Our Peru Adventure: Visiting the Sacred Valley Again
Guest Blog Post by Lili Mahlab
Armando and our driver, Lucho, met us at Pakaritampu at 7:30 and took us to the Ollantaytambo ruins right in the town. Ollantay means warrior in Quechua and Tambo means rest. So, the name of the ruins, Ollantaytambo means “resting place of the warrior.”
This section was built over a period of 600 years commencing with the pre-Inca period in the 800s and culminating with what we saw here by the time of the arrival of the Conquistadores. Built into the mountains facing west , the way the wind blows, were structures designed to keep food cool. On the opposite side of the mountain, we climbed stairs that led to the top and to the primary temples where they worshipped the sun.
An astronomical laboratory also helped them determine when the spring equinox would begin, thus signaling the beginning of the planting season.
After exploring the ruins of Ollantaytambo, where Armando regaled us with stories, we headed to the Maras salt pans. It was a particularly beautiful day, and as we climbed higher into the mountains and marveled at their beauty, we found ourselves on a mesa, replete with undulating waves of wheat. Just before arriving at the salt pans, our driver stopped so we could get out of the van, take pictures, and marvel at the scene.
What appeared to be snow at first glance, were crisscrossing salt pools that lay like a patchwork quilt along the valley floor. Highly salinated water flows into the salt pans via aqueducts that virtually never run dry. There are some 3,000 pools belonging to individual families who harvest the salt during the dry season as the water evaporates and leaves deposits of solid salt some 4 inches thick.
During the wet season, water flows in aqueducts through the mountains and fills the pools below with very salty water. During the dry season, the water flow slows down considerably as it evaporates in the pools, enabling families to “harvest” their salt. The salt retrieved from Maras is sold primarily for domestic usage.
Upon leaving the salt pans, we headed to Moray, the farming laboratory, where the Incas experimented with various plant cultures and created new species of crops. We learned about the elaborate system of aqueducts which kept the ground moist. Here too, a serious of microclimates, starting from the top of the terraces moving along to the bottom, enabled the Incas to create a vast variety of crops for future generations of Incas and ultimately, their Spanish conquerors.
Following our visit to Moray, we headed a kilometer away to partake of a picnic lunch prepared by Edgar, our 26 year old chef and his assistant, Maria. We dined on quinoa soup followed by a thick beef sirloin accompanied by vegetables and potatoes. Following our dessert of fresh fruit with hot tea, we wandered a bit through the fields and took photos of the llamas, sheep, cows, and shepherdess, as she herded her flock and kept them from wandering off.
By 1:30, we headed back to Cusco, about a 90 minute drive, and checked back into the Monasterio. It was a beautiful drive through rolling hills and farms dotted with cattle and sheep. We saw farmers working the fields and children walking home from school along the side of the road.
After putting away our bags, Jean and I went to Plaza de Armas for some serious shopping and returned with a variety of delicately woven alpaca sweaters and scarves. While the shops around the main square were probably amongst the most expensive, they had the finest designs and the best quality goods that we had seen thus far. So, we opted to do most of our shopping in this area.
Since Tuesday night was Opera Night at the Hotel Monasterio, we decided to eat at the hotel where I had a pre-birthday celebration. The flutist and keyboard player serenaded us with classical music during our hors d’oeuvres. Just before the main course, a tenor and a spectacular soprano belted out tunes from Carmen, Rigoletto, and other operas. The soprano had an incredible voice that could have literally broken glass.
Since we had to be ready to leave the hotel by 7:00, we headed up to our rooms to pack and turn in for the night.
More stories of our Peruvian adventures coming soon!