Sacred Valley Part 1
It was another early morning for us today. We were hoping to make our way through the Sacred Valley with stops at Pisac and Ollantaytambo before finally reaching Aguas Callientes, the village closest to Machu Picchu.
We had arranged the day before for a driver and a car, as we wanted to sight-see at our own pace. Our driver and tour guide arrived bright and early at 7:30 am and we set off to check out some of the ruins around Cuzco.
We first stopped at an archaeological reserve called Saqsaywaman – not to be confused with sexy woman, our guide said. The complex is best known for its plaza and three terraces but we only got to see it from the outside since we were trying to fit in a lot.
We did a similar brief stop at another Incan fortress near Cuzco called Puka Pukara, also known as Red Fortress. As we were winding our way through these parts, we actually went up in elevation a little more before finally descending into the Sacred Valley and the town of Pisac.
Our first stop in Pisac was its market, which usually attracts heavy traffic from Cuzco, especially on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Lucky for us, we had an early start and so the market was not full of tourists when we arrived. I thought I had already done all my shopping when I suddenly found myself buying a silver pendant while Nathalia, who was the sole reason we were even at that stand, decided to walk away without purchasing anything. Lucky for me, the Peruvian lady who ran the stall chased us down and offered her an even better deal, so we both walked away with bags in our hands.
Our next stop was not part of our original plan but our tour guide assured us it will be well worth it. It was an animal sanctuary just outside of Pisac. There, we saw several members of the camelid family – the vicugna, which is well know for its wool, and the guanaco. We also saw a baby puma, which was rescued from a night club in Lima where it was kept sedated so that party goers could pet it. The highlight, though, were three condors – one baby and two adults. We got to see one of the adults in full flight from his hideout at the top of a hill. We got to admire his 3-meter wing span before he perched up in a spot that provided great photo ops for us.
Our final stop in Pisac were its ruins. As we approached the site, we saw many of the terraces Incas are famous for carving out on mountainsides. They used the terraces to plant the same crop higher and higher each year until they figured out what altitude worked best for a specific crop. We also learned that the big white corn we had for lunch the day before is their invention and is known as Imperial White.
The Pisac ruins featured more such terraces as well as lots and lots of buildings, with the ones higher up reserved for nobility. We also saw an Incan cemetery, which was nothing more than holes carved in the mountainside where the Incas buried their dead.
It was hard to imagine why the Incas would want to live this high up when there was a valley right below that could have made a great home for them, but whether it was their worship of the sun as their god or something more, it must have made for a beautiful life atop this mountain, with nothing obscuring their view of the sky and the sun and the stars.