Day 16 | Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Another early morning. We have to be in front of the tour company’s offices in the Plaza de Armas by 6:45 am for a full day tour of the Sacred Valley.
The Sacred Valley is just North of Cusco and is packed full of colonial towns, weaving villages, and archaeological sites. It was a prime agricultural area for the Incas and still today produces maize (corn), fruit and vegetables for the city of Cusco. Below are brief synopses and pictures from each of the stops we made on the tour.
1 | A Traditional Weaving Center
We were treated to yummy tea while we watched a demonstration by local natives on how they clean, dye and spin the wool of alpacas to make all the lovely scarves, sweaters and tapestries that you see for sale all over.
2 | Chinchero
Thought to have been a country resort for Inca Tupac Yupanqui. The area is an impressive display of aqueducts and agricultural terraces. They appear to be actively restoring a portion of the terraces currently. Many of the terraces are still in use today and are used to grow potatoes, olluco, oca, quinoa and fava beans.
The locals set up a market in the courtyard of the church that was build on top of the foundation of what is believed to have been an Incan palace. Notice the perfectly fit together carved stones at the base of the buildings (built by the Incas) topped with stucco walls (built by the Spanish).
3 | Salinas de Maras [Maras Salt Mines]
An area along the slopes of Qaqawiñay mountain owned by the town of Maras that contains 3,000+ shallow saltwater pools that are hand-harvested by local families from May through November. Each family owns 2 to 4 pools. These pools have been in existence and used since before the Incas. There is a salt deposit high up in the mountains and spring waters run through it making the water that flows down into the pools 70% water and 30% salt. The pools are filled through small inlets that can be opened and closed at will. After filling the pools the inlets are closed off and in about 3 days time the water evaporates from pools leaving behind salt crystals to be harvested. The ponds produce white, pink and tan salt. The white is what we would call standard table salt that gets mixed with iodine. The pink is a gourmet cooking salt with trace amounts of calcium, magnesium, silicon and potassium. The tan is a medicinal salt used for the treatment of arthritis and other ailments.
4 | Moray
An archaeological site which is made up of several concentric circular stone terraces. The terraces create micro-climates that vary in temperature as much as 15 C between the top and bottom terraces. It has been speculated that the terraces were used for domesticating and acclimatizing various crops. They have even found evidence that cotton was planted in the terraces which normally would be grown on the coast of Peru.
5 | Ollantaytambo
An incomplete complex that was under construction at the time of the conquest. The stones used for the buildings were brought from a quarry high up on the mountain on the opposite side of the valley. There are steep stairs that lead to the temple area at the top. One of the most impressive areas is the Sun Temple which features a wall of 6 monoliths where you can see faint traces of carvings on the faces of each of the giant stones. Each monolith is 12+ feet tall and weighs up to 50 tons.
6 | Pisac
High up on the side of the mountain about an hour from Cusco. Pisac was once a fortress to defended the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley and keep attacks at bay and far from Cusco, the epicenter of the Inca empire. You find vast agricultural terraces around the area plus the largest known Inca cemetery, containing 3,500+ graves, on the adjacent hillside.
7 | Artisans’ Market in Pisac
The last stop on our tour and one that we decided to forego as it had been a long day. We were party poopers and stayed on the bus. Plus we were only given 10 minutes at the market as other members of our tour group had not been punctual throughout the day and had eaten up most of our allotted time at the market in order to stick to the schedule and get us back to Cusco at a somewhat reasonable hour. From what I hear an impressive market made up of permanent shops as well stalls peddling jewellery, ceramics, alpaca woollens or traditional textiles.
Today was good practice for Machu Picchu, hiking up 2,112 ancient stone steps of varying rise and run at elevations ranging between 9,160 feet and 12,342 feet. I am counting it as 4,224 stairs because for every one we walked up we had to walk back down and normally that wouldn’t be a big deal but when they are uneven stone stairs with rises varying from 3 inches to 16 inches and runs varying from 3 inches to 36 inches it is just as much of a workout coming down as it is going up. We both are exhausted but didn’t have any issues with altitude sickness.