Peru: Sacred Valley (Day 3)
We packed light bags for our overnight trip to Machu Picchu and joined Edwin at the Cathedral at a reasonable 8 a.m. He suggested we respectfully walk around the interior (we didnâ€™t have time to do this the day before), since services were being held. We made our exploration brief, then hopped in the van for our circuit around the Sacred Valley.
The first stop was a small village named Chinchero, and more specifically the Textile Center. Ladies in traditional dress showed us the process of making textiles using the natural plants (and animals, red is made with what looks like a white cactus fungus and is in fact an unusual type of spider, likely a cochineal) for dying, the spinning and weaving. As she was demonstrating, the guinea pigs squeed in their cage under the firepit and one escaped. Another lady chased it around, shooing it back into the large cage. She pointed out the meanings of each pattern then set us off to look at their stock. Herr picked up a baby alpaca blanket and a sweater for me.
From Chinchero the road got a little bumpy and very much unpaved. Moray, our next destination, felt off the beaten path, but it seems to be standard for getting around parts of the Sacred Valley. Moray is believed to be an experimental agricultural testing ground. The Inca would take seeds from the rainforest and attempt to acclimatize them to the thinner cooler air. The largest of the three testing areas has seven rings (to match the sacred number representing the chakras as well as four earthly elements plus three layers of earth â€“ divine, earthly, and spiritual); they would start in the lowest (deepest) circle and slowly migrate them up each ring. I found this space to be peaceful and calming.
Back on the road (or dirt paths), the Andean mountains hemmed the valley around us and the farms we drove past. The farm lots were separated by two rows of large agave plants that created a walking path to force herds through without them wandering into farmland. Apparently, Herr is not the only one who strongly dislikes large aloe-like plantsâ€¦ I did not know, though, that agave plants are used to make (Peruvian) whiskey. Random trivia fact.
The driver took a precariously narrow road (of course, no railings, hardly ever see railings on narrow mountainside roadsâ€¦) into a mountain crevasse full of salt ponds. Maras produces a considerable amount of salt, naturally, and is second in quality only to Himalayan salt. A stream trickles into the ponds and sits in the basin as the sun evaporates the water leaving behind various grades of salt (the lowest grade is slightly brown from the clay basin, the best is pink from the middle, and the top is white). About 200 families â€œmineâ€ the salt and send it to Cusco for iodizing.
From Maras we stopped for a fantastic buffet lunch at San Agustin de la Recoleta, a monastery-turned-resort, in Urubamba. A well received dish was a quinoa â€œbarâ€ with avocado lime mousse on top. So goodâ€¦ I havenâ€™t found an equitable recipe online yet. Peru has a lot of corn, but itâ€™s much different than American varieties. Often much larger kernels. The carrots are considerable in size as well, and also tasty. Dessert, suggested by Edwin, was a combination of puddings: rice pudding topped with blue corn pudding. Not very sweet, but delicious! The cafÃ© sat across from a colorful chapel, with a fountain in between. It was a scenic location.
Fully satiated, we traveled the rest of the way to our final destination for the day: Ollantaytambo, or Ollanta for short. Itâ€™s a quiet town, very traditional yet. Edwin asked a local family if we could see their house, which was a one room structure with meats hanging from a low bar, a stone oven fire in the corner, an altar along another wall, and plenty of guinea pigs. Afterwards, we had the option to see the crowded fortress ruins or the granaries. We chose the granaries, although we didnâ€™t make it all the way there before it closed. We did make it pretty far, with strong winds trying to blow our hats away. The park worker shooed us back down the hill. Edwin deposited us at our hotel, Pakaritampu, just a few minutesâ€™ walk to the train station. Because we would be waking up very early, we had an early dinner at the hotel: I had quinoa soup, Herr had an alpaca steak, S had a fried guinea pig (which tasted fishy to me), and JJ ate lightly with a ham and cheese sandwich. After a short exploratory walk to the station and back we made it an early night.
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