After a big day exploring the sites and historical attractions of the beautiful city of Cuzco all day yesterday, we kicked things off this morning with a bus ride up into the hills behind the city and into the vicinity of a significant set of ruins known as “Sacsayhuaman” (pronounced Sexay Woman).
As we only had time to slowly observe the magnificent ruins from the bus as we passed, all I can really do is show you the one photo I snapped below and tell you (following a little research) that the fortress-like structure, which actually served as a sanctuary and temple to the Sun, features no less than 21 bastions and an impressive 360m long wall containing massive rocks that weigh up to 130 tons. How the hell these huge lumps of stone were fitted together with such perfection back in the days of the Incas is beyond me!
While the numerous sets of ruins that we passed on our way out of Cuzco heading north continued to impress, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the fact that the ruins were scattered amongst huge, healthy eucalyptus forests. Honestly, had you not known that you were traveling through some of the most significantly historic parts of Peru, you could have sworn you were cruising through the country somewhere out back of Tenterfield in NSW! Bizarre!
The main attraction of the morning was a visit to a local community known as “Ccaccaccollo” where G Adventures, the tour group I am currently travelling with, have helped developed a women’s weaving co-op as part of a sustainable community development initiative known as “Planeterra”.
While the men of the community are routinely employed as porters by the company for their Inca Trail tours into Machu Picchu, the women are busy creating incredibly high quality textiles that passing travellers, like us, have the opportunity to purchase directly from the ladies who created them.
By the time we rolled up in our bus, narrowly dodging numerous dogs and alpaca scattered throughout the village as we went, the women, all brightly and beautifully dressed in traditional clothing, were already hard at work. As Alpaca wool was sorted through and coloured yarn was transformed into textiles before our very eyes, we were encouraged to move around, peer over shoulders and take a good look at the precision and expertise with which these articles were created.
A few of the group (me included), were curious to learn how the women produced the vibrant coloured yarn. Nancy, our local guide for the Sacred Valley and Inca Trail sections of the tour was able to adequately fill us in with a detailed demonstration of how they extract coloured dyes from plants readily found throughout the area.
She ably assisted one of the local women in showing us how they set up dyeing pots over small clay stoves and used the plant extracts and other minerals, added to water, to create the beautifully coloured yarn (hopefully adequately illustrated below).
While this was going on and holding most of our attention, Julio was off behind us wrangling a couple of the community Alpacas – critters that have been purchased over the past couple of years using funds generated through the good work of the “Planeterra” project.
For more information on the G Adventures Planeterra Foundation, check out the information page on the G Adventures website:
The Sacred Valley
Next stop enroute to our final destination for the day was a neat lookout perched on the edge of and overlooking the “Sacred Valley of the Incas” (El Valle Sagrado de los Incas), so called due to its special geographical and climatic qualities in the eyes of the Incas when it came to the production of maize and other crops. The incredibly fertile valley is fed by numerous rivers which descend through adjoining valleys and gorges.
The scheduled stop gave us one of our first opportunities in this part of Peru to all jump in together in a group shot with the valley forming the background. Good stuff!
Moving on to another set of ruins perched on the side of a hill above the village of Pisac, our good looking Peruvian tour leader Julio (not to be confused with the good looking bloke above *cough*) took the opportunity to impart some of his own wisdom regarding the historical site.
Over the half hour or so we had to explore the ruins and terraced hillsides at a fairly leisurely pace, both Julio and Nancy were able to cover the defensive, religious and agricultural significance of the ruins and give us some kind of insight into how the Incas lived in this particular spot, back in the day.
From L to R (above): Helen, Anna, Simon and Atholl receive an “Incan Interior Decorating 101″ instruction from Nancy.
Heading back down into the valley and the town of Pisac, those with the ol’ shopping bug had the chance to run wild through a large, well laid out artisan market where a large selection of locally crafted clothing and other goods were on offer for whatever price you could bargain the stubborn little buggers down to! Haha!
We finished the day of travel in the picturesque village of Ollantaytambo. I know I have probably referred to a number of places throughout Peru already as being picturesque, but believe you me – this time I MEAN IT! What a beautiful, rustic town it is, built directly on top of the original Inca town, or Llacta with plenty of visual cues spread throughout to remind you of the once great civilisation that dwelled here.
No time for exploring the streets and alleyways this afternoon, however. Upon arrival we drove straight to the base of the famous ruins which we quickly set about scaling in an attempt to continue our training and acclimatisation preparations with the exciting Inca Trail trek kicking off tomorrow morning.
Boy did a few large stepped terraces remind us, very quickly, that the next few days aren’t going to be a “walk in a large Peruvian Park”. No Sir. I felt my lungs screaming by the time I made it to the top section, where Nancy was able to point out the unique rock carving on the valley’s opposing mountain face that takes the shape of a white bearded God called “Wiracocha”. As legend has it, Wiacocha entered the town and blessed the people (again, back in the day). This wowed the town folk to such an extent that they felt compelled to carve his face into the mountainside.
If you’re struggling to make out what I’m talking about in the photo below, check out the following photo I took of an artists impression of how the mountain face may have appeared back in Inca times. That should help you out.
Bewildering scenery and history-through-ruins aside, Ollantaytambo will perhaps remain etched in my memory mainly due to the size of some of the massive orange lichen encrusted stone monoliths that were positioned as part of what was likely to be a shrine or temple of some sort.
Again, how the heck the Inca people managed to get these monoliths up in this position after removing them from a quarry in neighbouring hills is completely beyond my comprehension. I mean just look how tiny weeny I am compared to just one of the chunks of rock (below)!
Don’t even get me started on how they got the monoliths to fit so snuggly and accurately without mortar or gap filler of any kind!
Training over, the rest of the evening was ours to explore the town and settle into our rooms at the comfy “Hotel Tika Wasi Valley”, about a block from the main square.
Before I sign off for the night, a quick explanation for the pair of clay cows that appear on everyone’s roofs here in the Sacred Valley region. Usually paired with a crucifix, the brightly painted beasts are positioned atop one’s home as they are thought to bring good luck, fertility and protection to the household.
Just like religion, whatever “floats your boat”, I guess.
Heading out to dinner with everyone shortly, then it’s time to return to the hotel to receive our Inca Trail briefing and to receive our duffel bags for packing. There’s a set limit as to how many kilos are allowed to be carried by our porters, so me thinks there’s going to be all sorts of entertainment ahead in watching some of the girls get their bags weighed tonight and tomorrow morning.
Can’t wait! Tomorrow is going to be the start of something pretty special!!