We stowed our bags at Rimi Punku and set off for the Sacred Valley, a 130 kilometer long river valley once ruled by the Incans. Umbeto points out terraced gardens a thousand years old and ruins in every town, dramatically clinging to the mountain sides.
Two years ago, massive rains here, caused mudslides and flooding. There is still much evidence now—lots of bridges out, buildings damaged and everywhere the villages have started to rebuild, often abandoning original mud and plaster for stone and brick.
At an alpaca co-op above Pisaq we saw the four main types of alpaca, including rare Vicuna and Guanaco. Tim also spotted a Chinchilla in the foothills above. I was particularly taken by the spinning and weaving demonstrations, as well as the hand dyed yarn colored from plants and insects. I bought a woven rug embellished with embroidery work from the co op.
In Pisaq the bridge was out so we had to walk a swinging foot bridge across the river and into town. Vendors lined both sides of the river hawking their wares, mostly food and small items. Once into the market proper we found traditional silver shops, leather goods and woven clothing. Tim bought a black poncho. We also visited a shop with a large bread oven where we bought bread stuffed with basil.
Modern Pisaq is built upon Inca ruins, and high above the town are the remains of a huge Inca city that rims the entire mountain top. These older ruins are immense and well preserved. Just when I thought I’d seen the scope of it, our guide took us through a cave chiseled through the mountain top. At the end of the tunnel was the other half of the city!
We bought a bag of coca leaves from an old man to hike along the city walls. Here Incas constructed concave terraces to produce a greenhouse effect, allowing crops from all 8 eco systems in Peru to grow in one place. Behind the city was a cemetery along the river, housing 700 niches in the cliffs, where the common people buried their dead. It looked much like Mesa Verde in Arizona. Outside Pisaq, we had lunch at a horrible tourist buffet where musicians with traditional flutes played against American sound tracks.
Our final stop was Oliyantambo where 70% of the ruins remain and the present town is built into the ancient walls. This settlement was an actual fortress, which becomes obvious when you get inside. The Incas built upon a previous civilization when they conquered the Sacred Valley. After the Spanish conquered the Incas, the next set of Andean people built upon the next set of ruins. Some of the stone edifices still standing are 4 stories high and built into the crags of the mountain tops under the natural visage of the Lord of Lords carved into the rock.
We checked into El Auberge, and old colonial hotel at the train station. Our only window was actually a shuttered door. To lock your room, you padlocked the door. It opened onto the back courtyard and the hotel was filled with original portraits and photos of Andean people.
We walked the 15 minutes into town and found a place to buy a memory card for the camera and exchange some money. Money seems to be getting cheaper every day in Peru. Now the dollar is worth nearly 3 Soles. On the corner was a rustic bar where the owner spoke some English so we went in for a Pisco Sour and went upstairs to sit on the balcony. Vendors were packing up their stalls in the marketplace and kept going by with either bicycles or motorcycles turned into carts.
We talked to a couple from Australia who had just come in from a vacation in Cuba, which made us wonder if Americans would ever be allowed to go there again. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a café on the river and ordered a roasted guinea pig which Tim did not care for, but I liked.
When we got to the station, a train was just pulling in and the streets were full of taxis and carts. We had to beat our way back against the crowd to finally make it to our room. Our train leaves tomorrow.