The Valley

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Its a fallacy that there was ever an era of the 'Incas', in fact there was a time when the Quetchuan people dominated Peru, calling their kings Incas. there were in fact only ever 14 true Incas to exist. Originating from Lake Titicaca the Inca era started in early 13th Century, and was the largest empire in Pre-Colombian South America eventually engulfing many of the pre-inca Indian tribes.  It came to an early demise when it was wiped out by the gunpowder brandishing Spanish Conquistadors less than 300 years later. 

The Incas were people who followed nature and to them agriculture, the stars, the weather, the sun and the moon were the most important things and this is why they built temples to worship the same and aligned these to the equinoxes and the solstices.  Their stonework was extremely advanced for the time and it is the Inca buildings, built in pyramidal shapes to withhold earthquakes, that still stand when the Spanish Colonial buildings collapsed.  All buildings were built with a jigsaw style of stonework but the everyday buildings were rougher and used mortar to connect the stones, whereas the temples were cut so perfectly that they fit together flush without any mortar at all.

Cusco became the Inca capital and although initially the Inca’s had no inclination to spread their beliefs, after attacks from outside they eventually decided to spread their culture via the means of trade and marriage and eventually conquered an area that spread across the whole of Peru , Ecuador into Colombia in the north and Argentina and Chile in the South.

The Sacred Valley was a stronghold for the Incas due to its strategic position and being the best access through the mountains.  Our journey into the Sacred Valley stared in Pisac, where after spending a morning strolling around the market there we took a taxi up to the top of the surrounding mountains to the Inca Ruins and spent some 3 hours walking back down to the town through the Inca terracing.  Here as in other sites the mountains have been carved into terraces which the Incas used for agricultural experiments, growing different crops on each level depending on the altitude and also creating new strains of crops by gradually increasing the altitude of a crop year by year.  The views are totally spectacular as is the view down over the sun temple and the stone work and architecture is really impressive.

Day two in the Sacred Valley and we explored Chinchero, the circular Inca Terracing at Moray and visited the salt pans at Maras, which exploit a natural salt stream and is a site where salt has been harvested from before Inca times in the same manner. We were then dropped off in Ollantaytambo a beautiful town set at the foot of the valley and surrounded by Inca terracing.  The town itself is still laid out in its original Inca blueprint and is the best way to see how the Quetchuan people really lived at that time and continue to do so.  We stayed at Casa de Wow and our excentric hosts Win and Wow really made us feel at home.  Our room was awesome too, Wow is an artist and has hand made all the beds in the hostel.  There is a cute little roof terrace overlooking the ruins and a great spot for a sunset beer while peering at the ceramic bulls that adorn the roofs of the town as protection for the houses under them.

The following day we headed up to 14,500 feet above sea level in a jeep with our guide and some bikes to the pass at Abra Malaga and then spent 2 hours cycling back down 50km (one of the longest possible downhill rides in the world) to town past llamas, goats and sheep and ladies and children dressed in multicoloured traditional dress with the smell of pine trees in our nose and the wind in our hair.  The most spectacular scenery all around with snow capped peaks above us, mountain streams beside us and the valley beneath it was the most amazing bike ride I have ever been on.  We took the road which wound its way down the mountain with steep drops to the side and hairpin turns to negotiate but for experienced mountain bikers there is an off road track down hill that looked pretty impressive. After the ride we treated ourselves to lunch at the Heart Cafe, set up by an English lady to support impoverished locals and with a lovely story as well as great food.  We then sought out a house with a red plastic bag outside (signalling that Chicha – homebrewed beer made of corn – was for sale), sampled a rather large glass of the stuff before heading to the train station to catch perhaps the poshest train we have ever taken up to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.

We weren’t able to do the Inca trail itself partly as you have to prebook it a million years in advance and it costs a fortune, but also because I didn’t think my ancient knees would handle the uphill hike and so this 4 days in the valley was our own private (slightly luxurious – as no tents were involved) Inca Trail.  Our 4th and final day of our trail started at 4am, a quick breakfast in the hostel at 4.30 (yes they serve it that early in Sumpertramp Hostel) and then we hopped on a bus up to Machu Picchu in time to watch the morning mist separate to reveal the jungle clad mountains and the valley around it the ruins

Machu Piccu itself was probably home to around 500 peoplein its hayday but at any one time around 2000 people may have been camping in the surrounding mountains as part of the construction team.  The workers were normal people who instead of paying taxes, paid with hard labour.  The city itself housed Inca kings every now and then, the kings living in the only house that had a toilet.  The inhabitants were the elite and those who were considered to be the best in their field were sent to live there for a short time.  The city features temples of the sun and temples facing the solstice and equinox as well as a sundial and up in the mountain of Huanapicchu there is the temple of the moon.  We hiked up out of the city toward the sungate along the last stretch of the famous ‘Inca Trail’ and also to the Inca Bridge, which precariously clings to the side of a vertical cliff.  It truely is an amazing setting.

The city was ‘found’ by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and at the time it was virtually intact.  Unfortunately since then it has been damaged and looted by humans and I am told that hardly any of the damage you see was caused by natural forces.  Bingham himself found over 40,000 Inca artefacts at the site all of which were removed from Peru and are now housed in Yale University in USA.  Only 3,000 pieces have been returned to Peru to date!  It is thought that the reason MP remained intact was because the last Inca destroyed all the access to the city, ordered all the people to leave and mislead the Conquistadors away from the city.  It is thought that there are still cities to be found in the mountains just like Machu Picchu one of which, Choquequirao, may in fact be larger than Machu Picchu was recently discovered, is yet to be fully restored or cleared of jungle as only 30 percent of the original complex is believed to have been uncovered.  To get to Choquequirao however you have to hike for 6 days through the jungle.

A truely amazing few days amid beautiful scenery, immense mountains and fascinating architecture.  How they moved the stones with the tools available to them and how they cut such large pieces so perfectly is an amazing feat.  I also admire their beliefs and its a shame that a culture that had so much respect for nature was wiped out by us Europeans, to change history and South America forever.
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