Published: March 2nd 2012March 2nd 2012
The Sacred Valley
Overview of The Sacred Valley
Day 140 Tuesday 28th
Up at the crack of dawn today because we had a tour to do. Had a quick bite to eat and then got all our stuff together and raced out the door. Had to walk the 3 blocks into the centre of town and then wait 10 minutes till the travel agent opened. At 8.30 a woman came out from the travel agent and told us to wait inside and then after 15 minutes we (along with 4 others) had to follow another woman to where the bus would pick us up. We walked about 3 blocks to another plaza where we were told to wait, and then after some phone calls we moved to another spot and then another and another till finally around 9.15 our bus turned up and we could all board. The bus then spent the next 30 minutes circling the town picking up others but eventually we got under way and started heading up the hill from town.
Our tour today was into “The Sacred Valley” a deep long valley 15km north of Cusco that is dotted with numerous Inca sites, spectacular scenery
View from temple complex
and Andean villages. Our guide on the bus was “Lilly”, an amazingly knowledgeable woman who didn’t just regurgitate facts and figures but seemed really passionate about what she was telling us. She had to give her spiel in both Spanish and English and always made sure we understood what she was saying. We have been very fortunate to get some great guides on this trip and Lilly was one of the best. Our first stop on our journey was at a lookout over the sacred valley, which from the time of the Inca to the present day is the “corn basket” of the nation. Back in the day, Maize (Corn) was considered sacred and that is pretty much how the valley got its name. Our next stop was at a small market that had about 50 sellers all selling exactly the same things, like alpaca jumpers and ponchos to tacky trinkets and fake antiques. Hardly anyone bought anything, which once again had us wondering how they all survive. We then drove down into the valley and across the rain swollen Rio Urubamba and into the modern town of Pisac. On Sundays this town has a huge market but on every
Shelley in an Incan doorway
other day it is just a sleepy Peruvian town. The bus then climbed up the steep side of the valley to the ancient Incan town of Pisac. The Incans had built this town on a high rocky outcrop and then terraced the land down the side of the mountain to grow crops. Archaeologists “restored” these terraces many years ago and in the process destroyed a sophisticated drainage system, and since then the terraces have been collapsing. At present they are back there rebuilding them in an effort to save them. Lilly was able to explain how the Inca planted different crops on each terrace depending on altitude and location to the sun as they knew what grew best. We had seen these terraces everywhere on our drive today and no doubt not all are ancient but the amount of work that would go into constructing them is mind blowing.
Our guide was able to point out the homes of the nobles, the hill side graves and then took us on a march along a narrow pathway to the Incan temples. The temples were built with the characteristic Incan precision stonework and although only fairly small buildings were
Ruins and terraces
just beautifully built. From here we walked back along another narrow pathway back to the bus. It was 1.30 by this stage so our next stop was in the town of Urubamba where we pulled over for lunch. We had prepaid for a buffet lunch at a restaurant and for our effort got a fairly ordinary feed, but at 25 sols ($9) each, I guess we shouldn’t complain. After lunch we drove further into the valley till we reached Ollantaytambo the site of yet another spectacular Inca city. After making our way through the modern but quaint Peruvian town we had to walk up a steep walkway between the ancient terraces to the remains of “The Sun Temple”. The temple was constructed with massive red granite blocks that were quarried on a mountain across the valley, some of these weigh as much as 70 tonnes. Although over the years people have claimed many things about how this temple was built, in recent years archaeologists have found a clear trail of large stones from the quarry to the present site, including some on a manmade island in the middle of the Rio Urubamba. Alongside the site are the remains of a
Terraces of Pisac
large manmade ramp, which the stones were hauled up. A few years ago a 28 tonne block was dragged through the town by 120 women to prove that anything is possible. The temple was never completed and that is evident by the dozens of huge blocks that lay scattered around the area. The largest blocks were placed to form a wall that used to have large puma heads in relief upon them and on the 21st
of June every year the sun would shine on them and cast a shadow that would tell them that this was the harvest time. Our guide explained that although the complex is described as a temple it was more just a large elaborate sundial and that there isn’t a lot of evidence to support it being a place of worship. Unfortunately the Spanish conquerors suspected that the Puma heads were idols and had them chiselled off but the wall is just amazing to see. The fact that they cut dragged and positioned the blocks is incredible but what I thought was amazing was how they placed a stone strip between each one as an expansion joint and to also help save the blocks from
Noble houses of Pisac
damage in earthquakes, an incredible piece of engineering.
The unfortunate part about doing a tour is that you never get enough time to see these sites and being part of a group you don’t get time to yourself to just soak up a place. If we did a place like this by ourselves we would wait around in a place for a while and you would have it to yourself between the hordes of tour groups, but being part of a group you just don’t get the chance. The whole site was overrun by so many bloody tourists it was incredible and we have vowed that if we come back through this way again we will try to get here under our own steam so we can appreciate it better.
By this stage it was late in the afternoon as we headed off to our last site the town of Chichero, which was on the way back to Cusco. We had to first climb up the a windy road out of the Sacred Valley that gave us fantastic glimpses of the snow peaked Andean mountains, this is a truly beautiful part of the world.
Temple of the Sun
It took nearly an hour to reach the town of Chinchero which is the site of an old colonial church that like all the others in this part of the world was built on top of an old Inca temple. From the bus stop we had to walk through the town past a myriad of souvenir sellers, which by now was starting to get on our goat a bit. We must have already said “no gracias” a thousand times already today but they just kept at it. As in most places you have stores from which the owners will try and coax you into, you have the woman sitting around with their products on display, you have the roaming sales people with their products in hands/arms, and then you have the people dressed in traditional garb with a llama wanting you to take their photo, for a fee of course. Everyone of them will call to you, get in your way, thrust things at you and in some instances grab you, all wanting your attention/money. It can get very tiring at the end of a day dealing with it but we have always maintained a smile and graciously said “no
Temple of the Moon
gracias” and we have got by. So much of what they sell is “same, same” and some of what they are touting as handmade has machine labels on it, the majority is easy to dismiss as just tourist trinkets or in our case just too hard for us to get back home. When we got to Chinchero however the textiles that were on offer were stunning and as was explained to us by our guide this town is renowned for the locally produced dyes that are vastly more superior than what you will get anywhere else in Peru. We both were stunned at how beautiful the fabrics and bags were here and if we were heading back home tomorrow would have bought up big time. Unfortunately we could only look and say “no gracias” and keep walking.
Right on darkness we got to the ancient church of Chinchero where once inside our guide was able to give us a great spiel on its history. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos inside, although they wouldn’t probably look that spectacular. The church was fairly small and the walls and ceilings were adorned in old hand painted pictures and patterns. It
Huge granite wall - Temple of the sun
wasn’t spectacular but the place just reeked of history, faith and a great deal of dampness. Our guide gave a great talk about how the Spanish invaders were able to manipulate local religion into Christianity and how easy it was to convert the locals. It was interesting how they moulded the story of Jesus Christ and the saints into local folklore and settings so that it would be easier for the locals to understand and except. And when you think about it, it would be hard to get someone in Peru in the 16th
century to get interested about a guy in Palestine 1500 years before.
We left the church and regrettably passed by the fabric sellers without buying and got to our bus empty handed for the return journey to Cusco. Soon after we got underway the rain that had been threatening all day, came in a massive downpour. We had a couple of scary moments on the journey home, one in which our driver overtook another bus at speed heading up to a hairpin bend in the dark and in the rain. Our guide did say on our arrival back in Cusco that we should
Scott standing at the side of the granite slabs
thank God for our return, and it almost had me on my knees. We said our farewell and thanks to our guide and went of looking for a feed. It was 7.30 by this stage and although everyone warns of the high level of crime in this town and not to go walking after dark, the high police presence does give you some feeling of security, although we wouldn’t dare walk to far from the city centre and their sight.
Ended up getting a feed at a small restaurant on the way home, where I got an “Aussie burger”, which not only had bacon and egg but also beetroot, you don’t even get that back home anymore. We were the only ones there and the waiter came over for a chat and explained that the previous owner was an Aussie but that he had sold the business and now runs the towns McDonalds…what a backward step. Got to also speak to the new American owners who seem great and they were trying to talk us into dropping in on Saturday night when they will have a band playing, but as that is the night before we start
the trek it just wouldn’t be a wise move. We got back to our cold room around 9 and we were soon under our doona fast asleep.
Day 141 Wednesday 29th
Another day, another tour but this one didn’t get underway till the afternoon so it gave us a chance to sleep in till 8. Shelley had a lousy night sleep as she now has my horrible head cold. I am just getting over mine so it isn’t good for her to be getting it so close to our trek. After breakfast we headed out to the bank for more money and then onto a chemist to pick up some supplies for the trek. We needed Lomitol just in case we get diarrhoea, which is the second biggest complaint after Altitude sickness on the Inca trail. The woman at the chemist couldn’t speak English but thankfully we didn’t have to resort to a pantomime for this one, but she didn’t have any Lomitol but instead gave us a huge box of a similar type of tablet. They apparently allow 500 people on the trail at any one time so we should
Expansion joints between the huge granite slabs
now be able to hand out a tablet to just about everyone of them. We wandered around town for a bit but Shelley’s energy levels were slipping so we headed back to our room for a short rest before the tour.
We weren’t back in our room very long before it started to rain and it continued to rain on and off till 1.20 when it was time for us to go, so we had to dig out our wet weather gear for the day ahead. Luckily our wet weather pants and poncho works well (when there isn’t any wind) and we got up to the travel agent nice and dry by 1.40, where once again we had to walk to the other side of town for our bus pickup. Today we at least didn’t have to trot around too much but stayed under a shop colonnade while we waited for our bus to arrive. Once again we got a small bus that had the seats jammed so close together that my knees were wedged into the one in front, so it made for an uncomfortable journey. Our guide was no patch on yesterdays and she rambled
People walking to the top
on so fast that we didn’t even get to hear her name. After the usual ramble around town picking up others our first stop for the day was Qorikancha, this was a huge Incan temple to the sun and moon that was partially demolished and the Spaniards built a church and monastery over the top of. The original temples were covered in gold and filled with golden idols all of which the Spanish plundered and all that remains of the Incan site is some of the huge perimeter walls and a collection of the inner walls of the temple. The Spaniard used a lot of the walls as a starting point for the church and it would probably have been hard to understand the layout of the old complex except the 1950 earthquake in Cusco albeit demolished the church leaving the hardy Incan stones in place. When it came to reconstructing the site UNESCO stepped in and they rebuilt the church in a way that gave more of an emphasis on the Incan structures. Today a lot of the site is covered in a modern steel roof with large glass walls. It is an interesting site but our guide struggled
Steps leading to the church at Chinchero
to keep our attention, and I ended up wandering off and looking over the place myself. Shelley stuck with her and was able to glean some information out of her, and all the time like me we were thinking of bailing on the tour. Our Hotel was only just around the corner from this site and it would have been very easy for us to walk out but we stuck with it.
After Qorikancha we jumped back on the bus and headed out of town, with our next stop being at a site just 5 minutes up the hill overlooking Cusco, the magnificent Saqsaywaman (pronounced sexy woman). This was the principle reason for doing this tour was to see this site and if we had realised it was so close we would have just got a taxi. I had always read that this was built as a fort to defend Cusco, and in fact the Spaniards narrowly defeated an Incan army on this site in 1536 that left thousands dead. Our guide however claimed it was in fact that it was a significant temple site that had three temples perched on the top and that the huge
Inca temple inside church
rampart walls were built to represent a lightning bolt…I guess maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. There is nothing left of the temples on top other than foundations but the massive walls are incredible. The largest stone used on one of the many corners weighs 120 tonnes and sits 2 metres underground and towers 7 metres in the air. Unlike a lot of other Incan sites the walls to Saqsaywaman are made of limestone and were quarried almost adjacent to the site. This is a magnificent site and one of the must see in Cusco but besides the majesty of the site, one of the big reasons we wanted to come here was that this was one of the sites Michele’s grandmother went to on her travels to Peru in the 1970’s. Amongst Michele’s grandfather’s (Harry) old super 8 film of that trip is a brief shot of them both standing together next to a llama at Saqsaywaman. Now old Harry was no Cecil B DeMille and the bulk of his films are almost unwatchable and rarely do we see Eileen in any of the footage but the shot of them at Saqsaywarman is great (all 2 seconds of
The courtyard of Iglesia de Santo Domingo
it) and somehow being here was in some way a nice connection back to her and that day 30 odd years ago.
Our guide gave a long spiel about the site both in English and Spanish and then gave us twenty minutes to look over the site and get back to the bus. This isn’t a huge site but 2 hours would have been better so we made the most of it before running back to the bus.
The next stop was only 5 minutes down the road at the Incan site of Qenqo. Once again this site had a large rock monolith that cast a shadow on the 21st
of June signifying harvest time. The shadow at this site was of a frog that signified fertility because frogs would sing when it rained. The shadow was cast on to a huge lump of basalt that was carved into a veritable maze of narrow passages. Shelley started getting a little bit freaked when our guide started describing it as an underground labyrinth but in the end it wasn’t too bad. We started out by wandering down a set of stairs beside the huge rock
Shelley next to a 120 tonne corner stone
but then we had to pass through narrow rock passages and then eventually we entered a tight tunnel beneath the huge rock till we gathered in the dark around a large granite slab carved into a shape of a high table. This was where the Incans performed embalming on royalty, sacrificed animals and also murdered the wives of kings who had died so they could join their husbands. It was a bit chilling to stare upon that cold stone table and realise how much horror had been committed upon it. Sure it was ancient history and a different culture but nothing can take away from the sad fact that this was a murder site. Felt kind of glad to be out in the light again and moving onto the next site which again was only 5 minutes down the road.
Tambomachay is the Incan site that was a temple to one of the four elements, water. Ollantaytambo which we saw yesterday was an element of the wind, another was earth (can’t remember which) and yet another was fire (damn my bad memory). At Tambomachay we had to once again run the gauntlet up a pathway full of
View of Blanco Cristo statue with rainbow
alpaca poncho sellers. At this one it was quite odd because we had a dozen sellers converge on us one after the other trying to sell us the same identical poncho, we should have tried to set up a Dutch auction to see how cheap we could get it. There really isn’t a lot to see at Tambomachay other than yet again another elaborate Incan wall with a stream of natural spring water cascading out of it. Our guide told us that this spring hasn’t stopped since the day the wall was constructed over 500 years ago and she then went onto a spot downstream where we could all sample the water which will give you eternal life. Everyone in the tour was falling over themselves to sample the water whilst we weighed up the options. An impossible opportunity for eternal life versus the real opportunity of picking up a gastro bug. We opted for the safe alternative of not sampling and it may have had something to do with the dog that was wandering around with a smile on its face which seemed to translate into “hey guys I just peed upstream from here”.
Walls of Saqsaywaman that look like a Puma's paw
way back to the bus we ran the gauntlet again with “no gracias” and a smile till our face ached. Because the light was disappearing from the sky and we were the last busload for the day they all seemed that little bit more desperate for a sale. The next stop was the Incan site of Pukapukara, which was a type of ancient hotel and rest spot for the message runners on the Incan trail. Here again there really wasn’t much to see except it was a beautiful spot to be at sunset. The guide gave us a quick spiel on the site and gave us 10 minutes to look over the site. We wandered around and got to the high point at the site but discovered that because of the near darkness and the oncoming rain everyone else had run to the bus. We quickly followed and were glad to be on the way home except that we had to stop at another tacky souvenir shop for twenty minutes before we would get there. Twice during our trip today we had people jumping on the bus trying to sell us a computer programme and then a book which sort
of got up my nose. It is bad enough having to put up with advertisements on television, radio and computers, but on a bloody bus between tourist sites in Peru really did our head in. As stated before, throughout Cusco and its tourist sites it is a continual hassle, which is sort of acceptable because of it is just the locals trying to get money out of the biggest show in town, tourism, but the hawking on the bus was totally unacceptable. I also found it annoying that on the way home at the end of the day we had to stop at yet another market, despite having the opportunity all day to buy souvenirs at every site. The Incan sites had been great especially Saqsaywaman but by the end of today we were well and truly over being on a tour group. There was another tour we could do to two other Incan sites in the area but after today we decided it really wasn’t for us and we would be best to avoid them for a while. We all do have our strange ways and we of all people shouldn’t throw stones, but god we had to put
The water of eternal life
up with some oddballs on the buses today and yesterday.
Around 7.30 we got back to Cusco and it was with a great deal of relief that we got off the bus and headed up to the restaurant called Bambu once again where we got another great feed of Asian stir fry. On the way back to our room we stopped at a shop near our hotel that is a laundry/general store/pharmacy all contained in a shop the size of a phone booth. We had been getting our bottled water from him over the last few days and decided to ask about day and night tablets, which we couldn’t get from the chemist today. He talked us into buying a foil of tablets that he said was the best thing in the world for a cold and that we would be on top of the world in the morning. We both wasn’t sure about buying something that we didn’t know what it was but decided to give it a shot. Shelley’s was feeling a bit better despite having to stand around in the wind and rain all day and I was nearly fully recovered but took them
nevertheless to see if they worked.
Day 142 Thursday 1st
Went to bed feeling like sceptics but awoke true believers, those bloody tablets really worked. Haven’t got a clue what is in them and it may only be Paracetamol but we both woke up feeling heaps better. At breakfast today we said goodbye to an English couple who are leaving today and are the last of a group of people we have befriended in the hotel since we moved in here 4 days ago. After breakfast we dropped some laundry off and then headed into town for a bit of a shopping spree. Decided to pick up a pile of new T-shirts for the trek and to replace some of our older frayed shirts. It is amazing how battered clothing becomes when you are travelling and have to use laundries. It was a real eye opener in Rio when we had to actually use the machine ourselves and discovered that the driers were actually gas fired and you felt like you were operating the boilers in the Queen Mary. Managed to pick up 5 T-shirts for 80 Sols ($30) and then went onto buy a few more odds and ends including three paintings. On the streets of Cusco you are offered everything from jewellery, to clothing, to massages (wink wink), tours, food, photos with llamas and paintings. We have said “no gracias” a million times over the last few days to them all but for some reason today Shelley saw a couple of paintings that took her eye and then I spotted one I liked. They are only small, painted on paper and a bit amateurish but they were so cheap it was worth a shot at getting them home. Picked up some water bottle holders and a note pad on our berserk spending spree before heading back to the hotel. It had rained on and off all morning but shortly after getting back to our room it started to pour. We took the opportunity to rest and listen to the rain till 6 when I went up and picked up our laundry. When I got it back to the room we discovered that they had accidently given us someone else’s leopard skinned g-string. As a teenager I would have got brownie points from my friends if I had come home with them but tonight Shelley just looked at me suspiciously. I guess if had them on my head she would have had good reason to be worried but buried in our laundry wasn’t a reason to be worried, but I now know why the women at the laundry kept laughing at me. On the way out to dinner we dropped them back off with them. For dinner we once again had another great feed at the Dragon’s Palate restaurant. The food here is really good and we kind of feel sorry for the American owner who is struggling a bit. Last year with all the rain tourism really slumped and still hasn’t picked up completely. The restaurant is a bit off the beaten track as well but is still one of the best places we have got a feed at in South America. Luckily we got to and from the restaurant without getting wet but just as we got to bed the rain returned, lets hope this stops by Sunday for our trek otherwise we will be two little wet ducks.