Time to leave Cusco and it’s parades to go see some of the other parts of the Sacred Valley. I was a bit nervous doing this given my propensity to get decidely unwell on winding roads, so I left with a bit to trepidation. In order to somewhat reduce the effects of my malfunctioning vestibular system we organised for Edgar to pick us up and drive us to Ollantaytambo. He picked us up at airport and seemed like a very careful considerate driver and when meeting with him to discuss what we wanted to do he certainly demonstrated an understanding of motion sickness and the need to not take corners as though he was on a race track in a F1 car. Any worries I may have had proved to be totally unnecessary. Whether that was due to the pills I took before hand, his driving or just plain luck – don’t know, don’t care. The memories of a certain bus trip from Ronda to Cadiz last year remained just that.
Our first stop along the route we chose to travel was a gorgeous little hilltop town, Chinchero. Its higher than Cusco at 3700m and you notice the difference walking up steps to the old church but there really is nothing to worry about. The church is just gorgeous perched once again on the base of an Incan temple and over looking Incan ruins. The Spanish conquerors really did know how to crush the heart of the people. Our driver Edgar told us that the church was built in the 1500s and the roof was made from Ecualyptus trees. Ummm, really! Considering Australia wasn’t settled until 1788, explain how that works? Leads to the whole question of what guides tell you. No matter where you are in the world guides seem to have a single view of point of the history they recite to their audience. And it is not always the same story that is told. Maybe more on this later as I digress again. I would love to show you the interior of the church but here in the Cusco region they do not allow any photography inside the churches. Reportedly this is due to many of the magnificent art works on display being originals and they don’t want anyone to copy them. So we are told. What I can tell you is that this church like many others is cold inside. Where it differs is the beautiful frescos painted on white stucco and this gives a sense of lightness in what would be another dark stoned cold church. Oh you will be pleased to know that some of the saints were here having a chat too. So it turns out that the saints must be enlightened after all and have the capacity of spontaneous appearances simultaneously in as many places as they choose. Perhaps all religions do end up at the same point after all, just different terminology.
One of things of note with Chinchero is the abundunance of commercial opportunities. As with any other tourist destination in the world, the streets leading to the main attraction are lined with vendors all selling the same products and eternally hopeful they will be the lucky ones for whom the wallet opens. No different here on the way to the church. Out on the main roads in the newer part of town is a different enterprise but again no different with many people peddling the same product. This time it was traditional weaving demonstration and sale of traditional products. We were going to bypass these places for while the demonstration is free, the subtle pressures for a wallet opening is palpable. We were just about out of the danger zone when Val spotted one and asked Edgar to turn the car around. She wanted to stop at this place even though she has seen the demonstration before. Maybe it was the five ladies sitting outside in their traditional clothing spinning wool, don’t know, but in we went. To our surprise we were greated with a delightful woman who spoke English and offer a cup of coca tea (a delightful blend of mint and aniseed taste). It really was quite information and amazing to see how these women ply their very skilled craft. What they use for wool dye is astounding but not as much as squashing live beetles that live on cactus plants to produce cochineal dye and how adding other products such as lemon changes the intensity and tone of the red. It can even be used as lipstick and lasts 200 kisses. I didn’t try that out. They use the old waist looms and how they can remember let alone organise their fingers to weave the pattern is beyond me. Umm, the wallet did open so I wasn’t immune. Needless to say it was a photo opportunity for me.
Wherever there is stop for a point of interest, there is a commercial opportunity. More ‘traditional’ clothing and more opportunities to tikki piccha with llamas. Sombreros were the flavor of the day where there was a place to pull over and look down into the Urubamba Valley. But who can resist a llama? This one was given the name of Australia. So we are told.
It is a beautifl drive. The peaks of the Andes in the distance, sadly missing snow. There are some visible glaciers but Edgar told us there is normally a lot of snow on the peaks. Sad. It is currently harvest time out in the field with either wheat, quinua (spelt the local way) and potates.
The place that I really wanted to visit en route was Salineras de Maras. In case you can’t guess what I am referring to it is the salt ponds perched seemingly impossibly on the edge of a mountain. These ponds have been used to harvest mineral salt (not sea salt you know, it much better than that as it has other minerals like calcium) since before the Incan times (pre 1300s). There is just this one spring only about 30-40cm wide that has been successfully channeled to create an amazing sight. The hillside is literally covered with the ponds which are flooded and then left for the water to evaporate under the relentless Andean sun leaving behind salt crystals. The water is very, very salty to taste but different in taste to what we would call salty water. Val put her hand in the water which almost immediately dried. Her camera still has a bit of a salty powder on it. You have to pay 10 Soles (about $3.50) to get in there but all the proceeds go back to the community as they run the whole show. Boy they must make a packet as the place was packed when we visited. Would it surprise you if I said we had to run the commercial opportunity alley to get to the ponds. Only extra thing they sold here was packets of salt. Never mind as it really was stunning to see and something I’m unlikely to see again. Spot the two people in the fourth image to get an idea of the size of this place.
Not long afterwards we arrived at the small village of Ollantaytambo which is dominated by mountains and Incan ruins. You will have to wait to find out more about this place but here is a teaser. This is the view from my window. Why the delay? Well it is a simple as my iPad has just about run out of charge. The joys of the modern world whilst visiting the ancient.