The Sacred Valley of the Incas

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South America » Peru » Cusco » Sacred Valley
June 7th 2019
Published: July 18th 2019
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6th June – Free day

Hallelujah! We finally had a better night’s sleep. Hopefully, we must be gradually acclimatising.

The itinerary has had to be shuffled around today. We should have been going to the Sacred Valley but there is a one-day general strike today so, we have another free day and tomorrow, which should have been ‘at leisure’, we will visit the Sacred Valley instead. I asked the hotel concierge what was the strike regarding? He just simply answered ‘Everything!!’ It’s nice to know that the electorate, the world over, have the same level of respect for their politicians!!! (this blog even has satire!!)

At breakfast, a man who we had never seen before passed me as he was leaving the dining area. He was probably in his mid to late 60s and wore a bright yellow shirt with a crest displaying Prince Rupert’s Tower. ‘Do my eyes deceive me? Have I died and gone to hell but Is that an Everton shirt I see before me?’ Meet Jaime and is wife Jeed. They were from the West Midlands and he had supported Everton most of his life ever since he saw them get beat in some obscure game but he felt sorry for them so became a supporter!! Jaime and Jeed were another example of the precise logistics of Condor Travel’s superb organisation. He had just arrived in Cusco from spending three days in the Peruvian jungle. They didn’t have time to adjust to the humidity as they were whisked away to the jungle as soon as they landed in Lima in a similar vein to I’m a Celebrity, get me out of Here although the difference being no wichity grub or kangaroos anus for breakfast!! Jamie and Jeed absolutely loved it! You could say that they weren’t celebrities and he didn’t want to get out of there!! The lodge they stayed in was situated along the banks of the Amazon. His highlight was fishing for piranha, catching one and then being allowed to take it back to the lodge where the chef cooked it and served it for dinner. Hunting for spiders was also an activity but, admittedly, not one he’d recommend. Note to self: Spiders (especially ones as large as dinner plates) get angry when they’re prodded with a stick!!

Drumming was heard from the main street outside the hotel. This was followed by chanting slogans (I assume!). We rushed to the entrance of the hotel to see a long procession of people marching with banners, flags, various instruments (but predominantly drums) heading up towards the main square. All I was thinking is that this bloody strike has messed up my plans. Not because I wanted to visit the Sacred Valley today but that tomorrow, originally a rest day, Cusco, a soccer team in the Peruvian premier division were playing at the local stadium. This would have been my chance to visit a soccer match on the continent of South America. Unfortunately, and for some bizarre reason, the game kicked off at 15:30, a very strange time for a Friday game. As we would be at the Sacred Valley until 16:30, there was no way we’d be able to make it. Ah, well! We’ll just have to come back to South America some other time!!

We met up with Pat and Peter, who have become our dining buddies, for dinner. They had just been to book a hire car for the coming weekend, when we will be having another two rest days (blimey I make it sound like some Olympic tournament talking about rest days!!). That’s another thing about this tour. So much is packed in to these two weeks, yet nothing seems rushed. There is plenty of free time. Roisin and I were invited to join Pat and Peter. I could see by Roisin’s expression that she was not too keen so we had to find a way to politely refuse without offending anyone. This shouldn’t take long!! Firstly, the roads. There are road humps in the most unlikely places all over the highways. They must have been a surprise to the driver as well as his passengers as he never bothered to slow down on approach. That coupled with the poor suspension of the vehicle resulting in our spines taking a battering. Secondly, the driver. Roisin is not the best passenger even when I’m at the wheel so for a relative stranger to be in control would make her more nervous than usual. However, some say that Roisin is not the best passenger BECAUSE I’m at the wheel!!! We don’t know where Pat and Pete have decided to visit. We don’t want to be sat in a car, a Peruvian car, for several hours at a time in the heat and humidity for all of the above reasons. That settled it: ‘Thanks for the offer. It sounds great,’ I said using my most sincere voice!! ‘Roisin is not good in a car in unfamiliar surroundings for any length of time. Let us know where you intend to go and we’ll let you know.’ They never did and we never went so everyone was happy and no one was left without face!!

On to dinner and it had to be done. I had so far been unsuccessful in finding a restaurant that served guinea pig. However, there was baked Alpaca on the hotel menu served with mushroom risotto. Mmmmm….mushroom risotto!!! The steak was cooked to perfection and so tender and juicy. It tasted very similar to venison in flavour yet with a texture akin to pork. Having satisfied my hunger for at least one indigenous species, I decided to leave the guinea pigs alone. See, some good did come from the sacrifice of one Alpaca who was probably very unpopular with the herd anyway due to the swanky clothes and cravats he always wore and of course, don’t forget those Viking cruises!! Something the other Alpacas could only dream about!!

7th June – The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Back on the road today. A relatively early start of 07:45. Our tour guide and coach were, almost to the minute, bang on time. Whilst we were waiting for the bus the sound of a brass band got the better of our curiosity and we all rushed in to the street only to be greeting by ranks of military personnel marching toward the main square. They were at least six abreast. Not quite the military might of the red army marching through Red Square on a May day parade but the red and white painted faces of some of the soldiers felt slightly intimidating. However, we were advised there was nothing to be concerned about. Peru weren’t preparing for war. They weren’t about the be invaded by a second wave of conquistadors (albeit nearly 600 years late!!) No, this was the start of the midsummer festival. From today, there will be marches every day. Tomorrow may be students, the day after? Engineers? Who knows? This is a series of parades that will culminate in one mega festival on 24th June known as Inti Raymi, in honour of the Sun God and celebrates the winter solstice.

Roisin and I settled down at the rear of the mini bus. I should have learned my lesson from the last tour. Although we had plenty of space, the bus began its rather bumpy ride towards the Sacred Valley of the Incas. As we headed uphill in to the outlying regions of Cusco the landscape changed. The buildings became shabbier and rubbish lined the streets. If the roads humps didn’t get you, the pot holes would!! But it wasn’t just the roads that were bumpy. The pavements became more uneven and less cared for. Ruth, our guide for the day, explained that because properties are built on steep hillsides, the only way to access many of them is by flights and flights of steps. The residents have to bring everything and take everything by hand. This includes the garbage that has to be carried down to the nearest main road by hand for the bin men to collect. This of course brings armies of stray dogs in to the vicinity and before long the streets are overflowing with ripped bin bags and broken cartons. The dogs are pretty harmless, and in many cases very friendly towards humans. They are only doing what any animal in the wild tries to do…survive!! Despite all this, there were still smiles on these people’s faces as we drove past. Some even took the time to stop and wave.

As we reached further in to the Andes, the roads were not as bad as I had imagined. Most of the bumping had stopped. As we were driving up and down through the valley, at no time was there any sign that we were about to head up the side of a mountain, with its sheer drop and ‘Oh! My giddy Aunt’ view, much to Roisin’s delight!! Snow and Ice could still be seen atop some of the taller peaks although sadly in recent years many glaciers have started to recede. It’s just a sign of the times I’m afraid.

Our first stop was to the Chinchero weaving factory. This is a cooperative for the Chinchero people. As we entered the premises, the temperature dropped. You could see from the reaction on people’s faces as they reached for the cardigan’s or jackets or just tightly folded their arms. Jaimie, who had not long come from practically unbearable heat and humidity in the Amazon said, ‘It’s like going from the sublime to the ridiculous!!’ We were shown to three sides of cushioned benches as we were offered a small thimble of Muña tea. This didn’t even touch the sides!! I was not offered a refill and I was too cold to ask!! The demonstrators and narrator all wore the layered but colourful national costume of the Chinchero people. Our narrator spoke with a very heavy but perfectly understandable accent. She seemed to think of herself as a comedian. When she cracked a joke, she would present this deadpan-face before giving a little smirk with a slight eye movement. Meera Syal or Debra Stevenson wouldn’t have had any difficulty in turning these mannerisms in to a new character for one of their TV sketch shows!! During this time an elderly woman sat patiently looming away, deep in concentration. Her bright yellow headwear flopped over partly covering to top of her face. She looked like she could have been auditioning for the stage version of Bill and Ben!!

After the talk we were free to wander the store, looking at all the different type of wares from llama rugs, delicate knitwear, intricately patterned fabrics, all major credit cards accepted!! I was suddenly aware that there only seemed to be me wandering around this frozen oasis so, under the watchful eyes of about seven of the Chinchero workers, I nonchantly sidestepped my way toward the exit, looking around the store whilst doing so!! To my surprise (or maybe not!!) everybody from the minibus were standing on the opposite side of the factory warming up in the mid-morning sun. Some had entered a small archway that led to alpaca enclosures. From the stench in the air, I’d hazard a guess that they had yet to be mucked out today but that was a small price to pay for feeling like a bag of frozen veg!!!

A small drive further on and we stopped in the village of Chinchero. We were led through the ancient cobbled streets and through an arch way that opened to a plaza, adjacent to a catholic adobe church. As with most things in the Sacred Valley, the church sits on top of an important Inca temple and is surrounded by imposing Inca terracing. Pre-conquest, Chinchero was an important Inca religious site and was believed to be the birthplace of the Rainbow.

There were many locals who had set up stalls around the perimeter of the plaza. Ruth, the guide warned us that all may not be as it seems. Whereas a baby alpaca cardigan may have cost $200 back at the cooperative, here we could pick up a similar cardigan for only $25. However, these people would have ordered their cardigans from China. The vendors then cut out the ‘Made in China’ labels and sew in new labels. We all ran the gauntlet without major incident. Beyond the rather run-down church and the terraces below was a truly awe-inspiring backdrop of barren mountains and further back more evidence that the glaciers of the higher Andres are still (just) managing to survive!!

We were taken over to the far end of the plaza and approached what I thought was Llama dropping. If they were Llama droppings then I think they need to change their diet!! However, this was not the case. They were potatoes in the process of being dehydrated. This method was utilised by the Incas as a way of preserving and storing food. There has been a case of 300-year-old dehydrated spud being perfectly edible although I don’t know who the brave soul was who tested that theory!! If that was the case it blows open the whole super market two weeks ‘best before’ date as somewhat fickle!!

On the way back to the bus, we passed several houses that all had very differing but intricate weather vanes. The one I spotted consisted of a base of two bulls, with a third standing across the back of the other two, above this was a condor representing the God of the sky. The words Inti paid homage to the sun God but I had no idea what a small cockerel standing atop the whole shebang meant!!

Our next stop along the sacred Valley was to a place that just rolls off the tongue: Ollantaytambo. Its name looks like it should be the capital of some Central African Republic!! This Inca site was used as a retreat to stave off attacks from the Spanish and they were successful for thirty-seven years. The fortress, like many Inca sites was originally built for religious purposes but during the ‘fortress years’ it was where one of the only successful battles against the conquistadors took place. From high above the terraces that now stood infront of us, the Incas managed to hold back and defeat the Spanish. In addition, with their technology and engineering skills, the Incas managed also to flood the plain below forcing the Spanish to withdraw. It was at this point we were given the option to either climb the stairs to the Sun temple or follow our guide around some of the out buildings and ruins at ground level. Eight of us decided to climb the stairs whilst the rest of the party followed Ruth. It was whilst climbing to the first level, thirty steps or so, that the enormity of the site became evident. The terraces were taller than the average man and much wider than they looked from the bottom!! Did I say thirty steps to the first level? It may have been three thousand steps because by the time I scrambled on to the first terrace, my chest was pounding. My lungs were trying to suck in oxygen that just wasn’t there!! The view, however, was astounding looking down at the vast archaeological site. Savvi and Geoff weren’t finished though and pushed on climbing higher toward the sun temple. For me, any further up and the rewards wouldn’t have warranted the pain!! The rest of us all knew our limitations so we descended back to terra firma! We then spent about fifteen minutes wandering the rest of the site before it was time to head off. It was lunch time!

We were sat in the coach waiting but no one was going anywhere. We were still two passengers short. Savvi and Geoff had not been seen since they disappeared over the horizon in search of the Sun Temple. We explained this to Ruth who then disappeared herself! She returned twenty minutes later in the company of our missing travellers who profusely apologised for the delay. I could not comprehend that after the additional height they must have climbed and extra distance walked that they still wore smiles to envy a Cheshire cat!! As if reading my mind Savvi said: ‘The reward did warrant the pain. From the top you could see right across the Sacred Valley. It is such a clear day. The view was stunning for which no photo could ever do it justice!!’

The tour had now concluded and it was time to eat. Lunch was included in the excursion and was a self-service affair at a hotel that used to be a monastery. I helped myself to a beef dish. As I was tucking in Geoff made a comment that he no longer ate beef as his contribution to climate change. Looking up I gave a half shrug and added: ‘Methane Gas is a known contributor to global warming. Cows produce methane gas. Kill the cow. Solve the problem!!’ This generated a few titters from around the table as it was meant to do. However, it was too late. I had inadvertently started a heated discussion on the human contributions to global warming and conspiracies surrounding it. These views, some extreme to say the least, were between only two couples around the table. The rest of us just looked on in disbelief. Not wanting to offend anyone, this was about knowing when to speak and knowing when to keep quiet. In my case, it was a definitely a: ‘hands in pockets, looking up at the heavens, casually whistling a tune with a look of innocence as I nonchalantly kicked at an imaginary tin can whilst shuffling away’ moment!!

Now we reach the business end of the holiday. There is no let up. No rest days (just yet!) A lot had been crammed in to today but it will likely pale in to insignificance by comparison to tomorrow…..

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