After a freezing, sleepless night, I certainly wasn’t expecting what was coming: I walk out of the house in the early morning hours and witness the most beautiful and majestic mountainous landscape I have seen in a long time…suddenly everything is just perfect!!!! The crisp air, the Andes mountain range in the background and the tall skinny eucaliptus trees slightly brushed by the morning mist takes my breath away; it’s exactly where I should be, I can’t explain it. Now I am super happy and looking forward to the Inca experience marathon; even though I get bored pretty fast with archeological sites, except the really amazing ones.
Javier’s family mountain retreat
Our driver picks us up at 10AM and off we go to our first destination: Moray. By the way, you can follow the herds of tourists to visit these archeological sights on your standard tourist buses (which I loath and won’t use under any circumstance) or you can go ahead and get your own private driver who will take you around for the full day for around 180 Solis, which is less than $56; so if you have 3-4 people, it comes to just about the same price as busing it…duh!!!
This unique archaeological site is one of the best examples—along with Machu Picchu—of what might be called extreme Inca landscaping. Three enormous pits, each with beautifully curved sides that staircase down like the interiors of titanic flowerpots, have been carved out of the earth to depths of up to 100 feet and more. Air temperatures between the top and bottom layers can differ by more than 20 degrees, which has led some researchers to theorize that Moray was an Inca agricultural site where experiments on crops were conducted.
Moray Inca Ruins with some guy in plaid pants
The spectacular Moray Inca ruins
Next stop is Maras Salt mines, which I am particularly interested in since I’m running low of good salt at home. The drive to the mines takes you trough the town square with it’s colorful statue celebratring Peruvian daily life; we also cross a herd of sheep with it’s lovely Peruvian sheep herder…it doesn’t get much more real than this. Once out in the open planes, we see miles and miles of Quinoa fields; quinoa is very popular in Peruvian cuisine as it is in the west with all the health junkies. We finally arrive at the checkpoint where, yet again, you have to pay a fee to go down the slightly terrifying steep narrow road with no rail guards to the salt mine.
40 kilometers north of Cuzco lies the town of Maras, well known for its nearby salt evaporation ponds, that’s been in use since Inca times; thousands of uneven square-shaped ponds dot the slopes of the hillside less than a kilometer west of the town. These pre-Inca salt pools were constructed during the Chanapata culture between AD 200 and AD 900. Highly salty water emerging from the Qoripujio spring, close to the head of the valley, is directed into an intricate network of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. As water evaporates in the arid Andean air, salt crystals of various size form on the floor of the pools and then collected.
As expected, tourist commerce has arrived here too with a row of dozens of shops selling everything from Peruvian fabrics and just about every kind of salt product you can imagine, all made from the local salt. Regardless of that, the salt is actually amazing and I have to buy my share of it for my home cooking. Back in the car and off to the final destination for today: The Ollaytaytambo’s Inca pyramid and baths…Thank God; I’m already spent!
Peruvian sheep herder…loooove the hat!
Staue at the center of the square portraying daily life in the Peruvian Andes
Selfie with salt pools
Maras salt pools carved throughout the mountain
Ollantaytambo is an attractive little town located at the western end of the Sacred Valley. The town has been built on top of original Inca foundations and is the best surviving example of Inca town planning. In 1536, this settlement was the site of the Inca’s greatest military victory over the invading Spaniards. Today, it is one of the only towns in Peru that retains its original Inca walls and street grid, dominated by long, ancient stone walls that once divided groups of homes around communal courtyards. An imposing set of stone terraces (from which the Inca assaulted their Spanish invaders with slingshots and arrows), capped by six enigmatic slabs of pink granite, looms above the town.
Tourist are lining up for the grueling climb to the top of the step pyramid where the well preserved fortress still dominates the skyline; me, on the other hand, I’m looking for a bar because I need water and a “Loo”. The view of this immense terraced mountain in front of you is pretty daunting; I just have a hard time understanding how these ancient civilizations managed to build such unachievable monuments that, even today, can’t be replicated. Javier, wearing his well planned mountain shoes, is all ready for the challenge up the Inca Mountain; yours truly, in his Converse flat sneakers, is most definitely NOT! After a short negotiation we agree to visit only the “baths” part of the monument, which are located at the base of the mountain with it’s intricate stone carvings that show, once again, the genius behind these ancient cultures. Now I am really, really tired; I am parched, my feet hurt, I am drenched with sweat and ready for a cocktail and a comfortable seat. We go back to Javier’s pad where I make one of my famous (at least I think so…) Italian pasta with the few ingredients I find around the kitchen, a bottle of red Chilean Cabernet and off the 2 degrees below zero bedroom for another freezing, sleepless night.
The terraced Inca mountain with all the crazy tourists climbing it
Stunning fountain carved in solid rock in the Inca baths
Statue of Inca King, so beautifully preserved
Traditional Peruvian shop selling hand crafted textiles
Today’s post is very cultural and probably not as entertaining as my usual posts but hey, you got to mix in a little culture here and there; if you can’t appreciate the history of our beautiful world..well then you just won’t get the present at all. Tomorrow is the much-anticipated visit to Machu Picchu before going to Cusco for an overnight stay before going back to Lima in the morning. Nite nite possums!
Trivia snippet: Water takes forever to boil in high altitude because of the lack of oxygen and cooking pasta properly is a real bitch.