The rest of the Sacred Valley

Trip Start Aug 28, 2008
Trip End Sep 06, 2008

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

We woke up at 7:30 today, cleaned up and went over to Claudia's house for breakfast.  There are two options for breakfast at Kuychi Rumi.  You can either spend 100 soles (approximately 3 soles to the dollar) for the staff to set you up with a starter pack of fruits and other items in your kitchen, or you can go to the dining house to have a fresh cooked meal.  Since Amy and I were only staying for 2 days, we decided the latter would be the better option.  Kuychi Rumi was not at capacity this weekend since this is the shoulder season in Peru, so we had breakfast at the owner's (Claudia) house instead.  We walked in and saw quite the spread of fruits, cheeses, meats, andean cereals (quinoa was delicious), breads, and jams.  There were 2 types of jam, one that looked like blueberry and the other looked like figs.  I went for the blueberry (later found out it is called elderberry) jam as that seemed to be the popular one.  Boy was it delicious.  Claudia asked us if she could make us some eggs as well, but I passed as my stomach was still getting used to the change in altitude.  At breakfast with us were 2 girls from Lima and 1 girl from South Africa.  They kept to themselves, so there wasn't much conversation.

After breakfast we packed up for the day, then waited for Mariano and David to pick us up for today's adventure.  We first went to the town of Ollantaytambo.  This is another town in the Sacred Valley with a small town square and ruins at the end of the road.  These ruins are David's (our tour guide) favorite.  Although Machu Picchu is more complete, Ollantaytambo reveals more about the history of the incans.  We hiked up to the top of the ruins and learned how they carved and moved the rocks from the mountain across the Urubamba River.  We also saw how the incans carved another mountain to look like the profile of one of the gods (I took a picture, but still can't make out the profile).  We also saw a fountain made out of quartz that changes direction when you slide your finger across the water (there is a video of this shown below).  Once we finished at the ruins we went back into town to check out a replica of the houses that the incans lived in.  These houses usually consisted of one room (with either one or two levels).  The beds were on one side, kitchen in the middle, and skulls of their ancestors (and other artifacts) on the other side of the house.  Running around were close to 50 guinea pigs.  Guinea pigs were and still are used as both pets and meals.  I guess the other guinea pigs don't notice or care when one of their friends goes missing.  They just continue to run around and produce more offspring.  Also, contrary to popular reality shows, hamsters are not small guinea pigs.  Hamsters are another creature.  

It was lunch time now and David was raving about this restaurant that serves the best beef steak saltado in all of Peru.  So we went to check it out.  Steak saltado is considered one of Peru's national dishes (along with ceviche).  It consists of cubed meat with tomatoes and onions in a soy sauce.  Comes with french fries and rice on the side.  I was quite a big fan of the saltado.  Amy ordered a burrito, which she had to build herself.  They brought out 8 tiny plates filled with different items (veggies, cheese, guac, etc.) and two tortillas.  She washed it down with inca kola which is a peruvian soda that tastes like bubble gum or cotton candy.  A little to sweet for my taste buds.  At the table across the way were 4 Americans waiting for the train to start their hike.  I was able to speak with them about college football since the season started the day before.  They were from California, but were Alabama fans.  Unfortunately for me, Michigan did not open the season on a high note.  We decided to leave the restaurant when an Ohio State fan walked in (surprisingly, this is considered a locals joint).  

Next, we drove through the town of Maras to Moray.  Moray was built as an amphitheater, but was only used twice a year for festivals.  The rest of the time it was used for farming.  We saw these terraces many times throughout our journey.  They were built so the incans could grow different crops on each level, since each level had a different climate (the difference can be up to 15 degrees celsius from the top level to the bottom).  We climbed down to the bottom of Moray and took some pics.  Was interesting to see all the cigarette butts in the middle.  I guess tourists feel that they need a celebratory smoke after climbing down 15 levels of terraces.  Not the best idea at 10000 feet.  Climbing back out was very tough.  Had to stop a few times gasping for air.  

We then drove back through Maras to the salt mines.  Since we were in the Andes, most of the sites were on the sides of mountains.  Up until now I trusted Mariano as he was a great driver.  This was the first time I had difficulty looking down.  The road barely fit one car and there was no railing.  Not to mention once we finally arrived in the parking area, Mariano, being the nice guy that he is, decided to take us down a bit closer so we didn't have to walk.  Since there was no place to turn around close to the bottom, he popped the car in reverse and went down the rest of the way backwards.  There is a small natural spring that comes out of the mountain that is warm to the touch and tastes quite salty.  This stream flows into 3000 pools (with an average area of 50 square feet) that were created by the incans.  The water in these pools sits for 4 to 6 weeks and salt forms at the top.  The first half of pools were those created by the incans, the further half were created in recent times.  Interestingly enough, the incan pools were better made and some of the new ones are falling apart.  

There was a little bit of sunlight left in the day (sunsets around 6pm in the valley), so we headed to the town of Chincero.  Chinchero is the highest town in the Sacred Valley at 12000 feet.  Mariano dropped us off in town and we headed towards the Church.  There was another woman's center where a group of women (who come from all the neighboring towns) meet to weave.  We got a much better demonstration of how they turn the fur into textiles.  They were very nice so we purchased a sweater and a blanket from them.  The women were so grateful that they gave us some cuy (guinea pig) to enjoy.  I wanted to try cuy, so this was a perfect opportunity.  I wasn't sure if I would like it, since my friend Samantha Brown was quite disgusted and even Anothony Bourdain was indifferent to it, but it wasn't too bad.  It tasted like rabbit or really tough dark meat chicken.  We then continued on to the ruins and the church in Chinchero.  The church was made in the colonial times (built on top of incan ruins) and was the biggest in the area.  

Finally, we got back in the car and made the 1 hour trek back to Urubamba.  Got to Kuychi Rumi and picked up our train tickets from Claudia (who had gotten them for us when we made our reservation).  We were all set for the next day to head to Machu Picchu.  Once again we got a fire going in the house and ordered some food.  We had plans to take a taxi into town to go to a restaurant for dinner, but after all the meals we had today, it was best to just order in again.  They tell you to eat light for dinner anyway because of the altitude.  So we finished dinner and went to bed early.
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