Sacred Valley

We caught a flight in the morning to Cusco, where we were picked up by our guide, Henrry.  As soon as we got to his car, he gave us cups of coca tea, noting that my friend, who had toured with him yesterday, had experienced bad altitude sickness. Henrry brought us first to Cristo Blanco, which offered nice views of Cusco and nearby archaeological ruins.

Cusco view- A photo

Sacred Valley ruins

Our next stop was Santuario de Cochawasi, an animal sanctuary in Sacred Valley.  One of the caretaker showed us the animals in the sanctuary, which included wild cats, llamas, and macaws.

Vicuna

Vicuna

One of the macaws took a liking to Adam’s shoes and his female partner didn’t like the fact that he was spending time with our group instead of her so she traversed the sanctuary and tried to bite the caretaker who was giving us the tour.  The last animals we were shown was a pair of Andean condors.

Santuario de Cochawasi condors

One of the condors was ushered to the other side of their enclosure and instructed to fly across, nearly missing our heads.

Santuario de Cochawasi condor flying A photo

After buying some alpaca wool products from the sanctuary store, we headed back out.  In some ways, I wish we could have driven ourselves because the Sacred Valley is beautiful and I would have made many stops along the way to take photos but this is the main scenic shot I have to share

Sacred Valley- A photo

Our next stop was some distance away so we stopped off in Urubamba to get lunch.  I wanted to go to this place but when we got there, the proprietor bellowed out from the second floor that it was their day off.   He was nice enough to come down and offer us a restaurant recommendation.  The restaurant had a lovely outdoor area overlooking a sleeping cat.  We took our seats, ordered and enjoyed our first (and sadly only) chicha morada in Peru (save for a bottled one I purchased at the airport).

El Huacatay Urubamba chicha

The food was excellent as the photo below attests.

El Huacatay Urubama entree

While we waited for Henrry to pick us up, I snapped this photo of Urubamba.

Urubamba

Our next stop was Ollantaytambo, famous for its hillside ruins.  I admired the canal running through the center of town as we walked to the ruins.

Ollantaytambo canal

The Ollantaytambo ruins are impressive, comprised of of rows of steep stone terraces carved into the hillside–the ruins of a large temple-fortress built by the Incans.  Henrry went into detail about their significance but in Spanish and my Spanish is not good enough to translate.

Ollantaytambo ruins- A photo

Ollantaytambo ruins view from- A photo

After Ollantaytambo, we drove to Salinas salt mines.  The photos I’d seen online were impressive and seeing them in person did not disappoint although I do feel bad for the workers (I can only imagine how difficult it must be to work here)

Salinas salt mines 2

Salinas salt mines 3

Salinas salt mine worker 1

Salinas salt mine workers

I was impressed to learn that the salt mines date back to the Incans.  We had one more stop to make before we drove back and encountered a little traffic jam along the way.

Sacred Valley sheep on the side of the road

Our last stop was Moray, a series of circular, stepped terraces which we were told was likely used to acclimate and experiment with different crops.  The depressions in the earth produce intense microclimates, with significant differences in temperature from top to bottom, that the Incans were studying.

Moray panned out

Moray panned in

Wish we could have gone inside but it was already pretty late and it was absolutely freezing at this location (we experienced a pretty significant range of temperatures and wind conditions throughout the course of the day).  Darkness set in as we drove to our hotel in Pisac and I found it hard to stay awake.

Henrry had to ask around for the location of our hotel and when we pulled into a courtyard fronting a church, he realized the  narrow dirt pathway behind the church leading to our hotel was not wide enough for his car.  He said we could either go to the main plaza and hire a micro taxi to take us to the hotel or we could walk.  I opted for the latter even though the pathway was unlit and dark and we didn’t know how far down the path our hotel was.  Henrry was gracious enough to accompany us and help us with our luggage and we set out down the pathway pulling our suitcases under the moonlight.  The hotel was pretty far down the path and located behind a wooden gate.  Henrry rang the bell several times but no one came to the gate.  “Guess we might have to stay at your place in Cusco” I joked but, fortunately, within a few minutes a driver in a mini taxi showed up and opened the gate (lucky for us, he happened to be driving some other guests back to the hotel).  He showed us to our room and then said he would drive us to the town center so we could eat dinner (the hotel didn’t have a restaurant).

We were dropped off in front of a popular backpacker’s restaurant which seemed to attract individuals seeking some sort of enlightenment as the conversations around us and the new age-y advertisements on the cork board at the front of the restaurant seemed to attest to.

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