Exploring the Sacred Valley

Trip Start May 08, 2011
Trip End May 16, 2011

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I am a little fuzzy on the direction we traveled today...still can't get used to seeing the sun rise in the northeast!  This is my first trip across the equator.  Still cloudy in the evenings so no sighting of the Southern Cross yet either!

As our amazing bus driver, Edgar, navigated the winding narrow roads out of our hotel, we looked around at the Andean scenery.  Homes here are mostly built of adobe bricks, plastered with a thin layer of brown mud.  This may be left bare, whitewashed, or painted bright colors depending on the local custom.  Roofs are made of tiles.  Almost every roof sports a good luck charm, made of two bulls and a cross.  The bulls symbolize fertility.  We stopped in a small village where a woman showed us how she makes the traditional chicha beer out of corn.  They grow many varieties of corn here (along with 3000 different kinds of potatos!).  In the big cities women dress in their traditional woolen skirts and hats, mostly to make a few bucks having their picture taken by tourists, so it was nice to see that here in the countryside the traditional clothing is normal.

Cesar is showing us the cochinilla (cochineal in English), a parasitic insect that lives on the prickly pear cactuses all over this area.  When crushed they release a deep red dye called carmine which is popular for coloring food, cosmetics, and yarn.

Our plan for the day was to visit a couple of archaeological sites that are off the beaten tourist track.  Unfortunately it was a little too off-the-path today...the road we were to take was closed for repairs.  Peru just went through a very rainy summer (yes, May is autumn below the equator) and there are lots of landslides in the area.  But the workers promised they would be finished soon, so we decided to save Moray and Maras for another day.  We took a brief walk along the Urubamba River and the more energetic folks actually got a preview of the famous salt pans at Maras.  Since I was one of the wimps that didn't make it I will save the description for later when we were able to reach Maras by bus.

After our picnic lunch we spent the afternoon at Ollantaytambo, a huge complex of ruins from Inca times.  The Inca Emperor Pachacuti built this site as his royal estate, and later it served as a stronghold of the Inca resistance against the Spanish conquistadores.  It is best known now as the beginning of the Inca Trail, for those hardy folks who set out on the four-day walk to Machu Picchu.

After scrambling around the stone steps of Ollantaytambo, we drove to the train station for our ride to Machu Picchu.  The train rushes down through the Urubamba Canyon to the town of Aguas Calientes, known as the Gateway to Machu Picchu.  We arrived just before sunset to find that WAI had thoughtfully arranged for all of us to have riverside rooms at the hotel.  When I first walked into my room I thought the air conditioning had been turned up to high because of the loud noise in the room.  It took me a few minutes of wandering around searching for the thermostat before I realized that what I was hearing was the boisterous rushing of the river!  Usually I find the sound of water calming, but between the babbling Urubamba and the anticipation of the next day it seemed like I only slept a few minutes before our 4:45 wake up call.

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