Friday, October 28, 2016

Peru 2 - Sacred Valley

It seems trip updates are not writing themselves. It’s been a busy week. Neve’s arm is in a cast. We had an info session for an upcoming Chamber trip one evening, plus another evening spent with some of the people who were on our China trip. I had friends over one night. I also spent hours at the Apple store and on the phone trying to get our computer fixed. Spencer had an eye appointment and needs glasses. It felt like a week of constant interruptions, distractions and unexpected things popping up.
But it’s all good. Most of the busy-ness was good things. Everyone’s healthy and happy and things are as they should be.
Carrying on … After three nights in Lima, we took a quick early morning flight to Cuzco, the city with the nearest airport to Machu Picchu. It’s way up in the Andes with an elevation of over 11,000 feet. As soon as we stepped off the plane, we could feel the lack of oxygen. People in our group felt it in varying degrees; I was a little light-headed but some people found it really hard to breathe. We were told to take it easy, so we all walked slowly like a pack of zombies.
One of the main benefits of a group trip is that the tour operators and guides have learned all the tricks to make the trip go smoothly. As soon as we landed in Cusco, they herded us to the buses and took us down to the Sacred Valley, about two hours away. The altitude there is about 9500 feet (comparatively, Winnipeg’s altitude is 784 feet) so that allowed us to get somewhat acclimatized before heading to Machu Picchu. We were also encouraged to drink coca tea or chew coca leaves to prevent altitude sickness. Cocaine is extracted from coca leaves but the leaves themselves don’t seem to have harmful effects. At least that’s what they told us. Who are we to argue? So we drank a lot of coca tea and I guess it helped; I was told beforehand to expect that a good percentage of the group would be very sick and throwing up and it would only end when we were back at a lower altitude. Thank goodness that didn’t happen. There were a couple of people who were dizzy and nauseous, and a couple that needed oxygen (the hotels and buses had oxygen tanks), but for the most part, they all kept with the program. It was a little alarming to see their grey faces, but the colour returned almost instantly once they were hooked up to an oxygen tank. I would have liked to have tried it myself. When we lived in Toronto years ago, there was an oxygen bar down the street from us. I guess that’s not a thing anymore? It should be.

On our way to the hotel in the Sacred Valley, we made a few stops. We went to a place that sold textiles made from alpaca wool. They had a little herd of llamas and alpacas that we could feed. We also stopped to take a few pictures of an archaeological site and then spent a bit of time at the Pisac market. Lots of textiles, silver, paintings, an even a few cute little businesswomen willing to pose for pics with their baby lama for a small price. At the market they also sold produce, corn on the cob, and some pretty delicious empanadas.

We also stopped for some scenic photo opps
Then we carried on to our resort, which was just outside a tiny town in the Sacred Valley. It was a gorgeous place with amazing views of the mountains. I took so many pictures that all look the same because every day (we stayed there three nights) I would be blown away by how beautiful it was. From the main building, we had to walk up the hill a little way to our rooms, and you could feel the effects of the high altitude. We were huffing and puffing by the time we got to our room. Sometimes we’d stop and rest on the way. There was a farmyard outside our patio door and every morning we were woken way too early by the sounds of the roosters, turkeys and as a special treat, a loud braying donkey. There was also a child who would peer through the fence at us tourists in our rooms. At first it was kind of cute – a little head poking through a hole in the fence. We waved at her and she waved back and then she just stayed there. And stayed there. For hours. It got a little uncomfortable. To clarify, I didn’t stay there for hours but every time I glanced out the window, she was still there. Maybe she thought I was the creepy one.

Dale and I went to the spa one evening. We had to make an appointment and I didn’t realize they only took one booking at a time so we had the whole place to ourselves. There was a hot tub, sauna, steam room, and cold fragrant shower - kind of like Thermea but way smaller. It was pretty sweet.

There is lots to see in the Sacred Valley. We visited the Maras Saltpans, which were terraces that contained about 5000 salt pools. Many different families each own their own pool(s) where salt is extracted about once a month. Those pools have been used for centuries – even before Inca times.

This was the view on the way down to the valley to the salt pools

Then we stopped to see some terraces used by the Incas for agriculture and research. This is a view from the top. If you look closely, you can see a bunch of people on the right, top third of the photo. That gives you an idea of the size.

Walking on the terraces - gives you the scale.
It was lunch time one day and we were all getting hungry but it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere with no food around for miles. The guide said we were going for a picnic lunch but I couldn’t quite picture how or where that was going to happen. The roads were dusty and bumpy and narrow. We had to stop for cows to pass by on the road. There were old-school shepherds in the fields with their sheep. We even saw a predator (probably a fox) grab a sheep and run away. And then suddenly we arrived at a lake with tents set up on the shore, to an incredible gourmet lunch. It was one of my favourite meals.

Quinoa is very prolific in Peru ... we had quinoa in pretty much every way you can imagine.
Here it is in a dessert, which was actually delicious.
We also went to a little authentic Adean village where a cute 16-year-old girl with a very high-pitched voice gave a weaving demonstration. At one point in her presentation, she said, “We use this bone for (I forget what). What kind of bone do you think it is?” People guessed alpaca, llama, etc.

“No,” she said. “It is from tourist who didn’t buy anything in our store.” She said it with such a straight face in her little-girl voice that I wasn’t sure if she was joking or had just used the wrong English words. When English is not their first language, I’m always scared that they’ll think we’re laughing at them, not with them. But obviously it was a joke and she said other things that showed she either had a good sense of humour or (more likely) a well-rehearsed speech to make the tourists laugh and buy things.

A town called Ollantaytambo was a place I would have loved to have had more time to explore. It’s touristy, but in a bohemian sort of way. It’s the starting point for the Inca trail, which is a 4-day hike to Machu Picchu that I really want to do someday. There are lots of hostels and signs advertising Sherpa services and gear for the hike. If you are young and adventurous and unencumbered, you should get on a plane right now and go hang out there for a while. 

The people that live here still live the same way their ancestors did, with their customs and traditions. We toured someone’s private house. It wasn’t 100% authentic because they sold t-shirts and hats by their front door, but that’s how it goes.

They had lots of guinea pigs which scurried around underfoot. Make no mistake: these are not pets. These are Christmas dinner. Guinea pig is a special meal, reserved for birthdays or other special occasions. There was a guinea pig dish at one of our dinner buffets; Dale said it was okay. Apparently it's pretty bony. We also saw it being sold roasted on a stick. Does this make you hungry?

Also in the home was a shrine to their ancestors, including the skulls of the said ancestors.


Also in this cool town was the site of the Ollantaytambo Fortress, which was built to guard the entrance to part of the valley.

Fun story: our group climbed up to a certain height and then came back down. We had a younger guy on the trip who was more of an adventurer than most of the group (we'll call him Cam). When we started making our way back down, he decided to zip up to the highest point. He ran all the way up and when he got there, there was only one other guy up there. The guy was wearing a Canada cap, so Cam asked him where he was from. The guy said, "Winnipeg." Cam says, "Me too!" Turns out the guy spends most of his time travelling all over the world and he said in all his travels, he had never met another person from Winnipeg before.
And then Cam proceeded to sprint down the mountain, jumping off rock stairs and basically doing parkour off the stone walls while our guide watched with horror from the bottom. Apparently these are sacred ruins and for the sake of respect and preservation, that kind of activity is very much prohibited. Oops.

Again, if you look closely, there are little people on either side of the big rock carving. Those Incas were amazing.

A functioning bull ring visible from the top of the fortress

Walking down the stairs like you're supposed to
 This was pretty cool: we saw these hotel "capsules" suspended way up on the side of a mountain:

The only way to get there is by climbing. To get down, you can also choose to zipline. Read more about it here.

Very cool, but I was pretty happy to come back to this after a long day of sightseeing:

Oh boy - this was long. Next time: off to Machu Picchu! And then one more post about the Amazon and it will be over, I promise. I know this isn’t very exciting to read if you’ve never been or wanted to go to Peru. This is the only place I write down stuff like this so it’s really more for myself. I’m sorry to make it all about me. Oh wait, this whole blog is all about me … that makes me cringe, but yet I keep writing.


Anonymous said...

Oh gosh. So many things.

1. Spencer and glasses...too much book reading. :P
2. I am imagining a bunch of tourists saying 'brains' as they got a plane. It's making me giggle.
3. And oh baby llama. So cute. I want one.
4. Spa to yourself! What???!!! Sweet. p.s. I went to Thermea today. Don't go on Fridays -- it is the opposite of having the spa to yourself.
5. Inca research. I wonder what they were researching...crazy.
6. That is NOT a picnic lunch. a) You are not sitting on blankets. b) you have cutlery c) there are table centre pieces (!) d) that food looks amazing and like it took a lot of time to make.
7. 16 year old girls never joke about human remains...she knew you were zombies and was making sure you knew your place.
8. The only way I eat a whole animal on a stick is during a zombie apocalypse....wait...a minute.
9. Proof you should not teach your children (especially my 2nd born) parkour because they will offend many cultures and embarrass their mothers.
10. Hotel capsules! Way cool. But I could never take E, he would find a way to dislodge it so we could tumble to our deaths and take out some sacred shrines at the same time.
11. This blog is super exciting! Zombies, defacing shrines, small pets to eat on sticks...

From Sheri-Lee

Daniel said...

I want to go see Peru.

L said...

haha - that's a lot of observations/comments, S-L! Love it!

And yes Dan, everyone should go to Peru! Even if they don't want to!

someone said...

hahaha! Sheri-Lee. I have such an image of E parkouring and dislodging hotel capsules.

Roasted guinea pig... I shuddered just writing that. Blech.

You guys sure do amazing trips, E!!

xo Sio