Check out our photos here.
Next stop the Inca Trail....
The entirety of our trip to date has been self organised. After some investigation our trip into the Sacred Valley of the Inca’s would have to be done true gringo style, as an organised tour, due to time constraints. Our impulsive and expensive purchase of the tourist ticket in Cusco ensured that we would certainly have to make the trip into the Screed Valley, as half the value of the ticket was consumed in the Sacred Valley highlights.
The Valle Sagrado (The Sacred Valley) is in the Urubamba Valley, and was named so by the Inca’s due the vast fertile plains that line the valley floor, following the Urubamba River all the way from Pisac, near Cusco, to Machu Picchu. The valley is Sacred due to it’s ability to grow many different crops, in particular Maize (Corn), of which there are 200 varieties in this valley alone, and was the Inca civilisations vital source of life (food) grown from the earth – from their sacred god Pachamama.
Our morning began in the sleepy town of Pisac, and a silver shop in which our guide was keen to show us fine made jewels that are made locally. She also taught us how to distinguish between real and fake silver, a valuable lesson we are surely going to need in future. After a brief amble around the markets, and a fast purchase of a second hand bag for Treeny, we both agreed that our eyes had been caught by a shiny item in the silver shop. We scurried with excitement and quickly made our way back to the shop before the mini-bus was to leave. The shopkeeper opened the cabinet after helping us track down the item; a large silver sculpture of Pachacuti the founding Inca, with a traditional blade for slitting Llamas throats during ancient sacrificial offerings. “Cuanto cuesta, por favour?” (how much is it please?) we asked in unison, the shopkeeper replied “US$1200”!!!!. Gutted, this is clearly out of our price range! He kindly went on to show us a more affordable, much smaller replica at the bargain price of “US$300”. Disappointed, we boarded the mini-bus and off we went to the ancient Inca fortress of Pisac.
The ruins of Pisac was our first experience of Inca structures that hadn’t been overlayed by Spanish architecture. The fortress sits atop the mountain overlooking the town of Pisac below, and the surrounding Sacred Valley. It’s strategic position allowed it to function as military outpost, keeping a watchful eye on the valley below, and being a well inclined mountain allowed the staging of sacred rituals and offerings right at the top at the closest position to the sun, a typical feature of Inca sites. What is left of the site today is extensive terracing, which would have been used for agriculture, and two “neighbourhoods” of buildings used as lookouts, places of worship and to live. According to our guide the buildings would have once had thatched roof’s and rendered walls with detailed paintings, all of which has been removed or decayed over time. It was fun letting our imaginations run wild imagining this place as a fully functioning hill top city many moons ago.
From all angles the terracing is a jaw dropping array of giant sized steps that reach down the mountain side. Due to the steep nature of the mountains in these parts, the terraces provided the Incas with space to grow crops in addition to the valley floor. The sheer weight and size of all the rocks and earth that has been moved up onto the mountain side to construct the terraces is astonishing, and all of it done by hand!
Lunch time! We opted to pay 10 Peruvian Soles extra to get a buffet lunch; we were expecting more rice, beans and chicken. To our surprise the minibus pulled into a long, winding driveway, ending up at a very smart looking restaurant set in a stunning garden. Our eyes literally popped out of our heads at the sight of the food. There was over ten different salad dishes, ten hots dishes, and to cap it off at least five different cakes to chose from for dessert. We both ate solidly for our allocated hour, it was like heaven! You certainly can’t beat a good all you can eat buffet! Best decision of the day.
Another hour through the valley and we reached Ollantaytambo, a bustling little town with far too much traffic, for a place of it’s size. We quickly came to realise the town is quite the tourist trap, based solely on the ancient Incan ruins above the town. The Ollantaytambo Archaeological Site is spectacularly located, once again perched atop a mountain overlooking the town and valley below. The difference with Pisac is that Ollantaytambo served only as a religious site, and was actually never finished by the Inca’s - it is presumed that they fled during the 15th Century Spanish invasion, abandoning this and many other sites forever.
The distinguishing feature of this site was the fine stonework, like that of Saqsayhuaman, so tightly interlocked together without any mortar. We learnt that this type of masonry was only applied to special buildings; sacred sites, and places of worship. As the site is unfinished, at the top of the ruins were the remains of their ancient stone workshop. The Inca’s lugged these massive stones from across the valley, up the mountain side and atop the ruins to carve out pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that would construct the temple, an art they that had so wonderfully perfected.
Getting out of the town proved entertaining; a traffic jam on a one lane road involving about 20 buses, a couple of trucks, a petrol tanker, and one really bad Peruvian driver who definitely needed lessons on reversing. We have noticed this as being a skill Peruvian driver’s are seriously lacking.
Chinchero was our final stop on the tour. Although not in the Scared Valley, it is a small town on the road back to Cusco that is unique for its handicrafts and textiles, all of which are made locally. We had a presentation by some local women on how they make the fine textiles, through traditional methods pre dating the Incas’s. It was really fascinating to see how they dye the wool using an assortment of seeds, cactus fungai, and other native products; they crush them and place in boiling water with the wool, forming a completely natural process of colouring from reds, greens, yellows and blues. Many of the fluoro coloured textiles we see in the markets are actually made from synthetic wool and are not traditional textiles, which are of more earthy tones. It’s just a shame we like the bright fluoro ones better.
And with that our Sacred Valley Tour was over, money well spent, and an interesting fact filled day.
Check out our photos here.
Next stop the Inca Trail....