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.
We caught the train to Aguas Caliente, the gate way to Machu Picchu pueblo. We got seats with a great view on Peru Rail and the ride was about two hours. Snacks of cold potatoes and cheese with couscous were served along with graham crackers, kind of a strange breakfast combination.
The train wound slowly along the river through farms and small villages and finally into the jungle where it was raining and the vegetation was overgrown and lush and green. When we got to the train station, I could see that the settlement had mushroomed in the three years since I’d been here.
The town was completely full of construction and looked ten times bigger. Hotels were going up quickly on both sides of the river and many of the restaurants didn’t even have kitchens. What happens is that a waiter takes your order and than calls it in to a central food service. It is common to see waiters walking up and down the sidewalks with glasses of wine, pizzas and burgers. The service at these tourist traps is terrible. After awhile we gave up on food and bought some Pisco.
We did find a place that had tacos and we bought a few while the wait staff was trying on clothes from a tag sale in the front of the café. The wine was served warm and the beer cold and they did not have a credit card machine so we had to go next door to cash out. Back at our very new and very modern hotel, we met with our guide Jose who warned us to be ready for an early trip to the ruins if we wanted to see Machu Picchu at sunrise.
We left the hotel before 6 am for the bus to Machu Picchu. The ride was 20 minutes up a one lane dirt road of switchbacks. Jose our guide grew up here and started working for the park service as a porter on the Inca Trail when he was a boy. He still does some 4 day hikes, but for the past six years has done private tours.
We hiked to the guard towers at the top of the ruins to witness the sunrise over the three sacred mountains with a few other hardy early risers. The Andes were still covered in snow. At the tops of the terraces, once farmers tended crops of avocado, passion fruit and seed potatoes, for this is a jungle area, very lush compared to Cusco or Arequipa.
Although I’ve been to Machu Picchu before, I never noticed it was a walled city, much like you would see in Europe. Outside are the guard houses and between them and the city is the farming community, with the rows and rows of terraces that stretch to the river so far below, many of them now hidden by overgrowth.
There is only one entrance into the city proper which at one time housed 600 people. The noble class and a few temples like that of the sun were built above a central set of squares used for festivals, meetings and markets. Below lived artisans, with work spaces outside.
Below common residences were the store houses for crops built right into the city walls. On the far side of the city were the larger temples, gateways to trails up the sacred mountains where the Incas trekked twice a year to sacrifice. People unable to go could worship at three rocks carved in the shape of the mountains.
Many of the ancient dwellings had kitchens as well as central toilets in the courtyards. Within the city walls were 16 fountains that anyone could use. Many of the houses on the far side of the mountain and near the newer temples remained unfinished, for the Incas were only at Machu Picchu 90 years before the Spaniards came. Three grave yards have been discovered, one near the guardhouse, where the graves are marked by various stones and others in the cliffs beyond.
It was starting to get hot by the time we left and busloads of tourists began to pour in for the day. We went back into town and got some huevos rancheros on the balcony of a second story restaurant above the bus station, before catching the train back to Oliayantantambo and then a taxi to Cusco.
Once again we stayed at the Rimi Punku Hotel where days ago we stashed our luggage and dirty laundry. The laundry bill was $9.99 American which delighted us.
Our driver took us to the Cusco airport to catch a flight to Lima around lunch time. At the airport we cannot stow our bags because we are in the domestic terminal and have to transfer to international. Besides we see a driver named Juan with a sign that says Sheril and I am pretty sure he means me.
We threw our luggage into his car and drove into the big dirty city of Lima, once home to the Quechuan people before the Spanish Conquistadors. Much of downtown is intact with beautiful colonial buildings that date from the 1500’s. We met our guide Omar, a half Spanish/ half Andean native with long hair who spoke 4 languages. Almost immediately, he abandoned his prepared tour to ask us what we really want to do.
Tim and I wanted to see the catacombs, so we spent a lot of time in the tunnels with the bones. The Franciscan brothers had a macabre sense of art and arranged the more than 25,000 skeletons in interesting ways, decorating the wells with skulls and femur bones in repeating patterns. Only some of the catacombs were excavated—the rest run under the city connecting the large Catholic churches, monasteries and nunneries.
We explored the great halls and Moorish balconies, decorated with paintings and frescos depicting Christ’s last supper of chili peppers and grilled guinea pigs, and found evidence of artwork hidden from the Conquistadors under layers of plaster and paint.
Next Omar took us to a favorite lunch place of his to discuss drug trafficking in Peru and the state of tourism, which is being pushed so hard by the government that many of the attractions suffer from overuse.
Afterwards, we wandered the city center of Lima, taking in the Peruvian version of the White House, Supreme Court and the mega shopping areas. Crowds milled everywhere because Peru made the South American Soccer Championship Games. When they lost 2-0 less than an hour later, the streets were deserted.
Finally we go to Mileflores which is an affluent beach suburb, very modern and trendy. There is an adobe pyramid more than 2000 years old in ruins, truncated by city streets, sets of condos and a park, yet it continues down the block as if nothing has happened just after the condos end.
Surfers ride the waves and the beach looks a lot like Southern California. We decide to go to a restaurant our friend Raul recommended for dinner but the tour company was angry that we did not follow the tour itinerary. It took 50 soles –almost $20—to make them happy. Tim and I eat at Pescaderos Capitales, one of the best seafood restaurants in Mileflores. We have shrimp, ceviche and Tim has a Pisco Chicano—a drink Omar introduced us to at lunch.
We brought our driver some Camerones—he was waiting in valet parking the whole time—and then he took us on a hair raising and life threatening ride to the airport through smog and rush hour traffic at 7 pm. We are resigned to an overnight flight.
The plane from Lima was not crowded and we ended up with three seats to ourselves. Lying across them, I had no trouble sleeping but Tim stayed up and watched movies all night. The next day we cleared customs in Newark with some Pisco but found we could not carry it on to a domestic flight to Vermont.
We did not want to drink the bottle in the terminal, so we decided to ship it. When we got to our flight to Vermont, it had been cancelled, so then we did wish we had our bottle of Pisco. We got to Burlington later in the day and miraculously found our bags already there. Our friends picked us up and we drove home, getting in that night. What an incredible trip!
At the beginning of June, Cheryl and Tim took a fiber filled fantasy tour through the heart of Peru, an adventure they will share with you in a 10 part series containing texts and photo essays.
Snippets and out takes will appear in the blog, but the entire piece is too large, so we will be posting it in the author section as Cheryl finishes it. In addition to purchasing a large amount of yarn for Cherry Tree Hill, Cheryl also visited a fair trade co-op, taught a workshop at Andes Yarn and toured a cultural center specializing in handwoven rugs, one of which you see here.
Look for her articles in Knit Edge, Shannon Okey’s new online magazine starting with the next issue, this September.
All these beautiful colors do not simply appear on these fibers. The Peruvian locals that create these works of art have many techniques for creating and dying these fibers, one of which Cheryl got to try. The shells and various parts of dead Cochineal bugs were ground up with various liquids and spices to create a wide range of colors. Take a look at the three colors Cheryl was able to create below.