Cusco - The Sacred Valley

By Issy Goode - 19:10

On the day we travelled to Cusco we woke in our cabin at Cayman Lodge Amazonie, packed our bags, ate our breakfast and travelled back to Puerto Maldonado. We hugged Frank goodbye after an inspiring few days in his company and boarded our fourth plane of the trip. We arrived to a beautifully warm and sunny city. Cusco is elevated to around 3,400m and on the way towards baggage collection Stansa, one of our fellow travellers, spotted some coca leaves being given out freely and took a small handful. The purpose of coca leaves in Peru for travellers and locals alike is as a means of prevention against altitude sickness. We weren't aware of it at the time, but apparently you're supposed to spit the leaves out...we of course all swallowed a small handful, which Bobby found quite hilarious.  

We arrived at our hotel for the night, Hotel Inkarri, and quickly headed out for lunch at Gustitos de Loli - which I'd highly recommend! Whilst we were all hungry we were also quite eager to get back to our hotel rooms for the first hot shower in three days, so we gobbled our delicious food down at pace and shot back to the hotel. After freshening up a few of us headed into the square which was beautifully lit up. The incredible cathedral and architecture surrounding us was truly stunning. Unfortunately we only brought our phones with us and with all the lights, the photos came out awfully! 

After a good rest in a relatively warm room that actually had walls (although I quite liked how open our rainforest cabins were!), we were set up for a jam packed day of exploring Cusco. Today was the 'Sacred Valley Tour' an optional addition to our holiday we were all keen to go on, and I'm so glad we did. 

On the drive to our first site Bobby told us a little about the history of Cusco. Apparently, the original name for Cusco was Qosqo which translates to belly button - according to history, it was named this as it was thought to be the centre of the world.

Bobby also shared a rather inspiring tale about a mountain called Veronica. Veronica, also known as Willka Weqa, is the third highest mountain in Peru and it's name has quite a wonderful history. A group of male Swiss hikers tried to hike the mountain during the wet season but failed to do so. They returned in the dry season and a Peruvian woman named Veronica asked to join them. The men said it was for men to climb, not women but said she could hike with them but they'd be free of blame if she became injured in any way. On the hike, she managed to be the first to reach the top and the mountain was supposedly renamed in her honour!

On the drive we passed a huge area of farmland that the government has recently acquired. The intention for this town, called Chinchero - which sits on the outskirts of Cusco - is to build a new international airport here. In the locals opinions, this will damage the farm based community and will change the area entirely, replacing their main source of income with tourism instead. It will also make travelling to Peru different - the only international airport currently is in Lima, an otherwise uninspiring city that attracts tourists mainly as a pit stop. 

We finally reached our first site, called 'Moray'. This site is 150m deep, with each step of land presenting a different eco system for different crops to grow. The site was restored in 2014 by the Institute of Natural Agriculture. Before 2010 the site hadn't even been visited by tourists and Bobby himself remembered visiting the site to play football on with his friends when he was a boy. When a big flood caused Machu Picchu to be closed for 3 months, tour guides started to bring tourists on the Sacred Valley Tour, which introduced them to the rich history surrounding Cusco and made Moray a popular site to visit. 
The photo doesn't do justice to how huge the Moray site truly is. You can see just to the right of the centre of the photo there is a zig-zig - these are small steps used to move between each layer. In the centre of the circular area is a small drainage hole, and on the higher level there was once a small house for the groundskeeper. 
This site was just to the left, over a hill, of the Moray site. The name of which you can read in the photo below. The stone is in piles because they are in the process of rebuilding it - if you can spot two of the workers in this you have good eye site or good zoom! 
We moved on from here to Ollantaytambo, a town we'd visit a few times during our trip. The locals here still live in the same houses the Incas once did in the 1200's, having supposedly only replaced the roofs. The site we visited here was part of Ollantaytambo, and one that the Incas acquired after conquering another society who had originally built it. Whilst not originally made by the Incas, they built upon the basis of the structure with incredible stone work. We were shown the location of the quarry and it was hard to comprehend how they possibly transported huge cuttings of masonry and brought them high up into the site. 
A view of Ollantaytambo from up high
Flipping the view round, here's the view of the site from ground level. It doesn't look remotely daunting when I look back on the photos, but from memory we all gasped at the hieght of it. 
A rather photogenic alpaca (or was it a llama? Even after travelling to Peru I still can't quite tell!).  
More of the site built straight into the mountain
The notches on these stones were all part of the moving process and enabled the stones to be easier to carry and move. After putting the stones into place, these notches would usually be removed however, historians and locals suspect that these ones were left unfinished due to the timing of the Spanish Invasion. 
Another example of the stone work, can you imagine trying to move these without modern machinery?! 
Opposite this site is a large storage area for grains. From afar we thought this was a large grave, but after telling us what its true use was, Bobby explained that the way in which it is built means it's shielded perfectly from the elements, wind in particular. A citizen would have had to sit on the mountainside for days, weeks, months even to try and establish the perfect place to build this site. 
Here you can see the storage building quite clearly to the left hand side. It's not so easy to view in this photo, but the curves of the stores looked to a lot of us like tombstones. 
A view of the storage from another a different angle, capturing a slightly higher view of the town.
We also learnt about the Andean Cross - half represents spiritual, the other material. Perfect balance was what the Incas supposedly sought. Bobby showed us around the temple and showed the running fountains and the seasonal dial, which basically helped the Incas to understand what season it was using stones and the sunshine.
A view from inside one of the temples where the water was running from a small fountain and the large window gapped out onto the mountains. 
This was the carving which helped the people to tell the seasons, the notches each create differing shadows based on where the light is coming from.
After exploring this incredible site, we visited a local woman who cooked us lunch, which was delicious, but then she also served up a local delicacy, Guinea Pig. It looked and smelt very unpleasant, that's about all I'll say! 

Post lunch we drove down the road to see how Corn Beer was made and to give it a try. Bobby referred to it as the 'Gateraid of the Andes'. We tried a normal variety of corn beer, which was awful and a strawberry variety, which was sweet and slightly tastier, but still a bit gross! From here we went on to a weaving house where local women showed us how they make the dyes from all natural sources, which you can see below. The two I distinctly remember is the black corn for purple dye, and coca leaf for green. They also showed us how they hand make the throws that were on sale. Some take 3-4 months to make. Michael almost bought an incredibly delicate and exquisite throw but the price was a little beyond our means! For the work they put in, it certainly deserved the price tag it had but we just couldn't justify it. Though we did come away with a beautiful blanket that was just a few hundred Sol cheaper!
Being shown the stages of the corn beer 
Here's me having a good go at a local drinking game. You had 10 coins that you had to throw at the rather beaten looking stand, atop of this sat an open mouthed golden frog, which was worth the most points. Around the frog were other holes and also one behind him, all worth differing amounts. I scored 0, fortunately I wasn't in on the drinking game! 
Here's how the women in the Weaving House laid out the dyes to show us how they make them. If I recall, the white powder you can see on the cactus when squeezed makes a beautiful red colour. The woman also used this as a lipstick. 
After a jam packed day of driving around Cusco, we made our way back to the hotel in rush hour traffic, but not before making a pitstop to take some final photos.
The smoke in the background became quite commonplace in our photos - farmers burn off the old crops in order to fertilise the soil ready for next time. Mostly the fires stayed in control, but one fire actually threatened to ruin our whole journey - more on that next time!
We needed to head to bed much earlier on this night as the real challenge would begin on the following day. When we woke up in the early hours the next morning, the day had finally arrived where we'd take our first steps on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu...

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  1. Wow! It looks absolutely incredible in Peru, and it sounds like you learnt so much whilst you were there as well. I love the story of Veronica too, if that's not girl power then I don't know what it. Gorgeous pictures!

    Suitcase and Sandals Blog XX

    1. It really was incredible! It was nice to have someone so passionate about his country as our guide too, what learnt so much of the history from him! Exactly! xx


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