Salt mines, Inca ruins and weaving..oh my!
Sep 15, 2015
First, Happy Birthday to my sister, elise!! She and I usually travel together but this year we're going on different trips; while Jef and I are here in Peru, she and a friend will be going to Budapest and Prague. We're all watching and wondering how the immigration situation in Hungary will affect their train trip plans from Budapest to Prague!
Second, I take back what I said about the hotel in Lima having the hardest bed EVER-- the bed in this hotel is basically a mattress pad on a cement slab...I suppose there's some kind of other material there but I sure can't feel it. I took the "comforter" (a blanket in a sheet), folded it in half to double it and put it on top of the "mattress". There was no difference. I tossed and turned all night. Tonight, I'm putting 2 "comforters" and 2 blankets under me and hope to attain enough loft to actually sleep. Or I just may pass out from lack of sleep anyway :p.
Jef's alarm went off at 7am but I'd been laying there for an hour waiting to get up anyway. We went to breakfast at 8am. It's a better buffet than the hotel in Lima but it was pretty picked over by the larger tour groups that had departed before us.
Our guide for the day, Jose Luis, and driver, Marco, picked us up at 9. We were a bit disappointed to find that we were the only ones on the tour today.
We headed back up the mountain we'd come down yesterday--a very narrow, 2 lane switch-back road. Yes, there were slightly terrifying moments!! It took about 20 minutes to get to our first stop, the Maras salt mines.
These mines are not underground mines but "pans" created by rocks separating them. There are over 3000 pans! They are all fed from a tiny little stream and have been since the 1400's when the Inca set up the system. The salt mines are owned and managed by the villagers in the town of Maras. We saw how the water is fed into each pan, the various colors denoting how dry it was; how far along the process it was. Once it's dry, there are 3 collections: the flower (the first layer, used as table salt); the pink layer (considered more gourmet) and the medicinal layer (herbs are added to it and it's used for soaking in a bath). We saw the workers running up the hills with bags of at least 50 lbs on their shoulders to bring it up from the lower pans to the top where it is then bagged. The salt is not processed. We were able to walk down to see the pans up close. It was all very interesting and then, of course, there was an opportunity to purchase it! Not to worry, elise, you did get some for your birthday present :).
I found that the altitude (at Maras it's 11,090 ft) isn't a problem for me in anyway except going up hill and I get short of breath. It affected Jef too but not as much. Anyway, it was a slow hike back up to the parking lot!
Then we were off to Moray, an Inca agricultural laboratory--which looks like a giant amphitheater. The terraces were dug into the top of a hill and served as a testing area for growing crops from around the Inca territories. Because of the differences in depths, there can be a temperature difference of as much as 27 degrees between the terraces so they were able to study the effects of climatic conditions on the crops as well as hybridization of wild vegetables. It has a very sophisticated irrigation system using a lake from the other side of the hills. It's elevation is 11,500ft and it was probably built in the mid-1400's. There are several smaller terraces around the large one. Jef and Jose hiked down to the top level of the terraces while I enjoyed a shady spot and then walked to one of the smaller ones.
By this time it was getting to be 11:30 so we headed to Chinchero, a quaint town further up the mountain for lunch and to see some more Inca terraces. I think we were running a little late because Marco decided to take a "short cut" instead of going back down and then up the mountain...the short cut was a single lane dirt road through the middle of nowhere! But we did see some interesting sights: herders with sheep, donkeys, pigs and even a few horses. Kids playing alongside the road--happy to wave at us. We saw a donkey carrying a jug of Chicha--the infamous saliva fermented corn beer. It's traditionally made with Jora corn (a corn from the Andes), sometimes with quinoa added, and boiled. Sometimes...women chew the corn, spit it out and then leave it to brew for a few weeks. It's been prepared and consumed in the Andes for millennia. It's still very popular around this area and it's normally sold in people's houses (unlicensed in anyway). You can identify the houses selling it by a bamboo pole sticking out the open door with a colored plastic bag wrapped around the end. We saw lots of those but I haven't gotten a picture yet!
So..lunch was in Chincero at La Casa de Barro (house of the clay). It was a charming place down some dirt road that no one would ever find. We had several options to chose from: Jef had the trout and I had the New Zealand beef. It was all very fancy--quite the presentation that Steve would appreciate. There were a soup course and dessert included so we were quite full when done plus...Chinchero's elevation is 12, 375 ft--one of the highest we'll be at this trip--so we were feeling extra heavy!!
After lunch, we went to a weaving center to learn about how the sheep and alpaca wool is cleaned, spun, dyed and woven. It was just the 2 of us there but the young woman who did the presentation was good: her english was very good and she told the process in a humorous way. She asked us what we thought the bone was from that was used to help weaving on the loom; after our guesses were wrong, she said "it's from a tourist who didn't buy anything after the presentation"! We learned that alpaca wool is much softer than sheep, that they use only natural dyes--she showed us what plants and animals make what colors, that they use the same size loom for everything and just sew pieces together to make larger items (this is for the table runners and cloths, scarves, etc...), the sweaters, socks and gloves are hand knitted. Of course, there was the opportunity to buy something afterwards and I did find a couple of things!
Last stop of the day was up the hill (of course) from the weaving center. We walked to it since the streets are very narrow. There we entered the large Inca area. It's massive stone walls are terraced and thought to be used for agriculture as well as possibly a kind of country resort for the 11th Inca ruler and built around 1480. The Spanish destroyed a large area of it and built a large church on the remains of the Incan palace using the existing stone foundation. There was a festival going on in the church courtyard so we were able to see some of the colorful traditional festival outfits. The town prides itself on maintaining traditional culture tho so people wear their daily traditional outfits all the time.
It was almost 3pm and time to head back to Urubamba. Even tho it's only 30 kilometers away, it still takes a long time to do those switchback mountain roads! We got back to the hotel around 4 and took a siesta!
We knew we wouldn't need much of a dinner after that large lunch so we walked into town and bought a box of Chilean white wine to have with our cheez-its and puffed corn snacks we'd gotten at the salt mines. I've been routinely walking over 11,500 steps a day and I was tired so we took a tuk-tuk back from the town to the hotel--cheapest tuk-tuk I've ever taken: cost us 3 soles which is less than a dollar :).
So I'm off to create my Franken-bed and hope that the extra padding will allow me a good night's sleep!!! Enjoy the pics!