Archive for July 23rd, 2010

Peru, Days 10-12: Sacred Valley and Pisaq

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Days 10 and 11 of our trip flew by in a blur of recovering from the Huancayo train and searching out cold medication for moi. We stayed one night in Lima where basically we just slept and cleaned up and then enjoyed the most amazing lasagna at an obviously touristy restaurant that had signatures all over the walls and tables. I’ll say it again, Peruvian Italian food is very, very good.

Day 11 we enjoyed a short (less than one hour) plane trip from Lima to Cusco (also spelled Cuzco). Cusco used to be the capital city of Peru. When the Spaniards conquered the Incas, they decimated Cusco and transferred the capital to Lima of the white skies. Cusco is a beautiful city. It has a wonderful Plaza de Armas, in that there are two amazing churches/cathedrals/whatever-you-call-’ems and a beautiful water fountain where everyone wanted to get their picture taken. It was overcast for our first day in Cusco, so I didn’t take many pictures. And, really, I didn’t have much of a chance. We quickly discovered that you couldn’t sit on a park bench (of which there were many) in the Plaza de Armes without getting accosted—and I mean with capital letters—by people wanting to sell you everything from sunglasses to hats to blankets to tours to massages to art. It wasn’t until we returned to Cusco following a trip up the Sacred Valley and to Machu Picchu that we discovered telling the vendor, “Non, gracias,” wasn’t enough. They just took that as an invitation to try and convince you that you MUST buy from them and them alone. At one point, my dh got frustrated and held up a hand and said strongly, “No!” It wasn’t the “No!” that sent the vendor away, it was the hand signal.

Trip tip! A police presence abounds in Cusco’s Plaza de Armes. A clever tourist (unlike us) will quickly realize that part of the police official’s job is to prevent the vendors from hassling visitors. But the police can’t tell if the tourist is getting hassled if the tourist and vendor are just talking. If the tourist holds up a hand, the vendor will skedaddle off, because then the police man or woman will SEE that the tourist means no and the vendor will get reprimanded. So, if you’re not interested in a vendor’s wares, hold up your hand in a stop sign position and say very firmly, “No!” Politeness does not work.

Yes, Cusco was our first exposure to “Peruvian Disneyland.” And it’s too bad, because, architecturally, Cusco is a beautiful city. You have to learn to take the constant hawking in stride. And remember that the North American tourist presence is partially responsible for the hawking. They hawk because we’re there. They WANT us there, because tourism is the 2nd or 3rd most important industry (agriculture and mining being the other two, but I can’t remember the order). But a lot of vendors in the most popular tourist areas of Peru have become a bit overzealous, by Canadian standards, anyway.

So we stayed overnight in Cusco, and the next morning our guide Gladys picked us up with a van and a driver. We were again on what is called an “Independent” tour, like the tour we took to Nasca. This meant that if only my husband and myself had signed up with this particular tour company for this particular tour for this particular day, then we had a guide all to ourselves.

That was a bit of a surprise. Our trip to Peru was an early celebration for our 25th anniversary, which occurs in August. When I was choosing between this “Independent” tour and a “Classic” one, my main concern was accommodation. This was the 3rd leg of our trip, and we expected Machu Picchu to be the highlight (which it was). I wanted to make sure we had good hotel rooms, with nice, fluffy beds and no end to hot water. If it was our 24th anniversary, I would have made my dh suffer. But I’ve stuck with him for 25 years. I deserved top-notch hotels!

Thus went the logic that resulted in our “Independent” tour.

Trip Tip! If you don’t want to travel around with 10-15 other people, choose an “Independent” tour. If you have a million questions for your guide and don’t want to share him/her, again, choose an “Independent” tour.  If you’re an extrovert and/or hate your spouse, choose a “Classic” type tour. Because an extrovert might expire from overexposure to a spouse on an Independent tour.

Thankfully, I am not an extrovert (although I can pretend quite nicely).

Okay, I can hear the complaints. Enough with the narrative, Cindy! We want pictures!

All right, all right! Sheesh! Give me a minute to format and upload them, will you?

We traveled by van up the Sacred Valley (El Valle Sagrado), also known as the Urubamba Valley, which is fed by many rivers, resulting in an abundance of greenery that we definitely did not see around Nasca (remember those lunar-like landscapes?). The Sacred Valley is home to many ruins on the way to Machu Picchu. The two primary ruins are Pisaq (also spelled Pisac, pronounced like “pea sack”) and Ollantaytambo (try saying that thirteen times in a row with a mouthful of Peruvian potatoes). (Oh-lawn-tay-tam-bow) (that is, a bow like the type on a Christmas present, not the bow you might do before the Queen).

View of the Sacred Valley before we arrrived at Pisaq. Our little British Columbian hearts were overjoyed at the sight of all that green! Farming and terraces everywhere. If there's not enough room for farming on the level, they terrace-farm up the mountains.

As we traveled through the Sacred Valley, we saw a lot of evidence of the devastation of the floods in January that temporarily closed Machu Picchu. Broken roadways, tent cities, etc. It was sad to see, but if we learned one thing during our 3-week trip it’s that the Peruvians are very resilient. They might get pushed down, but they get back up again. They are not afraid of hard work, that’s for sure.

We stopped at a village to see women weaving. This village is a "project" supported by tourist dollars. The people really live there, but all the men are employed as porters for Inca trail treks to Machu Picchu, and all the women, the wives of the porters, display traditional weaving techniques. Using llama and alpaca wool. So they needed llamas and alpacas. There were plenty.

He looks like he's talking!

The women in the weaving project village wore traditional dress for the tourists (unlike elsewhere in Peru, where the women wore traditional dress because they were more removed from modern influences). But everywhere, and I mean everywhere we went, we saw how women, no matter how they were dressed, carried their babies and small children on their backs. A man would be walking beside her carrying zip. She'd have a bag and a four-year-old on her back. This child is younger, but I saw a lot of small-boned women with kids who were older than toddlers on their backs.

The Peruvian roads fascinated my husband, as he's a motorcycle enthusiast. This is the view back down the Sacred Valley after we'd visited the weaving project.

By the way, Cusco is at about 11,000 feet elevation above sea level. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially when you have a head cold. I was still on the cold medication I’d bought in Lima, plus I was taking soroche tablets (to help prevent altitude sickness). The thinner air meant we tired easily, especially walking uphill or hiking.

View of the Sacred Valley from the Pisaq ruins. There's also a modern Pisaq town, and we visited the markets there following the tour of the ruins.

We walked up, up, up! When you're touring Peru, there's no end of walking and hiking, and we didn't meet anyone who had adequately prepared for the effect of the elevation. How are you going to prepare? Go to Peru and hike at high altitude for three weeks, then return to Canada, then return to Peru and see the sites? You "prepare" as you go.

Pisaq terraces. The Incas farmed on the hillsides. They built on the hillsides. They were fearless. You can't really describe how it feels to be at one of these ruins and constantly viewing evidence of Incan genius. It has to be experienced. As several of our guides said, "They were crazy." In a good, brave way. Not in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre way. Well, unless you count the human sacrifices. But we won't get into that...yet.

Pisaq was our first introduction to Inca architecture, and we loved it. It just amazed us how they built walls on top of and around natural rock. We thought these walls were amazing, but we hadn't yet been to Machu Picchu.

Another Inca wall at Pisaq. Amazing!

Next time, our next stop up the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo. Even more amazing Incan architecture. However, we went there after lunch and the big tour buses had caught up to us. Ollantaytambo was literally swarming with tourists. “Peruvian Disneyland” was in full swing!