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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Peruvian Adventure 2016 - Sacred Valley Tour

We started our morning rather early with a delicious breakfast in the hotel, prior to our ride picking us up for the Sacred Valley tour.

A little after 8am, our ride came to get us. Unfortunately, we still did not speak much Spanish and he did not speak much English. He drove us around Cusco until he was given the name of the next persons hotel that he needed to pick up. Then we waited at the bus depot for our tour bus. Quite a confusing few minutes. On the bus, we met our guide, Herman, and began our journey. Herman gave us a fair amount of history while we drove through the countryside.

At the first small town, we stopped to check out the market and use the bathroom. Michael, the other guy in our pick-up car, and I chatted for a while about our families and how beautiful the area was.

Back in the bus, we continued on until a rest stop overlooking the Urubamba River, the sacred river. It was beautiful. As a bonus, we got to watch some hummingbirds play in the flowers a cactus.

Following the stop, we continued on into the town of P'isaq, crossing the "San Francisco" bridge, on our way to the Inca site at P'isaq.

P'isaq was stunning! It was interesting to learn hot they charted the sun, moon, and stars to help them with their agriculture. Also, we learned that each terrace contains dirt from the Andes, dirt from the coast near Lima, and dirt from the jungle to help grow crops more effectively. As we wandered around P'isaq, we were in awe of the construction and at how the altitude was affecting us. At over 11000 ft, every step we climbed seemed to take the life out of us.

On the other side of the canyon from the main buildings at P'isaq were small caves. The Incas mummified their dead by removing the organs, cutting the tendons, folding into a fetal position, and covering in muña oil, as a preservative. The small caves were near the top of the mountain, close to heaven, and in a place condors could help the spirits ascend to heaven. The craftsmanship of the Incas was something truly special to see in person.

Following our time at the archeological site in P'isaq, we loaded the bus and headed into town. P'isaq is known for its silver production. Kari, Michael, and I listened to the instruction of how silver jewelry is made and how to spot real silver. It was pretty neat to watch the masters at work and learn more about silver.

After a short time in the village, we were back on the bus, heading toward Ollantaytambo, to get lunch. Kari, Michael, and I ate at Hacienda Puka Punku, sampling a variety of Peruvian dishes. We even got to try alpaca, adding to our list of exotic critters we have eaten. Now, we need to find some cuy, or guinea pig, which is a local delicacy here in Peru.

When Herman and our bus driver came back, we continued on to the Inca site Ollantaytambo. The city of Ollantaytambo had narrow streets, reminiscent of the Inca streets, tight and narrow with gutters. We drove past the town square and parked with the rest of the buses. After a quick walk up a narrow alley, we were at the gates to the Inca site of Ollantaytambo. Herman walked us in and gave a brief history lesson of the place and surrounding community before walking us up the steps to the temple of the sun. As any true temple of the sun, it was as close to the top of the mountain as possible. Lungs burned as we ascended, hopefully a good warm-up to the Inca Trail. The temple of the sun had a wall made of six huge slabs of interlocking granite. Each slab weighed over 70 tons. I can only imagine how hard it would have been to drag the granite across the river, 2km away, and up the mountain, only to stand them together in a wall of interlocking pieces. Yowser!

After our history lesson, Herman let us wander around for a bit before meeting to head back to the bus. Kari and I explored the ruins, as much as possible, before heading back down the mountain. At the bottom, we went to the temple of water to see the various fountains and pools of water. There were also two llamas hanging out. I was pumped to take a picture of a llama without having to pay for it!

Some of our group stayed in Ollantaytambo while the rest of us continued on to Chinchero, our final Inca site for the day. The road to Chinchero climbed up into the mountains. We were able to see our first glaciers in the distance. For some reason, I did not think that Peru has glaciers. What a silly thought! Peru is home to the third highest glacier in the elevation! Only Everest and a mountain in Argentina have a glacier at higher elevation. Also, on our way to Chinchero, we passed a plot of land that is in the process of becoming an airport. It appears that there might even be direct flights from Miami, which would open Cusco without requiring passage through Lima. Kind of neat to see how the country is trying to make the remote regions of the Andes more accessible.

At Chinchero, we wandered around the Inca site. The terraces here are believed to be more of an agricultural test lab for the Incas. Incas would try different soils at different angles to the sun to find the optimal growing conditions for something then share with all of the other locations. Pretty neat! We also saw how the Spaniards built directly on top of the Inca construction. Beneath the Spanish church was likely the home of the Inca upper class for this area.

As the sun was beginning to set, we all headed back for the bus. Herman decided to take us to meet some ladies working with alpaca wool to show us the different dying techniques and agents, as well as how they worked with and cleaned the wool. The most surprising was how the Inca people get the color red, from a bacteria that grows on cactus and looks white until killed. It was really awesome to learn how more about their culture that they have been passing down for generations from the time of the Incas.

Following our pit stop, we headed back to Cusco to have a nice meal, again with Raul, and get ready for the beginning of our trek on the Inca Trail. Man oh man was 6am, our pick-up time, going to come early!

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