Pisac: The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Trip Start Oct 03, 2008
Trip End Oct 11, 2008

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Monday, October 6, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008
Pisac, Peru

The Sacred Valley of The Incas

Today was the first day to explore the environs outside Cusco, my first step into the historical world of the Incas. My group and I departed promptly at 9AM after a hearty breakfast consisting of panqueques (pancakes), huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs), papaya juice, and an eclectic assortment of North-Meets-South American buffet breakfast at the hotel. After my defatigating thirty minute jog at a hypoxic altitude of 11,000 feet along the serpentine, ascending cobblestone streets of Cusco, I did not even consider asking for egg substitutes or a traditional low calorie breakfast. Everything on the table was fair game!

As we left the modern shell of luxury of the hotel, we began to drive into the harsh, barren, anhydrous landscape of the southern Peruvian highlands. The shadows of the towering mountains shielded the low-lying, brown bushes from the intense solar heat. Once in a while, I would notice some vegetations, but they were not profusely abundant. The sides of the mountains were covered with an ashen-brown color, echoing the same hue of the dessicated Santa Cruz mountains near San Jose, California or even that of the treeless Zaisan Mountains outside Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia.

Our drive was made more meaningful by the historical narrations delivered by our tour guide, Rosa. As my eyes scanned the sinusoidal mountain range, I carefully listened to the events that had shaped this region of Peru. The Sacred Valley of the Incas, an enchanting area between Pisac and Ollataytambo, used to serve as the military, religious, and agricultural center of the expansive Inca Empire. Doused with the sacred Urubamaba River, the narrow strip of fertile land of the Sacred Valley was surrounded by the stunning Andes Mountains and now showcased impressive Inca fortresses and citadels.

Dónde está el baño? (Where's The Restroom?)

Along the way, we made frequent stops for pictures with Peru's darling llamas. As we entered Parque Arqueológico Pisaq (Pisac Archeological Park), the group decided to make its last restroom stop. And was it a unique experience! At the park's entrance lay a dilapidated restroom, in which the toilet had no real plumbing to flush its contents. I noticed that people had to step outside to dip a plastic bowl into a bucket holding brownish, opaque, brackish water and took it inside to pour the water into the tank mounted on the toilet bowl. With enough water pressure, the toilet could loosely flush. Did I mention the absence of a sink to wash one's hands in or the lack of light inside the restroom? In order to not step one's foot into a regrettable area, the door had to be left ajar while the restroom was in service....

The Ancient Village of Pisac and the Inca Cemetery

The hike to the ancient village of Pisac was an absolutely stunning experience. Perched on a mountain top, Pisac was built by the Incas for two important reasons, as a defense post at the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley and as the breadbasket of the whole empire. It was here that potatoes were grown on impressive hillside terraces that draped the landscape in a rectilinear, symmetric staircase. So much potato could be grown in the conducive climate that a whole empire was easily fed. Rosa then led us to a mountainside, where we could see "holes" tunneling into its massive walls. This was the ancient "cemetery" of the Incas. Instead of being buried underground, the bodies of the dead were carried into a shallow "cave" dug by the Incas on the side of the mountain. The departed ones would remain in the fetal position or be sitting with limbs crossed in front of their bodies, surrounded by their potteries and jewelries, while their souls were thought to be mystically transported to the afterlife.

El Mercado Local (The Local Market)

After our trek to the ancient ruins of Pisac, we descended to the modern town for some lunch and afterwards toured the local market of modern Pisac. Today was Sunday, so the local and tourist markets were in full swing. I traipsed around and silently observed the indigenous Quechua women doing their weekly shopping at the local market. The entire open-air market sold everything from Alpaca meat to little trinkets like plastic pens or cooking utensils. It was like going shopping at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan or La Galerie Lafayette in Paris on a typical Sunday afternoon, but with a distinctive Peruvian flavor. This was, perhaps, one of the most refreshing and intriguing experiences I could have gotten to closely learn about the cultural interactions of the Quechuas. Although I did not understand a word at the market, I still enjoyed watching the typical human expressions of joy, displeasure, suspicion, and bargaining that were so omnipresent from Main Street, USA to El Mercado Local, Perú. Some women were squeezing the papayas and passion fruits to test their freshness; others seemed to be chatting and laughing joyously in an intense social conversation. Little children were running around the different market tents with a sense of carefree frivolity. It seemed like a special afternoon. Food was in abundance and ready to be traded or bought. Young Quechua women with their offspring tied to their backs were buying food for their families.

Baby Animals and the Children of Perú

And it was there that I asked an 8-year old boy why he was carrying a little billy goat wrapped in a shawl. He timidly introduced me to his female billy, Juana, which was 1 week old. Although he did not tell me why, I posed this question to an adjacent stall owner, who explained that it was a long-standing Quechua tradition for children to walk around carrying their pets in their arms. Depending on the villages of provenance, the portable pets could also be different. By seeing the type of pet (billy, lamb, or baby llama), one could determine the child's village of origin. My travel friends, Pam and David from South Carolina, came up with a more plausible hypothesis: it was an adorable, cute factor and a photographic magnet for tourists. In America, one could relate this to Hollywood actresses carrying their pet chihuahuas in Louis Vuitton handbags. Is it a cute factor or a gag reflex?

The day ended with a visit to the Vicuñita Factory (Saphy Street 818, near Sacsayhuamán), where we were taught how to recognize the suave, silky touch of a sweater made from real Baby Alpaca fur among a pile of synthetic wool sweaters. The real Baby Alpaca sweater was so smooth that I bought one after my new fashion consultant, Jan from Colorado, helped me select the color and design. And did she do a good job! Everyone in the group seemed to like it so much that my sweater became a convenient petting object, or at least, was that their excuse?...

After a long, tiring day, we were told that tomorrow's itinerary would lead us closer to the lost city of the Incas: Machu Picchu. And that would mean some good cardiovascular hiking was in store for us....
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