Sunday, July 10, 2016

In the Sacred Valley of the Incas

We were very eager to try out the breakfast at Casa Andina, with hopes and dreams of something other than soupy eggs to accompany fruits and grains. We mounted the steps to the 4th floor at 7:30 am to find French toast, rolls, slices of bread, thin yogurt, cereal, fruit juice, coffee, less soupy eggs (but still very moist), and  small pieces of watermelon, pineapple, Papaya, and banana. After so many repeated days of the same breakfast, our hotel continental breakfasts have become mediocre, at best, to us.

Regardless of our individual feelings on breakfast selections, we were filled up and ready to head out for our adventures in the mountains. Our tour guide met us at 8:00 to take us to the Chinchero, Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley), Ollantaytambo (Inca ruins), and Pisac. We were to leave Cusco (11,000 ft above sea level) to reach 12,000 (abs).

Leaving Cusco we had had no idea the astonishing views we would encounter. The snow capped Andes, the humble farms, and the beautiful traditional attire of the people in the towns we passed through were incredible. We even had our tour bus stop to let us take pictures of the view along our route. We learned that whole village will work on one farm as a community at at a time.

Our first stop was at Chinchero. Here we learned about the construction of the buildings. If it’s an important building, usually you will not see mortar between the rocks. Many buildings have a foundation created by Incas, and on top you can see a physical change in construction of the building when the Spaniards colonized the country. At the church (an important building based on the non-mortared foundation), we saw a change from rock to adobe that was painted. The Spaniards told people from Chincheros that the walls and ceilings of the church must be painted. So, the church has a plain foundation and very beautifully painted walls and ceilings. Even though the Spanish oppressed the peoples of this area, they still carry on traditions of carrying Christian figures through the town on certain holidays. We got to witness the recessional of a wedding and preparations for a wedding to follow at the same church. The steps were littered with confetti. Our guide, Fernando, told us that when there is a wedding in the village, the whole village must be invited.

At the end of touring the village, we went to the market that occurs once a week. Textiles are bought and sold, shoe repairs take place on this day, and a plethora of foods are available to purchase and eat. We saw some of the guests from the wedding (with confetti in their hair) eating in the dining section of the market. They prepare sheep’s heads in a soup/broth  and eat every bit of it. Our tour guides favorite part of the sheep head is the brain. We ate cherimoya and passion fruit  from the market.

We continued ventured down through parts of the Sacred Valley and eventually made it to Ollantaytambo. The Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo are a sight of incredible human feats. The rocks used to build the walls for the ruins were brought over from the other side of the mountain. We can still see that paths used to roll rocks to the top of the tiered farming platforms. Food was grown in the valley area and on these platforms because of the rich supply of water and nutrients. We could see the remnants of the food storage buildings high in the mountains nearby. Every structure within the ruins was built with regard to the position of the sun, the seasons, and the amount of wind. The ruins are positioned where we can see the sun shinning on the farming platforms during the summer season. During the same season, the sun will shine on the water fountain, casting a shadow only inside the Chakana (a cross-like figure used by the Incas). The food storage buildings were built high in the mountains so that they received a large amount of wind to keep their crops cool.  Unlike many Inca ruins, this location does have a military fortress at the top. Many of us hiked all the way to the top to look around.

Weaving our way through the Sacred Valley, we made a stop for a lunch buffet at Tunupa. There was a variety of traditional dishes from an alpaca stew to tres leches cake. The food overall  was very delicious. And, it was in an absolutely gorgeous setting. There were even animals for us to feed. Emily, Alyssa, and Caitlyn fed alpacas with grass.

From there we took off for our final stop before heading back to the hotel. We arrived at Pisac to take a look at the Inca ruins, the farming terraces (or andenes), and the empty tombs in the mountain. Unfortunately, looters removed many of the mummies from the tombs. Now farmers live at the top of the mountain to keep guard of the remaining Inca mummies within the holes in the mountain. We took off for home right after I got very sick.

Of our group of 11, we had 2 who battled altitude sickness and 1 who was  getting over a stomach illness and 1 with  the stomach illness was just beginning. Each of these individuals were troopers.

~Katelyn Keighley

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