Adventures in the Andes

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

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Flag of Peru  , Cusco,
Saturday, May 14, 2011

We left our hotel this morning for a spectacular drive through the Andes, and once again Edgar impressed us with his driving skills.  Lots of narrow switchback roads along the edges of steep hills, with buses, people and animals crossing in all directions.  After a potty stop at the Mayor's house in the town of Maras, and fortified with the local altitude medicine (sorojchi?) I managed to walk, however slowly, all the way up the winding road to the Moray archaeological complex.  We passed other tour groups, as well as a local woman trying to corral her livestock.

Moray is an amazing place.  The first thing I learned there is that I would make a lousy archaeologist.  I would look at the concentric circles of terraces nestled in a steep bowl and assume it was a ceremonial religious site, or possibly an amphitheatre for sports or entertainment.  I would be way wrong.  It's not absolutely certain but most experts agree that Moray was a sort of agricultural experiment station, where the Incas figured out which crops would grow best at different altitudes.  The difference in temperature between the top and bottom can be as much as 27 degrees F.  At first glance we thought the little zigzag lines running up and down the terraces were merely decorative.  Then we looked closer and saw they were stairways.

After winding back down the road into the Urubamba Valley, we headed for another unique site.  On the way Edgar showed us the ultimate in driving skills, as we came to a dip that appeared to have been carved out by a stream flowing across the road during the recent heavy rains.  Edgar knew he would scrape the bottom of the bus both front and back, and possibly get stuck, if he tried driving straight across the dip.  So he got out and started picking up rocks from the side of the road and putting them in front of the wheels to raise the front end.  We all got out and helped and soon we had the front end safely out of danger.  Then we stopped and moved all the rocks to the rear wheels and repeated until the rear end was ready to clear the dip.  Then we moved on to our destination, the Maras Salt Pans. 

People have probably been collecting salt here since Pre-Inca times, but the Incas were the ones who really organized the place and established a cooperative system of "farming" the salt.  The salt comes from an underground stream that dissolves the minerals under the mountain and pops out in a spring, then washes down the mountainside.  Early people noticed the salt crust that dried on the rocks and began creating rectangular pans to make it easier to collect the salt.  The proper maintenance of the water channels and pans requires close cooperation among the farmers who own their own portion of the site.

By the time I had climbed up the hill to the parking lot (whew) I'd forgotten about the adventure of getting the bus up this road.  We were pleasantly surprised when we retraced our path to the dip in the road, and found that Edgar had stored all the rocks in the luggage compartment to use again on the way back! 

Our next step was the town of Chincheros, where we were served a traditional Andean lunch, including our old friend the cuy.  After lunch we walked down the street to the Chincheros Weaving co-op.  These women work together to preserve the ancient traditions of growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving the natural wool of the llamas and other animals of Peru.



After showing us the varieties of wool from llamas, alpacas and vicunas, the weavers demonstrated hand spinning using the drop spindle, and fine weaving using the backstrap loom.  They make a rectangular piece on the loom, then sew two of them together to make the traditional square manta (or if you prefer, the Quechua word for it is Lliclla--which is probably why most people use the Spanish "manta").  The manta is used for carrying almost anything on your back--from a baby to a jug of chicha beer.  


For many years chemical dyes were replacing the natural ones.  Now there is a resurgence in use of the natural dyes because they are better for both the artisans and the environment.  

After reluctantly returning the beautifully woven ponchos the weavers had given us to fend off the chilly afternoon showers, we shopped for a while and then got back in the bus for the drive back to Cuzco.

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