Moray and the lake.

Friday was a casual day, bit of a sleep in then breakfast.  The plan for the day is to drive back to Cusco, once there we have a couple of free days.  Time to wander the streets and explore the beautiful city, oh and catch up on the domestic chores like our washing.

Our driver knew a short cut to Moray, an ancient Incan site. The road there was amazing, some serious hairpins along a winding dusty road.  We stopped a few times to gaze at the view  along the way.

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Once there we were greeted with a series of concentric terraces. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. Speculation about the site has led to discussion about Moray as an Inca agricultural experiment station. It’s microclimate conditions and other significant characteristics led to the use of the site as a center for the ancient study of domestication, acclimatization, and hybridization of wild vegetable species that were modified or adapted for human consumption.DSC_1160-906x600

Helen and I made the climb down into the depression,  given we were at 3500m you could feel the effects of altitude. If we thought going down was fun, climbing back up took some effort.DSC_8926-600x903

Next stop was to be a lake where a Raul and a friend have a paddle boarding and kayaking business. Along the way though we stopped to look at some rocks, not just any rocks but rocks with Incan or pre-Incan significance.  They showed signs of altars or other such usage and were aligned north south in perfect unison with each other.DSC_1167-906x600

When we did reach the lake it was amazing! There were people out stand up paddle boarding in a Peruvian winter at 2700m.DSC_1177-906x600 The view was just stunning. We chilled here for a few hours and were treated to a home style lunch all prepared in a wood fired oven. After lunch we sat and relaxed just gazing at the view. Lying in a hammock sipping on cold Cusqueña beer,  what a way to while away a few hours.DSC_8978-600x903

Then it was time to head back to Cusco for the next few days.

Sacred Valley – Are we there yet?

Today we had an 8.30 start,  very civilized. After a leisurely breakfast we met Raul and Ramondo, our guide for today.  First stop was the local market for a look at how the locals shop, it was amazing to see all the fresh produce on offer.  They are a one stop shop, everything you need on display. Watching the butcher at work was an eye opener,  no refrigeration just hang the carcas and cover with hesian sacking. Quick slice with a sharp knife then finish the job with a hacksaw.DSC_1014-600x906DSC_1020-906x600

We then had the best coffee of the trip, Raul took us to a tiny shop, only just room for the four of us. The coffee is all single origin organic from local producers. The owner roasts it over a wood fire for a unique taste. The final product is produced using an old lever press Cimbali machine, a true classic.  Sensational coffee…DSC_1024-600x906

Then it was on the bus and off to Saqsywaman, and yes it almost sounds like sexy woman. This an amazing Pre-Inca site overlooking Cusco,  the stone work is unbelievable.  How did they move such huge stones over 11km from the quarry over such rugged terrain, some of them estimated to weigh 120 tonnes. The other stuning fact is that the angles along the wall line up to catch the sun at the winter solstice. Such intricate engineering for a civilization that according to some had no written language. We wandered the site for about an hour marvelling at the engineering.DSC_1043-906x600DSC_1051-906x600DSC_8802-600x903

We stopped at a local market in Pisac, the market is full of local handicrafts.  We did a bit of shopping here, both getting t-shirts, as well as a couple of water colour paintings. The excess baggage is starting to grow now.

After this we headed on to a local community in the Sacred Valley, where we saw the process of making Chicha, a fermented corn beer. A local woman explained the process then invited us to sample the results. We had small 20ml samples to begin, Helen wasn’t to keen on it. I ended having two large glasses, about a pint each.DSC_1075-600x906Now to work out how to brew my own. received_1217436878301288 We followed this with a game of Sapa, the setup is best described as a table with a series of holes in it, the centre hole covered by a frog. The aim is to toss metal disks into the frogs mouth, this is an instant win, otherwise you score points based on the disks you get in the other holes. Might be a woodwork project for my father when get home.DSC_1077-906x600

Next was lunch at a local home, amazing food, simple but packed with flavour. All cooked by the owner of the home, a service she does to help supplement the family income. She is also a master chocolatier, making the magic food from raw beans she roasts herself. We tasted the product at varying stages and then purchased a few bars, we’ll have to eat them here so no samples for those at home. You’ll just have to take our word that’s magic.DSC_1081-906x600

From here it was on to Ollyantaytambo, a truly inspiring archeological site. Again pictures wont do it justice,  the sense of spirituality is just awe inspiring.  We looked at the people ascending the steps and decided against it, it was like watching lines of ants. DSC_1128-906x600There was no chance to go slowly and take it in, you just had to keep pace with everyone else. Instead Ramondo led us around to the far side where the crowds tend not to go.  This was stunning, the way the huge stones are individually carved to fit just one place is unbelievable.  DSC_1089-906x600The stone masons involved in the project had amazing skills,  skills i dont think exist today. The waterways they carved into the rock faces still work over 600 years later. They direct water to various bath sites and altars around the site.DSC_1117-906x600

On the other side of the valley buildings can be seen high up on the slopes. One of them is the granary, used for storing grain. We asked why it was so high up, thinking it may have been a way to protect the grain strore from thieving.  Turns out it was because it is cooler up higher so it acted like natural refrigeration to help store the grain.DSC_1104-906x600

Tonight we are staying in Ollyantaytambo before heading back to Cusco in the morning. Why did i call this blog, Sacred Valley -Are we there yet? Raul was telling us about a previous trip where after travelling throughthe valley for most of the day you lady on the tour asked him when they would get to the Sacred Valley. This was despite him having said where they were several times. He now makes a point to keep repeating this fact.

Welcome to Cusco

Today was an early start again, well not too early, we had an 8.50am flight  Arequipa to Cusco. It’s only a short flight, just over 30 min, was our first ‘business class’ flight. Well, we were row 3, in front of the curtain with extra leg room, but on such a short flight no services.FB_IMG_1469051417504

On landing we collected our bags, the sharp eyed porters kept trying to help, saying Peregrine, the name of our travel company and pointing to their trolleys. Raul smiled as we waved them away, it wasn’t part of the tour, they could just read our baggage tags and were hoping we’d fall for it. Bags collected we headed out to find our transport,  yet again we get a mini bus just for us. Traffic in Lima had been busy, Arequipa slightly crazier but Cusco is another step up. Rules don’t seem to matter, it’s just every driver for themselves,  our driver just takes it in his stride.

After a short drive we arrive at our hotel the Hotel San Augustin,  very nice it is too. Our room is huge and looks out onto the Santa Domingo Church, built on the site of the Incan Qoricancha. The religious complex of Qoricancha (Qorikancha) in the Inca capital at Cuzco contained the Temple of the Sun which was not only the most sacred site or huaca in the Inca religion but was considered the very centre of the Inca world. It’s an amazing site to have outside your room.DSC_0961-800x530

After a brief rest we meet Raul in the lobby for a walk around town. The plaza in Cusco is magnificent, the church towers over the square with it’s gardens and statues. DSC_0971-530x800You do feel the altitude at times, especially going up some of the hills out of the square,  after all we are at around 3400m here. We finish the walk at the Coca Museum, a fascinating place where we hear about coca and it’s place in Inca culture. Long before it became a no no due to the drug connotations it was a source of energy for the Inca people. To get ‘high’ on the leaves you would need to consume some crazy amount, it takes 300kg of leaves to produce 1kg of cocaine.DSC_0986-530x800

After the tour we find a local restaurant for a lazy lunch, you can’tcan’t be in a hurry here, Peru moves at it’s own pace. Lunch over we stroll back through the streets to our hotel for a rest before whatever the evening brings.

Chivay and the condors

We’re on the road back to Arequipa after our trip to Chivay. Last night after our dip in the hot springs we headed out for dinner to a local restaurant that features traditional dancing as well. Not sure if Raul or Sandra set me up but needless to say i ended up joining in with a local dance. It’s hard to say no when the restaurant is fairly quiet and the girl is reaching for your hand. It was actually quite fun although i probably was doing it all wrong. Later everyone had a turn.received_1215365018508474

Our upstairs neighbors weren’t quiet after all, sounded like a party going on at times. The electric blanket proved to be fairly useless  as well, but hey its just one night.

Breakfast was early, 6am, so we could head out to see the Condors.  The trip up the Colca Valley to the actual canyon was amazing, words just don’t describe the scenery properly.  The terraced farmland from pre-Inca times is still in use in many places. I can’t imagine the backbreaking efforts needed to complete the task.  We don’t stop as we head out, there are several lookouts on the road as well as a few small towns, instead we head straight to Cruze de la Condor. This proves to be the best option.Image (40)-800x530

When we get to the condor viewpoint there is already quite a few people around. As soon as we get out if the bus Sandra motions to look down into the canyon.  There below us are several condors riding the thermal up draughts they use to soar the canyon. They are magnificent to watch, it’s like they are putting on a short for us.   As we move around to get better views its suddenly like every condor in Peru has come to say high,  there are so many you don’t know where to look. They’re now not deep in the Colca Canyon but flying and soaring over our heads. We can hear people around us asking there guides if this is normal, apparently it’s not. This is an excessive number of condors for one time.  Maybe Helen dancing with the condor during dinner last might has brought us good luck.Image (44)-800x530

Image (41)-800x530As we head on we stop in the town of Maca for a look at the town square, the church is simple but very beautiful.  Here there are the usual market stalls selling local handicrafts.  Sadly though we also see the negative effects of tourism. Several people have eagles or falcons tethered to poles,  they are wanting you to have a picture with the birds in return for a few coins. After seeing the majestic condors in the wild this is just wrong. Helen overheard a man telling his son that it is wrong as well, other people could be seen hurrying past. It’s sad that people see a need to do this.Image (48)-800x530Image (47)-800x530

Then it’s back into Chivay for a wander around the markets followed by lunch in another local restaurant. Again the food is so full of flavour.  After lunch it’s back on the bus and we begin the drive back to Arequipa. There’s only one road in and out so barring anything amazing thats the end of my blogging for today.Image (46)-800x530

A couple who live life in the constant pursuit of great food, drink, debauchery and adventure.