Along with another Australian lady staying at our hotel in Cusco we left for a day trip through the Sacred Valley, (ending in Ollantaytambo where we were going to spend the next few days) in a taxi. Our young driver was a law student during the week, a taxi driver on weekends, driving his brand new car, which he unfortunately dented slightly that day. An hour driving through very pretty countryside took us to the Inca fortress near Pisac, a small village renowned for its tourist markets. The agricultural terraces surrounding the fortress, set high on a hill above the village, were very impressive. We spent a couple of hours walking the cliff-hugging footpaths and staircases around the large site. After that we headed into the Pisac markets - dozens of stalls all selling the same trinkets - not my scene at all! A lovely buffet lunch followed before we drove to Salinas, a truly amazing sight - thousands of salt pans in terraces lined the gorge - where salt has been harvested since Inca times. Our first view of salt pans reminded us of the many rice terraces we had seen in Asia. They were definitely worth a visit.
We spent quite a while walking (carefully) around the edges of the terraces and watching men harvest the salt which dries in the pools after the water evaporates.
From there we drove across plateau country which was surrounded by mountains of all colours - many of which were snow capped - to the circular amphitheatre style terraces of Moray. The Incas experimented with agriculture at Moray by trying out different altitudes, temperatures and soil types for the plants in order to obtain the best results possible. Our driver told us that the region is trying to get permission for an international airport to be built between Salinas and Moray. Hopefully it never happens as it will totally spoil what is really stunning peaceful scenery.
Late in the afternoon we arrived in the tiny village of Ollantaytambo (2800 meters), now a staging post for the railway line to Machu Pichu, but also the best surviving example of Inca city planning. Despite the influx of hundreds of tourists monthly the old part of the tiny village with it’s cobble stoned streets and narrow passages (far too narrow for cars) remains virtually unchanged from it’s Inca days. Behind the village are the spectacular
and very steep Inca terraces guarding the fortress sitting above them. This area was one of the few places that the Spanish lost a major battle with the Incas. The Inca soldiers threw missiles at the Spaniards from the fortress above before flooding the valley below and killing most of them.
We had booked a room in a small guest house (Casa de Wow) operated by an American/ Bolivian couple. It was at the edge of the town, away from all the traffic which drove through the main square each day - the only sound we could hear was the river which flowed beside it. A very friendly place - breakfast together around the kitchen table and some lovely furniture handmade by the Bolivian owner. We ate our meals in Heart's Cafe which fronted the plaza - always busy with locals and tourists. A small local market was behind the square. All day long tour buses of all sizes drove through the plaza, heading either to the train station or to the ruins behind the village. Closer to the ruins were many shops selling souvenir items. Thankfully in our guesthouse we were well away from the bustle of the square.
We had to walk along the narrow passageway streets (very dark at night) to reach our room. In the backstreets life went on as it had done for years - probably most of the people who lived in that part of town had little contact with the tourists. The lady who owned Casa De Wow said most of the other guesthouses in the village were owned by one family.
Next morning we wandered around the Inca terraces - marvelling yet again at the ingenuity of the Inca stonework. The huge stone slabs fitted together beautifully and must have taken dozens of men to carry each piece of stone from the mountains to the site. A quite afternoon spent organising train tickets to Machu Pichu and enjoying the lovely food and hospitality at Heart’s Café. We were tld that the café is owned by an elderly British woman who gives all the profits to the women and children of the Sacred Valley. They have opened schools and hospitals in the region and are very highly thought of by the locals of the village. And the food was great too…..
Next day we decided to visit one of the villages that the
Heart’s Café helps. We hired a taxi to drive us up the mountain to the tiny, very traditional village of Huilloq. Bychance we arrived on market day and it was a very colourful sight. All the men, women and children were wearing brightly coloured (orange was a prominent colour) traditional dress and were very happy to have us wander around amongst them. I don’t think the village got too many visits from tourists as the stall holders were happy for us just to sit and watch and they put their hats on my head and laughed loudly at the sight. They were very friendly. Check out the photos with the blog - the costumes really were wonderful - the men looked as colourful as the women and everybody was wearing fascinating hats. The kids hats covered in tiny woolly pompoms were great. Most of the women were buying small balls of coloured wool and sequins to decorate their clothes. All the children were enjoying icecreams - probably a weekly treat.
We walked the 12 klms back down the valley to Ollantaytambo - a very scenic peaceful walk. We saw hardly anybody - only a few farmers harvesting the last of
their corn crop and the odd villagers heading to or from the market. Another great day in paradise! Next morning we did very little before catching the train which would take us to Aguas Calientes, a town at the end of the train line which is sustained solely by tourists. Everybody who visits Machu Pichu will spend some time in this town. Upon our return to the village after the highs of Machu Pichu (next blog) we spent another evening in the village before returning to Cusco by share taxi - a different route this time passing tiny farms, lots of animals on the road but still with those amazing snow caps in the background.
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