death when he became reunited with her. The town is known for one of the greatest Inca’s victory over the Spaniards although short lived when it was reconquered in 1537. In the town there are open channels for running water originally used for sanitation but now for agricultural purposes, the streets are all cobblestone and the houses are laid out in communal “chancha” style of several houses facing a small common interior courtyard.

We drive up the Patacancha gorge from Ollantaytambo to the villages of Patacancha and Willoq. This is a narrow windy dirt road some of which sits on the edge of the gorge. It often washes out or there are rock slides that prevent passage. We are fortunate that there were only a few heart stopping moments as we look down and see no road beneath us. The villagers from this area are referred to as “huayruro” referring to their red and black colors of dress – huayruro is a red and black ornamental seed from the Amazon. Everywhere people are walking along the road. We stop to pick up a porter returning home from the Inca Trail. The men and women of Willoq are working side by side on building a fishery for raising trout to sell. The community owns land and works commonly for it livelihood. We do some walking from one village down the mountain following the road. Where corn beer is sold along the way, a red plastic bag is hung out on a pole beside a house. There are a number of drinkers this morning. Our lunch is by the river and we arejoined by 4 young girls who are supposed to be minding their sheep but instead find us much more interesting.

We have dinner in Urubamba at a great place Huaychuca.

Dec 11 - Sun.

Lets just be honest so there is no mistaking the weather. It has been raining ever since we arrived in Peru. Yes, this means our daily hikes are in the rain and when it is 4 pm the sun comes out and clears up for a few hours just as we finish our outdoor activities.

Today, we drive up the Patacancha valley to Pisac, another significant Inca ruin site. Inhabited since the 10th or 11th Century, it is strategically located for military and agricultural purposes. As it grew in population its purpose grew from a military post to a ceremonial and residential center. The mountains are terraced on both sides of the valley and follow the curvature of the hill sides. The hilltop fort (1900 ft above) is accessed by a series of terraces used for agriculture and steep paths. Storage sites were built into the mountain as well as watch towers, residential and military housing, ceremonial baths and the Templo del Sol, an astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana including a sun dial was used to track the sun's movements. We note the same precision in stonemasonry as was seen at Ollantaytambo. We finish our hike down and walk directly into the Sunday market held in the town center. One is able to purchase Peruvian as well as Chinese wares here. It is geared toward tourists with little girls walking along caring baby lambs for photo opportunities.


A cross-cultural exchange has arisen from our travels. While in the Galapagos, one of our guides introduced Jon to the use of an IPhone program "360" which does exactly what the name implies, it creates a complete circular picture by standing in one position and shooting. Jon immediately purchased the app ($ .99) and has been using it at every vista in the Sacred Valley. Now the Ecuadorian find has been passed on to an American who has now passed it on to our Peruvian guide.


We lunch in town and head out to a lama farm/weaving coop run by a group of Peruvian families. There are llamas, alpacas and vicuñas of all types waiting to be fed. No sense in trying to pet these camel descendants, they don't like to be touched and will spit if given no other choice.

Lamas, Vicunas, alpacas... Oh My.


There is an exhibit on weaving from the hair of the llama until the final product. Natural plants, seeds, and dried beetles are used for dyes, baby Peruvian boy's urine sets the dyes and the women spin the yarn constantly. Weaving of intricate pieces is done through a traditional backstrap loom. The items are sold in coop stores and throughout the local markets.

This evening we have dinner at Wayra.  The lodge is decorated with Peruvian art objects and the wine cellar is enviable.

Dec 12 – Mon. No worries - it is going to rain. We will be moving out of Urubamba and back to Cusco by the end of the day. We begin the day with a hike up to the salt mines of Maras. Here several families have formed a cooperative to take over the harvesting of salt when the Morton Salt Company was nationalized. The water from a warm springs in the mountain is used to fill the thousands of small pools on the hill side for evaporation. We walk through the pools and it is reminiscent of walking along the hillside rice paddies of Viet Nam except all around us are salt mounds.


From here we move to Moray where our initial reaction to the archeological site is the viewing of a Greek amphitheater. However, it is believed to have been a giant crop laboratory used by the Incas. Four giant limestone sinkholes were terraced concentrically providing unique temperature and soil conditions for varied cultivation of crops. A complete system of irrigation and drainage allowed these deep terraces to take advantage of different sun and water ecosystems.

Above in the town of Maras, we walk by many of the colonial doorways from families tracing back to Incan times.

We continue on to the Pampa de Anta, a large agricultural plain overlooking the Sacred Valley. The village of Chincheros continues to serve as an administrative hub outside of the Cusco Valley. In addition to the 16th Century church built by the Spanish, Inca ruins of the palace from the 10th Incan ruler Tupac Yupanqui remain as a symbol of the pre-colonial times. There is a large private water project being constructed across the Sacred Valley and villages like Chincheros is benefiting from money spent on road construction and municipal upgrades. There is even talk of siting an airport on the Pampa.


We return to spend several days in Cusco before starting our Inca Trail hike into Machu Picchu. Our hotel, La Casona, is situated in the heart of the old town, a block away from the main square, Plaza de Armas. We stop for a visit to the town’s permanent market before calling it a day. Dinner was at Chi Cha owned by Gaston who is also affiliated with Le Mer in San Francisco.

On to Cusco


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