Saturday was our visit to the Sacred Valley. Our van took us high into the hills over Cusco and down into the Urubamba Valley on the other side. Deborah and I took turns aiming her camera out one window and the other, trying (usually in vain) to snap shots of locals and their llamas as we whizzed past them. The pictures of the beautiful hills with their occasionally Sedona-red rock were a bit more successful.
Luckily for us, our first stop was a wool factory. The tour there starts at the pens where they keep the llamas and alpacas. They give you clumps of tall grasses to feed the animals as you pass from pen to pen. Then you enter the weaving area, where several women sat with their racks piecing together beautiful wool fabrics. There is a station where they show you all the plants, stones, dung and other ingredients that go into the natural dyes. One thing Deborah and I learned on our first day in Cusco was the visual difference between fabric dyed with natural ingredients and those dyed with synthetics. The synthetics are often florescent in color and just as a matter of taste, I prefer the more subdued but equally rich natural dyes.
The last stop on the wool factory tour was the inevitable shop. This one had sweaters, scarves, tapestries, and some non-wool knick-knacks. We didn’t leave that shop empty-handed.
The next stop was the Pisac marketplace, which is mostly booth-overlapping-booth of the usual tourist items. Since this was our last full day in Cusco, we wanted to stay longer here than allotted to grab up a few last-minute gifts and souvenirs.
First, though, the guide took us to a silversmith’s shop where a woman showed us the process of combining raw silver and copper in just the right mix (95% silver, 5% copper) to create a beautiful satin finish. We watched some of her colleagues polishing the silver and look at the stones and shells they used to decorate the jewelry. It was very interesting, but neither Deborah nor I are jewelry people, so I wandered off into the marketplace to hunt for tapestries and found a nice Inca calendar in blue.
After this, we drove for a while through various villages. It is easy to think of this relatively contained region as having a single ethnicity and language, but there were other tribes living here besides the Incas, and a lot of the villages have their own unique identity, indigenous languages, and traditions tacked onto Catholicism.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that seemed oddly upscale for the “middle of nowhere.” It had a delicious Peruvian buffet. We will definitely have to track down Peruvian restaurants at home. The meals I have had while in Peru (other than the endlessly available ham sandwiches Latin Americans seemed obsessed with) have reminded me of East Indian food, beef or chicken simmered in a spicy sauce that has the consistency of curry, but gets its flavor from the peppers and fruits of Peru.
After lunch, we drove through more villages and learned more about the local culture, including the corn beer produced here. Our guide took us to a tavern where they grind the corn, simmer it, and ferment it on site, then serve it up to the patrons entertaining themselves with a coin-toss game similar to darts or rings.
Our final destination on the tour was the village of Ollanytambo, which is the same town where we caught the train to Machu Picchu on Friday, but it looked very different in the afternoon light. You could see the Pisaq ruins climbing high into the hills, and darned if we didn’t climb to the top of temple of the sun as our final archeological foray of the trip.
The village itself was lively with preparations for the June 12th festival. The locals dress in colorful costumes, and the men in particular wear masks made of wool. Then the whole lot of them parade through the town.
The drive back to Cusco was absolutely gorgeous. It is difficult to describe this bucolic scenery of hills and valleys, ravines and canyons, lush with green and dotted with farms and serenely grazing cattle, llamas, and donkeys. It is not level anywhere, and the locals will farm straight up a hill, or in carved terraces. You can forget you are already 10,000 feet above sea level as it is, and the glacier-topped peaks in the distance rise to 20,000 feet.
The one ubiquitous site I’ve noticed everywhere in Peru is the dogs. Dogs of every variety, running around leash-less, snoozing in a shady corner or darting precariously out into the road.
We got back to Cusco in time to dart across a few roads of our own. Traffic was insane down those narrow cobblestone streets, and pedestrians like us were everywhere, shopping at the boutiques and listening to live music in the square near our hotel. After that, we stopped at the café we lunched at on our first day, had a quick dinner, then went back to our room and packed for an early morning ride to the airport.