A country of “un-expected pleasures”.
Map of Sacred Valley and towns leading to Machu Picchu
We checked out of the Doubletree in Iquitos on Thursday the 6 of October, headed to the local airport for our flights to Cusco, Peru. As there are no direct flights, we first flew to Lima, then connected with a flight to Cusco for one night. This was at the suggestion of the Peru Guide, Chris Condori Huanca, http://www.topperutrips.com. I had hired him for a week of guiding, both Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, and for altitude adjustment, he suggested first Sacred Valley, then Machu Picchu.
I had made reservations at the Antiqua Casona San Blas Hotel in Cusco, for one night as Chris would pick up up the next morning and transport us to a hotel in Urabamba, Sacred Vally for four days of exploring. I had also made reservations at the Antiqua Casona San Blas for Four days when we returned from Machu Picchu. When we checked in, I knew I had made the right choice, the hotel was beautiful, had an excellent spa and restaurant. It was located in the City Center near all the great spots we could walk to.
The “road” to our hotel in Cusco, and yes, it’s a “2 way street” 🙂
After a long day of air travel, we enjoyed a spectacular dinner and hit the sack, knowing we had an early morning for breakfast, and would meet out guide Chris in the morning at the hotel.
Beef Osso Buco and Malbec, two things I have missed dearly in Belize.
The next morning after a delicious breakfast and two cups of Capachino from their “:Coffee Bar”, we met Chris in the lobby. I knew almost immediately I liked this guy, who had a super smile and spoke excellent english ! Chris loaded our bags in his vehicle and away we wend to the Sacred Valley.
Downing Cappuccino before breakfast
Special Note- As we had packed for a month, there was quite a bit of clothes and supplies that we had needed for the Amazon, and would need in Argentina, but not for the next week. Therefore we checked one large bag with the hotel, for when we returned in a week.
A little “Guinea Pig Condo”, that I learned was not for “pets”, but for food ???:)
We me these Alpaca’s and Llama’s, and later learned that “they do not taste like chicken” 🙂
The plan today was to take it easy on way to the Tierra Viva Valley Sagrado Hotel / Resort in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley, Peru. On the beautiful drive there we would make a couple stops at an Rojchi Lookout, with stunning views of the Valley, and also the village of Chincher, a local village known as a “weavers town”.
Marsha learning how to “spin Alpaca”
Weaving Alpaca after it is died many colors.
The views go on forever
Snow capped mountains and glaciers are seen all over Peru
Finally arriving at our resort, again we were pleasantly thrilled with its location outside the town. The mountain views were spectacular, the room was well appointed, restaurant excellent, and we were located next to the “Spa”, which we both appreciated.
A very popular game found in Peru, and major competition, the Sapo Coin Toss Frog Game.
In the Village of Chincer after viewing Alpaca and Llama weaving, Chris introduced me to the Peru Game of Sapo, or “toss the coins into the frogs mouth from to far away”. This is a great “bar game” enjoyed there, one which I will attempt to introduce here in Belize. Chhris has already challenged me to a “re-match” when I return to Peru.
The next morning, Saturday Chris and his driver picked us up at our hotel, and off we went on a full day, exploring the Colonial Town of Maras, the Urubamba Mountain Range, and the Moray Salt Mines. I will tell you that I had no idea what the “salt mines” were, or any idea what we would find when we got there. Maybe a pit with salt in it and guys shoveling it up ?
As we ventured on winding roads over the mountains, we pulled over to the side of the road and got out to what Chris called “a good photo op”.
The winding dirt road to Salt Flats below. Nice “guard rails” ?;)
Looking down we could see what looked like a field of white patchwork in the valley below. I was more concentrating on the small winding road down, with cars and busses trying to pass each other, and little or no “guard rails”.
As we proceeded closer to the bottom and a “parking lot”, with many vehicles and lots of tourists, I figured this was more that a pit of white salt. My first closeup of these salt mines took my breath away. They were actually salt “ponds”, about 12 feet square, filled at various stages, from salt water to solid bleached white salt. There are more than 5,000 salt evaporation ponds, most owned and maintained by local families.
This is the small “Salt Spring” that supplies the salt water to over 6,000 ponds below.
Since “Pre-Inca Times” these salt ponds have been producing salt which starts from a small stream of salt water coming out above the ponds. The keepers of the family ponds regulate how much water enters each pond as the water evaporates, until it is pure bleached salt. Within days the flow is cut off, and salt is scraped and bagged and carried up the hill to awaiting trucks.
There are three qualities of salt produced, the first pink/white, sold as table salt and highest quality, the second is bulk salt and third brown used in industry.
You could take horses from town below to the salt pond, we did not, more about riding horses later.
The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the local community, as this is the major industry and “lifeblood” of the community and has been for centuries.
When salt is dry it is bagged in 50 lb sacks, carried up to top and awaiting trucks.
My wife Marsha and I returned to resort after a full day in the sun, along with much “climbing exercising”, which like Machu Picchu, included hundreds of steps down, and up again. The suggestions of visiting “The Spa” for a long needed massage and soak was definitely in order.
The next morning Chris and his driver picked us up at the hotel, for our 2nd day of Sacred Valley Expeditions, visiting the Pisaq Ruins and Ollantaytambo Town ( down your Pisco Sour, and say that three times fast ! 🙂
The walk to ruins from parking lot
We first traveled to the Pisac Ruins in Sacred Valley, which as most places in Peru was extremely interesting. As are with most ruins, there were steps to climb, but if you take your time and stop to observe the beauty of this place, its not a bad climb. The nice thing about these ruins is that the are only about 9,000 feet above sea level, instead of the 11-12,000 feet like in Cusco, so climbing wasn’t as bad.
These Inca Ruins are believed to be one of the best preserved in all Peru, and you can find ancient residences, baths terraces and my favorite part, the largest Inca Cemetery in all of Peru.
The Inca Cemetery, known as Tankanamarka is hard to locate unless you have a experienced and knowledgable Guide like Chris. As we stood in ruins pretty high up, I was looking at the side of the next steep hillside, thinking, ” I wonder if those are Mining entrances in the side of it”? Chris pointed out the hundreds or thousands of little holes, that most people would think were bird nest holes. In actuality, they are graves dug in the side of the mountain, with the bigger ones being royalty.
If you look closely you can see the holes where Inca’s were buried.
There are so many areas of ruins to explore, from the Towers overlooking the town below, to walls of stone that fit together so well that they look “laser cut”. In fact, thats something we noticed in many Inca Ruins throughout Peru on out trip, “How did they get such precise angles on such mega stones, to fit so perfectly”?
Prospective of relationship of high mountain temples and living, above city below.
My answer…Aliens of course ! 🙂
Our Guide Chris, attempting to “levitate”, as was accomplished by his past Inca relatives. :0
Next we journeyed on to the town of Ollantaytambo Town, which is the last stop for the journey to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. In fact, we will be coming back here tomorrow morning to catch our train to Aguas calientes and MP. I am so happy that we visited this town and didn’t just come here to catch the train.
The town has much to offer, surrounded by ancient terraces, snow capped mountain peaks, with small narrow stones streets dating back to the Inca days. The stone walls, many intact have been replenished on top to keep them intact, but you can see the difference from original on the bottom.
Most importantly in this town is the water supply from mountain streams above the town, still supplying drinkable water to the residences today as they did in the Inca times. The patchwork of homes on these streets all have stone canals in front of doorways, with fresh water rushing at all times for household use. Must be nice…no water bills.
Channels from mountain tops to the town with fresh drinkable water, to each house.
Ollantaytambo was built for the Inca “elite”, for both astronomical and worship in the temples rising up above the town below. There are massive rows of terraces carved in the hillside for agriculture to feed the masses. You just can’t comprehend the magnitude of this citadel, and how long it took to build it.
Today was our last in the Sacred Valley, and I felt it was well spent, exploring the ancient Inca ruins, preparing us for our journey to Machu Picchu, the “ultimate of all Inca ruins”. We have learned so much about the history of the Inca’s visiting and learning from Chris our guide. The past 3 day, by Chris’s design, have been spent here in the highest altitudes, conditioning us to the high altitudes, so Machu Picchu would not be a problem. We did learn however, that Machu Picchu isn’t as high as here in Sacred Valley, or Cusco, which is about 12,000 Feet in elevation.
Marsha at ancient Inca “drinking fountain”
Window into the soul.
Celebration of the Guinea Pig. This was in a town that produced the pig for Peru.
“Ok, lets see if this does taste like chicken” 🙂
So you know, other than taking some “over the counter” altitude pills for a few days, drinking lots of water, and not getting wasted on Pisco Sours every day, we had very little effects from altitude. Well, Marsha did have some nausea, which might have been from high altitude. We actually did suffer a bit on our return from Machu Picchu to Cusco, where we were for 4 days. More about that later.
After a “hard day”, there we are, ready for that “Pisco Sour” or 5 🙂
Now its back to the resort to rest up for our journey tomorrow by train to Aguas Calientes, have dinner and possibly another massage !
See you next on the “Luxury Peru Rail Expedition Train” to Machu Picchu, Peru.
The third leg of this Blog Post will be our three hour trip on the train to Aquas Caliente, Peru, at the base of Machu Picchu. We will be staying at the Jaya Machu Picchu Hotel for two nites. I planned this in case on the first day there was rain and or fog on the mountain. This would give us a “back up” day.
Until then….please remember…we were excited to visit South America for many reasons, one being the food, especially “meat”.
So far we have had Llama, Alpaca and of course, the Guinea Pig. 🙂