Surprise in the Sacred Valley

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Feb 01, 2005

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, July 9, 2004

Finally we were off in the direction of my childhood fantasy, Machu Picchu. Emily, Tanja and I were in good company with Martin (Germany) and Julie and Maria (Denmark). Martin was acting as our tour guide and it was nice to leave all the organising to him!!!

Have to wait another day
We arrived in Ollantaytambo to purchase our train tickets for the cheaper (by US$50!) backpacker train at 1pm to find that all the seats for that night were sold out. So we booked a ticket for the next day. As we did so, I thought to myself "Iīll never see Blue Steel Neil again" and was a tad disappointed, although I had never expected to run into him and his friends at Machu Picchu.

We then searched for a hostel and stayed at La Ņusta. I was sitting on my bed next to the open door when I saw Neil walk past. I almost fell off the bed and ran out the door to say hi. He was there with his friends Avi and Gil as they had missed their 6am train to Machu Picchu that morning by oversleeping (and it turned out that his name is Nir, not Neil! That is a much more Jewish name! Blue Steel Nir doesnīt have quite the same ring though...) After seeing Nir, I was quite excited and was looking forward to talking to him after visiting the Ollantaytambo ruins.

We elected to self guide ourselves around the large Ollantaytambo fortress. We had great fun interpreting the rocks and what everything meant. So for a quick overview, Ollantaytambo was a giant soccer stadium where the Incas used to play against the Conquistadors. There was enough seating for everyone in the stands and even some corporate boxes at the top. Plebs could view it for free by climbing a punishing hill on the other side. There were some nice water features which were in the area of the players locker rooms.

I Never
After the ruins and some dinner, I asked the guy in reception where the 3 Israelis were staying. He pointed me in the direction of a room that I knew wasnīt theirs and I was proved right when strangers answered the door. He then led me to another room, knocked on the door and it was opened by Avi. I chatted to them for awhile and then went out with them for a drink. The reception guy told us that they lock the doors at 10pm, and as it was 9:30pm they bargained for another half an hour so that they could scoff down some pizza.

The only place open was a bar/restaurant where we found Emily, Julie and Maria waiting for the drinks they had ordered 20 minutes earlier. When it was time to go back, we went to the boysī room so as not to disturb Martin and Tanja who were sleeping. After a little chat Nir wanted to play I Never, so we ended up playing until 2:30am. I knew how the game went, but as there was nothing to drink, we played with 5 fingers, and every time you had done the "I Never" thing, you lost a finger, and when you lost all 5, you had to do an assignment.

There was a bit of ganging up between the girls and the boys and Nir copped the most assignments, which included (among the less daring) kissing me and Emily, having to clean his ears and show us what was in them and pretend he was a dog. I ended up losing in what became our last game. Avi and I both lost all our fingers, so everyone else made us dirty dance and kiss. Avi needed some music for the rhythm, and so we each had an earpiece. He was a very good kisser and it went on for quite some time (longer than his kissing assignment with Emily) and it was broken by Maria saying "that must be really good music". I was a bit mortified when Maria and Julie went to bed, and then Emily said she was going to bed too, as I didnīt want my assignment to be the last one of the night!

Moray and the Salinas
Instead of visiting the Sacred Valley after Machu Picchu, we got to see it before hand, which was good as they were just small ruins. Moray is a terrace kind of like an amphitheatre and is supposedly the laboratories of the Incas. Each level has a different microsystem and they think that the Incas used it to help plan where to plant their crops.

We then walked from the town of Maras down a nice hill, passing little boys riding on donkeys herding sheep and alpacas, to the Salinas, or salt pans. On the way, I stopped to take a picture looking down the valley at beautifully plowed plots and a resting cow. A young girl who had followed us and then walked ahead to position herself near the great vista called to me "No puede sacar un foto" or you canīt take a picture, to which I replied "ŋPor que?" and she said "Primero pagar". She wanted me to pay her to take a picture of a landscape from a public path that she wasnīt even in. I should have pressed the shutter button before walking off, but I didnīt and then I got made at her audacity.

The Salinas look like cryogenic pools from Minority Report. I kept expecting to see someone in one of the 5,000 pans. It was like a maze with no real path and we walked along the thin walls between pools. They were in different stages of drying and some pools were being filled with warm, very salty water from a nearby spring. We got to the other side with salty hands from putting them in the water, and feeling thirsty from tasting some of the salt.

Backpacker Train
On the train Emily and I ended up sitting opposite Gil who hadnīt been able to get a ticket with Nir and Avi in another carriage. He showed us how to write our names in Hebrew and Russian and we had an interesting conversation. The train was full of people heading to Machu Picchu and we were a bit worried about finding some accomodation (especially since there were 9 of us) when we got to Aguas Calientes, the town in the valley below the ruins.

We neednīt have worried as we got rooms for s/10 each and then went to the adjoining restaurant and ate, drank and talked until midnight.

Things I Learned
* How to write my name in Hebrew. Haim showed me in Arraial DīAjuda, but Gil made me practise it.
* When things donīt go your way and you are in a nice place, itīs okay to change your plans.
* Itīs more fun without a guide as you can make up much more interesting stories.
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