Travel hopefully: "To travel hopefully," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson, "is better than to arrive."
Another day of being tourists in order to continue acclimating to the altitude. I was beginning to get impatient to get started with the Salkantay Trail trek, but curiosity and fascination with the area kept me satisfied for another day. It didn't hurt that every site we visited required climbing up, up, up so I felt like I was getting some exercise. Llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos kept me entertained, too.
Our journey for the day was through the Sacred Valley, a large valley near Cusco that extends from Pisaq to Machu Picchu. The Inca did not call the valley Sacred; that name was given to it by Europeans because so many sites sacred to the Inca are in it, and because the river that runs through it was called Willkanuta in Quechua, a name that means "sacred river." The river is now called Urubamba, and the valley is also given the same name. The valley was also important to ancient peoples because it had actual flat land for agriculture at its bottom, a rare commodity in the Andes.
Our first stop of the day was a camelid farm. Llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos are new-world camelids, and are related to dromedary (one-humped) and bactrian (two-humped) camels in the "old world." Vicuñas and guanacos are fairly rare, and are the Andean wild species. Llamas and alpacas are the domesticated species, and are commonly raised throughout the Andes for fiber, meat, and as pack animals. The farm we visited had all four species on hand, and a wide variety of colors of llamas and alpacas.
The farm also had interesting displays of natural dye plants and dyed yarns, as well as women demonstrating traditional weaving techniques. We didn't have nearly enough time here for me to explore, and I had to settle for taking lots of photos for later study. I'd love to be able to return and apprentice myself to the women so I could learn about their dying, spinning, and weaving techniques. I'm not sure my back could take sitting for long with a backstrap loom like the girl above is using, however. Damned weak American muscles!
Did you know that there are over 3,000 varieties of potatoes? (Well, Wikipedia says 1,000 varieties, but our Peruvian guide said 3,000. Regardless, there's lots.) They grow most of them in Peru. Wild potatoes occur throughout North and South America, but genetic testing has shown they all originated in southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. They were domesticated in the Andes 7,000 - 10,000 years ago, and were only introduced outside of the Andes about 400 years ago, coincidentally when the Spanish invaded the area. As you travel around Peru, potato fields are prevalant everywhere.
Potatoes are a staple part of the Peruvian diet, and accompany most meals. Even when rice is a main part of a dish, as with the delicious creamy chicken dish called aji de gallina, there's likely to be a potato there, too. Instead of popcorn or nuts, the bar at El Mercado Tunqui served a variety of baked potatoes and handmade potato chips as snacks. After eating in many restaurants, I found that the potatoes always seemed overcooked and dry. I was never sure if it was the way they were cooked or the nature of the potato varieties commonly served.
After hurrying through the llama farm, we dashed off to Pisaq, one of the best known cities in the Sacred Valley, and a center of handicrafts. It's also the location of an Incan site that was strategic as it was centrally located between Cusco (the Inca capitol city), the Amazon region, and other major cities and regions. The site is oriented east-west to align with the sun.
After Pisaq, our next stop was Ollantaytambo, the town which is home to one of the finest archeological sites in Peru. It contains religious, astronomical, administrative, and urban complexes, not to mention areas for agriculture and livestock.
The historic site is made up of thousands of terraces, many of which a visitor has to climb. It's worth it, though, to see the amazing stone work and the views from on high.
Across the way from the main Ollantaytambo site is a mountain on which the Inca built adobe storehouses. Way, way, way up the mountain. There's a little trail that winds its way up to them. The natural question is "what the hell were they thinking?" I, of course, asked. Turns out they were thinking quite a lot. The storehouses may be inconvenient to access, but because they're high above the valley bottom, they stay a lot cooler than lower areas. As a result, stored grains lasted longer. One wouldn't be inclined to overeat, however, given the climb up for more supplies. (The storehouses are the rectangular light spot in the middle of the second photo below. You can get an idea of just how high they are.)
In the photos above, you can see to the left of the storehouses a carved face (a closer photo is below). This grumpy-looking fellow is Tunupa. He was thought to be the messenger of Wiracocha, the supreme diety of the Incas. He was also known as the master knower of time. This mountain was carved with a 460-feet-high image according to the iconographic characteristics attributed to him. The hillside to his right (where the storehouse is) represents the big bag he'd carry as he wandered the Incan empire as a pilgrim.
After a long day of touring sites and riding in a bus, we made one final stop at a weaving cooperative in Chinchero. This cooperative was created to allow local women and men an opportunity to earn a decent living from their traditional weaving. The artists spin the raw fiber, dye it with natural dyes, and design and weave their amazing works of art. Each piece can take months from start to finish, and they're still available for purchase for $100 or less. It's another instance in which I really have no respect for people who insist on bargaining for the lowest price they can get.