Peru and the Galapagos – 8

Schedule and Places to Stay

If you are interested in going to Peru or the Galapagos Islands or on an Amazon adventure we highly recommend the tour company we used Rainforest Cruises. They set up our trip as we asked and provided more help and ideas than we ever expected.
Tour Manager: Rainforest Cruises
Jeremy Clubb – Rainforest Cruises, 1-888-215-3555
Email: Jeremy@rainforestcruises.com

Flights Arranged by: Exito Travel
Klaus Lueckert – Exito Travel, 1-800-655-4053
Email: Klaus@exitotravel.com

However, if you want to set up your own trip plans these are the contacts for the places we stayed in Peru:

Thursday 4/14 – Friday 4/15
Lima, Peru Hotel
Casa Andina Miraflores Centro
Av. Petit Thouars 5444 Miraflores, Lima 18, Peru
51 (1) 447-0263

Dinner:  Panchitas, Mira Flores, Lima (excellent food and outstanding service)

Saturday 4/16 – Sunday 4/17
Sacred Valley, Peru (Urubamba) Hotel
La Casona de Yucay
Av. San Martin 104 – Plaza Manco li Yucay, Urubamba, Cusco, Peru
Toll free: 1-855-201-77819

Dinner:  Excellent Restaurant in the hotel
Lunch: Tunupa, beautiful location, service and good food
Lunch:  Sonesta Posada Hotel, good food, beautiful setting

Monday 4/18
M
achu Picchu (Aquas Calientes), Peru Hotel
Casa Andina Classic Machu Picchu
Prolongacion Imperio de Los Incas E-34, Aguas Calientes, Peru (no phone number)

Tuesday 4/19 – Wednesday 4/20
Cuzco, Peru Hotel
Hotel Arqueologo Exclusive Selection
Calle Pumacurco 408 Cusco, Peru
Toll free phone #: 877-289-5148

Dinner:  Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse (make reservations, absolutely amazing food!)

USA to Peru phone, dial 011+51+City Code+Local Number
(City codes examples, Lima is 1, Cuzco is 84)

USA to Ecuador phone, dial 011+593+City Code+Local Number
(City code example, Guayaquil is 4)

 Next:  Travel to Guayaquil, Ecuador

 

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Peru and the Galapagos – 7

Cuzco afternoon tour

Our afternoon in Cuzco was so busy that I hope to do it justice.

We started the afternoon tour in the Plaza de Armas and first went into the Church at the left of the Cathedral to gather with our group and met our guide. It also had a beautiful alter.

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The Cathedral does not allow pictures by tourists but is filled with 17th century painting, carvings and wooden and silver alters and a beautiful carved choir.  One of the most famous items is the Last Supper painted by Marcos Zapata which show ‘cuy’ as the main course.  It also houses the oldest painting in Cuzco which depicts the city during the great earthquake of 1650. We entered the Cathedral with nice weather and came out to a rain downpour.  We got to the bus and went south to Koricancha.

Koricancha or Qoricancha or Qorickancha

Koricancha  area is believed to be the most important temple area of the Inca Empire.  It is all within the  Santa Domingo Church and Convent area. Koricancha  (Temple of the Sun, Rainbow Temple, Golden Courtyard).  This is a very unusual exhibit as the Inca Sun Temple was used as a foundation for the Santo Domingo Church and Convent.  The Inca Temples are within the walls of the church and convent.

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Rounded Sun Temple with Church above

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Closeup of Sun Temple Stones

 

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The large courtyard within the church walls

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Another view of courtyard with bell tower

Along these covered walkways are paintings.  Within the building are Inca Temples that have withstood earthquakes and early attempts to dismantle the walls so that the stones could be used for other buildings. The stones are so smooth and tightly fitted it is amazing to see.

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Inside the arched walls

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Inca model of the universe

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Images that the Inca’s saw in the night sky

Various temple areas, note the smooth walls, niches and windows that line up.

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Mutiple room temple

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Windows that line up perfectly

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Close up of windows

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Stone niches for holding decorations

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Stones carved for various uses

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Corner within one room

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Sun Temple alter space

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Model of the entire area which would encompass many blocks now

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Looking out from near the Sun Temple, notice the stones in the green area

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Looking back at the grounds

Sacsayhuaman, pronounced almost like ‘sexy woman’

Next we were off to Sacsayhuaman, a large royal fortress area for Inca royalty in Cuzco which is still being excavated.  Huge stones that create a zigzag wall were to protect the Inca city for royalty built on top of the hill. Also the pattern is said to represent the teeth of the puma. We had just about 45 minutes to explore this area so we mostly saw the walls and view of Cuzco.

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View to the city of Cuzco from the ruins

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The beautiful plateau just beyond the main ruins

 

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Walking up to the site and looking across to new excavation areas

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Entry area before the large walls

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Look carefully and the zigzag form shows

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Large stones, intricate layout

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Vicki and Bob along the wall

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The largest stone found so far at this site, over 11 tons

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More details of the walls

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Part of the higher city above the zigzag walls

 

After this tour, we got back on the bus and went to Kenko sanctuary. This is an area where animal sacrifices were made to the gods.

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Kenko area

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Alter inside the rock temple

 

Then to Tambomachay, the actual start of the Inca trail from Cuzco city with cascading water fountains and a water temple.  This temple is thought to be the first stop for becoming pure on the way to Machu Picchu.  We had a very busy day, Tambomachay was uphill and ended at 13,200 feet. I made it! But, we were so high to start it was only about a 15 min walk up!

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Looking up at the temple ruins

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Bob in front of one fountain

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View of the fountains

We made our way back to Cuzco about 6:30 pm and had dinner reservations for 7 pm.  So it was a brief rest and then off to Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse for the most amazing dinner of our trip.

After dinner, it was goodnight Cuzco as we had a 7 am flight to Guayaquil the next morning!

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We could have used one more day here.  We missed the big market.  Also, we think it would have been better to do the tour in the morning since it was over 4 hours and had the afternoon to walk around.  Then on the next day go to the market and spend time at the Inca Museum and or the Archiepiscopal Museum.  We would take an evening flight to Guayaquil as we really didn’t need a full day there.

I’m listing a few links that may help you plan your stay in Cuzco:

Twenty things to do in Cuzco
Weird things at the Cuzco Market

Next:  Getting to the Galapagos

 

Peru and the Galapago – 6

Cuzco/Cusco

As I mentioned in the last post, we got to Cuzco late evening.  As I had a bit of altitude sickness, we stayed in for the evening.  Cuzco sounds were a mix of bird chirps, barking dogs and honking car horns. The next morning, Wednesday, April 21st, all was fine.

We started our day with Coca Tea and a nice breakfast at our hotel‘s rooftop restaurant. We had a loft bed and the ceiling was actually tree branches that had been lashed together. The grounds were beautiful and the staff very friendly and helpful.

We had the morning free to explore the lovely plazas of old Cuzco. The main city is in the valley but the city continues to rapidly grow up the mountainsides. It also has beautiful markets, ruins and many restaurants to explore. Our hotel was up one up the beautiful narrow stone roads.  At a small square near our hotel, local farmers had walked from the mountains to town for pictures.  This has become a major source of income for them.  Most leave their homes around dawn and walk to old town, then walk back late afternoon.

I loved these streets with the large staircases as sidewalks and the narrow road in the center.  One of our tour drivers expertly navigated these type of roads throughout Cuzco with barely an inch to spare!

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Narrow stone roads with staircase sidewalks

We visited the Plaza de Armas or Huacaypata which is the main square.

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The Inka in the center of the main plaza, pointing to Sacsayhuaman

We visited the Chocolate Museum which is in a lovely two story building with a central courtyard, shops and beautiful arches. It was a nice break from all the history and they had wonderful samples of chocolate, chocolate liquors and a small cafe to purchase a nice iced chocolate drink and dessert.

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The courtyard

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Processing cocoa beans

After this we walked a few more of the local squares.

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View of another square

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Beautiful carved balconies

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Flowers and the covered walkways

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Vicki & Bob back at the main square

We walked walked up to the Museo Arzobispal.  This was built on an Inca Palace, then converted to a Moorish style palace.  Inside are some of the best examples of Cuzco style paintings from 1700’s.  Amazing work, many unsigned.   Quite a unique way of adding gold and silver threads into the oil canvas. Unable to take photos, will have to look up . It’s wonderful the close up access to these paintings. I can imagine how may more restrictions will come as tourism grows here.

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Hatunrumiyoc Street, walls of the original structure. Twelve angle stone.

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The beautiful courtyard with Moorish tiles

This was just the morning.  For the afternoon we had a guided tour of the major sites in and around Cuzco.  So much more to come to cover this day!

Next:  Major sites around Cuzco

Peru and the Galapagos – 5

Aquas Calientes/Machu Picchu Town

This town is mostly a one night or two night town as a starting point for tourists arriving by train and an ending point for the hikers.  It is busy and packed with tourists, hence the restaurants are not really memorial.  You get the feeling that they know you won’t be back.  But it is fun, the rivers wild and noisy and given the expectations we were happy with our stay. We woke to pouring rain, slept in and then took in the sights to see around town.

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View from our room and the roaring river

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Urubamba River

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Main town, Inca Statue

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The residential area for those serving the tourists

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A typical shop stall

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Main street, RR track down the center

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Turismo Economico train unloading

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Train unloading, all goods come in by train

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Aquas Calientes River that separates the towns

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Aquas Calientes river

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Poinsettia trees

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Hotels along the river

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Urubamba River along the bus route

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Beautiful flowers

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Coleus flowers growing wild

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The town plan

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Town square near the residential and restaurant area

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Train station, end of the line

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Waterfall

 

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Restaurant near the river, local beer

We caught the Vista Dome train back to the Sacred Valley.

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Vista Dome train roof

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Narrow river canyon views

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Amazing Andes mountains

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Snow covered peaks along the way

 

We were picked up by shuttle van and driven to Cuzco.  The beer before we left may have been a mistake because as we were driving up over the pass (above 12,000 ft) I started to get altitude sickness and a migraine.  Needless to say, our first evening in Cuzco was very quiet as I drank lots of water and tried to get rid of a major headache.

Next:  Cuzco

 

 

Peru and the Galapagos – 4

From the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu

Met our driver at 7:30 am on Monday, April 18th.  We were driven from Yucay to Ollantaytambo to the Ollanta Train Station, given our tickets and on our way.  The Vista Dome train was schedule to leave at 8:53 AM and arrive at Aquas Calientes at 10:29 AM and it was right on time! As an ex-railroader, I love that!

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Ollanta Station at Ollantaytambo

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Peru Rail train arrival

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Vista Dome train

Note the large bell, they actually still manually ring the bell as the train arrives.

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Original rail line was from Cuzco

The train follows the Urubamba River through a spectacular canyon which changes to a dense rain forest.  From the train you can see the wild river flowing.  The only way to view this canyon is by hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or one of the trains since no road exists.

 

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Small villages near the RR line

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The beautiful valley and Andes Mountains

Aquas Calientes/Machu Picchu Town has a very nice RR station and waiting room.  The town is busy and full of life.  We were met by a tour representative and walked into town.  They gave us the option of leaving a daypack for pick up after visit to Machu Picchu.  That was great as we had a long day ahead.  We had packed one daypack for the day and the other with our overnight items.  If you go without this type of tour, you can check backpacks for the day at the entrance gate to Machu Picchu.

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Train comes right down the main street of town*

You buy your tickets for the bus ($25 US round trip) to the entrance at this little painted stall (below).  Of course, you can walk up to the entrance!

 

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Bus coming up the switchbacks*

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View of Switchback bus route, all the way from the river and town

Above, you can see the bus road.  You can ride or walk up and down from the river to Machu Picchu entrance.  They do have stairs for the walkers between the switchbacks. You can see why we choose the bus!

Finally, Machu Picchu

We had a 3 hour guided tour and then were left to explore the ruins on our own.  Our day was mixed with sun, light rain and heavy downpours.  Each type of weather seemed to bring out another beauty in this amazing site.  We have so many pictures, but I’ll just put in some of our favorites and hope you go see this place yourself.  The pictures really don’t give the proper feeling of the expanse and grandeur of the site.

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First look-looking down

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First look-looking up

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Temple of the Condor*

The Temple of the Condor has a huge triangular stone carved in situ to represent the condor flying and then another representation of the condor on the ground.

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Vicki & Bob

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Fountain working for about 500 years

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Lawn mowers, llamas

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From Manchu Picchu looking down at the river

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Temple of the Three Windows

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Carved Intiwatana Stone on top of the natural Intiwatana Pyramid

 

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Round, Temple of the Sun

Bob did go up to the Gate House and part way up to the Gate of the Sun at the end of the day. I  just waited for him due to the climb and return on wet steps.

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Looking down on way to Sun Gate

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View from Gate House

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Walking to Gate House

Wonderful day.  I had been worried if I could handle the height and steps at Machu Picchu. I think the previous days helped.  I did fine and we had an amazing day. We spent about 5 hours exploring and could have gone back the next day if needed.

Aquas Calientes

Aquas Calientes /Machu Picchu Town is quite fun with many shops and restaurants. It’s much more lively in the evening than the last few towns.  We celebrated our day with beer and ceviche at a local restaurant and watched the trains come and go and all the people!

*Many thanks to Agnieszka Gerwel for the use of her pictures where marked with an asterisk.

Next:  More about Aquas Calientes and travel back to Cuzco

Peru and the Galapagos – 3

Moray, Moras and Marasal Salt Ponds

Sunday, April 17th woke up to an email from a friend about the big earthquake on Ecuador’s coast.  No news about it in Yucay, big concern for us!  We sent messages to have inquiries made if we should proceed to Guayaquil, Ecuador on Thursday.  Our hearts and prayers went out to those affected and still suffering.

Today we had a lovely breakfast at Yucay Hotel, then left at 9 am tour. Much more reasonable hour! We started our day with Coca Tea which is made by steeping the leaves of the Coca plant about 15 minutes.  Tastes great, has small stimulant property and is supposed to help with altitude sickness.

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Drove thru beautiful high meadow farming country with many families farming and herding sheep as they have done for thousands of years.

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1st stop, Moray circle terraces,  large circular terraces built in what is believed to be three meteorite  landings.  I think they could be old volcano calderas. Others believe they were dug out by the Inca’s as a crop laboratory as the temperature changes by over 20 degrees from top to bottom terraces.

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Absolutely stunning that the Moray ruins are in such good shape.  Prior to being a protected ruin they were still used by farmers  and one ring was even used as a bull fighting ring. The circles show evidence that they had spring water directed into each terrace.  Sadly, the water no longer flows as it does in Machu Picchu

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Protection holding up the terraces

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Moray largest circle

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A smaller circle off in the distance

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Note the flying steps

Beautiful area and we were able to hike all around this area.  It is about 11,000 ft at top of the terraces, so we hiked slowly.  Great example of flying steps.  Inca builders did not waste terrace space with stairways or ramps in most cases.  These stones are incorporated into the terrace design to allow ascending or descending the various levels.

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Flying step details

Our wonderful guide, Mabine, had a degree in Tourism and was getting a Master’s in Inca Studies.  She also shared her knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs as we wandered various sites.

We had zipped thru the small town of Moras on the way in to beat the crowds and the heat.

Intricate stone work on doorways to houses.

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On the way out we stopped to visit the town square. The highlight is a statue which depicts the main attractions in the areas and the church.

Then to Salinas de Maras, salt ponds, Inca built and still in use today.  Over 4,000 ponds still being actively maintained today by individual farming families. Below is the view as we drove up from the Sacred Valley, two views taken from the same spot.  The first shows the Rio Urubamba as we looked back at the Sacred Valley. The second shows the thousands of salt ponds all fed by a single stream.

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Looking back at the Sacred Valley

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Looking toward the Salt Ponds

A family  may own one pond or hundreds of ponds.  As you can see the most highly prized ponds would be near the entrance to avoid the long hike to take care of the pond and carry up the salt.

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A family repairing the pond access

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Pictures don’t show the vast area this covers

Since the rainy season was just ending, many pond repairs were being done and only a few ponds actually had salt evaporating.  They are the white ponds. During June, July and August the work and harvesting will be in full force.  Each cycle takes about six weeks. After all the hard work, the salt is harvested and graded.  Pay for the salt is based on purity and grade. A tourist area of shops is near the entrance to the salt ponds.

 

We parted company from our guide after this tour and went back to our hotel to repack for the trip to Machu Picchu and then toured the town of Yucay on our own.  Beautiful hotels and restaurants behind very nondescript entrances.

You may wonder, why repack?  Well, at least three trains go to Machu Picchu.  A local train, the Vistadome train and the Hiram Bingham train.  We were taking the Vistadome, which allows only one small bag.  So we needed to pack our day packs for overnight needs and rain gear for our stay in Aqua Caliente and Machu Picchu. Our suitcases were being picked up prior to us getting on the train and would be delivered to our Cuzco hotel for Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, we thought we would get contact information for Mabine back in Cuzco, but as it turns out we did not see her again.

We had a wonderful buffet lunch in town, walked around town and took some time to read our notes on Machu Picchu before our early start on Monday, April 18th.

Tomorrow, my big goal-Machu Picchu!

Peru and the Galapagos-2

Sacred Valley – Pisac, Ollaytaytambo and Yucay

On Sunday, April 16th, we got up at 5 am to make a 7:30 am flight from Lima to Cusco.  Were met by our tour guide and driver and left the Cusco Airport for a two day tour of the Sacred Valley. Cusco is at roughly 11,000 feet elevation, so it is good to go to the Sacred Valley and work your way up to the elevation of Machu Picchu at approximately 8,000 feet and then go back to Cusco to stay a few days to avoid elevation sickness.

This is a good time to discuss the wonderful tour company that put together our trip.  We used, Rainforest Cruises which specializes in Peru trekking and sightseeing tours, Amazon Cruises in multiple countries, Ecuador Bird watching expeditions and Galapagos Tours. We had asked for a fully guided tour so that we could focus on the ancient sites of Peru and the wonders of the Galapagos in two short weeks.  They did not disappoint.  Usually, we plan our own trips and set up all accommodations and transportation.  For this this trip, it was perfect to let Rainforest Cruises do the hard work and let us just enjoy the trip.

Below, our first view of the Sacred Valley.  When the Spanish took over this area, they set up towns on the valley floor and tried to move all Inca people out of the mountains so they could be controlled.  The Inca did not use agricultural land for cities.

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We followed the river for a while then worked our way up into the hills to Pisac or Pisaq.  Pisac is an thriving town and the upper hills have incredible Inca ruins.  The winding road to Pisac.

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Pisac

We went directly to the Pisaq Ruins.

Our guide explained how they believe all Inca cities are set up. Upper hill for storage areas that are separate from the people and will catch the wind to keep grains dry. Top of the mountain was temple area for rulers and priest. Below that was Nobility.  Permanent workers lived in a separate section, divided into Citizens and Servants. The lowest area of the mountain town would have houses for ‘travelers’ that were seasonal workers needed for harvests or buildings or other projects. All were separated by class.  It is believed that a citizen could become a lesser nobility but workers and servants could never change classes.  This explanation was very helpful in understanding each of the sites we visited.  The Inca’s did not have a written language, all explanations of sites are ‘best guesses’ based on archeological evidence and early accounts after the Spanish conquest of the area.

Pisaq Ruins:

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Ruins high up the hill*

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Pisas ruins also have a unique area which is another hillside with small caves which is believed to be an Inca cemetery.  Bodies were found in sitting, fetal positions with offerings such as pottery in these caves.

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After visiting the ruins, we went into the town of Pisac to the market and small square which now thrives on the tourist industry.

We were able to see the town oven.  As a child, our guide spent many summers in the Sacred Valley with her grandmother. She explained that most areas have one oven and everyone takes their baking items to the town oven.  She says that even today in many villages there is just one oven that everyone shares.  They were making Andean Bread which is very much like a sour dough roll with various spices, very good bread.  We had this type of bread at most meals in the Sacred Valley.  Given how I love to make sour dough bread, this was very interesting to me.  One of the spices they often use in the bread is a mild anise.

Ollaytaytambo

Ollaytaytambo is both an Inca and Spanish City.  This was one location where the city continued to thrive since the Spanish arrived.  Because the city was a major control point into three passes and into Machu Picchu (which the Spanish never found) the Spanish kept the lower sections of the city and simply changed them to Spanish style.  The mountain terraces and city areas were  forced to be abandoned and the beautiful ruins remain.

Looking down from the ruins to the city.  The city is where the Sacred Valley becomes very narrow.  Behind these ruins would go up to Machu Picchu.  Ollaytaytambo cannot be seen from the Sacred Valley as it is hidden as the valley narrows.

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Very large terraces and a temple at the top of all the terraces.

Looking out from the ruins, many see the face of a man in the hillside.

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Yucay

We stayed two nights in the small town of Yucay at the Hotel Casona de Yucay.  A lovely hotel which had two entry plazas to get to the reception area.  It was originally a hacienda and then converted to a hotel and conference facility.  The restaurant was excellent!

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*Pictures taken by Agnieszka Gerwel

Next to Moray and Marasol Salt Ponds