The tour Kongo and his intrepid group took left their hotel in Cusco early in the morning in a dense fog interrupted by misty rain. In the Andes, that’s pretty much a normal weather pattern and since the weather here changes about every fifteen minutes it didn’t put a damper on the outing.
Leaving Cusco takes you past the old Inca fortress known as Saxsaywaman (when pronounced this sounds like “sexy woman” so Kongo sat up and paid attention). It guarded the Inca capital which is today the city of Cusco. The massive structures here were built by fitting huge stones, some weighing several tons, very closely together without mortar. It was a time-consuming process as the stones were cut using sand, grit, and water then polished and fitted using an arrangement like a modern-day Lego toy.
The view of Cusco from the mountain fortress is spectacular. It is a breathtaking 11,000 feet above sea level.
Traveling across the upper ranges of this part of the Andes the winding road eventually descends into the Sacred Valley and runs along the Urubamba River.
The river doesn’t look like much here in the mountains but as you progress through the valley it gets bigger and bigger as more streams add to the flow. Eventually it cascades down the mountains and becomes the mighty Amazon.
This being Peru a trip like this wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a llama farm. Yup. The llama farm sits across the road from the river and is actually a pretty cool place if you’re into llamas and Kongo’s group quickly got into the act. They also make excellent clothes here woven from llama wool and alpaca. Mrs. Kongo quickly helped the local economy.
We got to help the llama ranchers out by feeding these guys.
Women work on making the clothes sold in the llama farm gift shop. Their colorful attire present plenty of photo opportunities and it was fascinating to watch them weave on the looms they hold in their laps. This has to be hard on the knees after several hours of sitting cross-legged but their work is beautiful.
Leaving the llama farm behind we proceeded to the market town of Pisac. Sure, the Pisac Market is a bit touristy and Kongo doesn’t believe for a llama second that the locals are buying any of the tourist junk sold here but it was an interesting place and if you got away from the stalls selling hats and stuffed llama toys (oh yeah, Mrs. Kongo bought some of those too) the vegetable and meat markets were interesting.
Potatoes were invented in Peru and there are thousands of varieties of potatoes and aficionados of this tuber can get into heated arguments about exactly how many. We had one of these discussions on the bus. Our tour guide insisted there are 5,000 species and Kongo thinks that is a bit on the high side unless you’re counting french fries, garlic fries, cheese fries, etc., as individual species. Wiki indicates there are only 1,000 varieties. Other research results refer to “thousands” of varieties. In any event, there are a whole lot of potato types out there besides mashed and baked.
The market is a colorful place. Brightly colored spices, chicken feet, stuffed Inca dolls, native costumes, and the ubiquitous Peru hats are everywhere.
There are also the women who wander around trying to get their picture taken. There is a science to this. Many clueless American tourists think that maybe these women are wandering around in native costume just to make visitors happy and give them some photo memories to take home to Des Moines. It’s actually a business and they expect a “propina” for their pose. Propina is tip and the going rate is one Peruvian soules (pronounced SOUL less) which is about 30 cents. For a dollar you can shoot all day long so don’t shortchange the ladies. They do have wonderful smiles.
From Pisac we proceeded another hour to the end of the Sacred Valley and the town of Ollantaytambo and the huge Inca fortress that guarded the entrance to the valley from the Amazon basin.
One of the amazing views here is the giant stone face of an Inca warrior carved into the granite mountain overlooking the town. Legend is that an Inca guru by the name of Tunupa who wandered the mountains dispensing Inca knowledge to the people and eventually became the stone face on the mountain.
The steep slopes surrounding the town are covered with terraces built by the Incas and were situated so that they made a natural greenhouse that produced flowers and food for the royal family that conquered the region in the 15th century. After the Spanish conquest, this was one of the last remaining strongholds of the Inca.
Ollantaytambo is also the beginning of the Inca Trail. Intrepid travelers can make the four-day hike from here to Machu Picchu. It is also the spot where Kongo caught the Peru Rail train to Machu Picchu the next day.
This is a popular, very popular tourist destination as seen by the crowds climbing the terraces in the image above. Kongo took a more simian approach to beating the crowds and scaled the walls on his own.
After Ollantaytambo, Kongo’s tour returned to Cusco exhausted. Bus rides in Peru are an adventure all in themselves and they had to get up early the next morning to catch their train to Machu Picchu. See Kongo’s post about the train to Machu Picchu here.
The Sacred Valley is a beautiful day trip and shouldn’t be missed. Of course, if you’re going to Machu Picchu you can’t miss it at all since you have to travel through it to get to the trailhead or train station but take the time to see some of the sights. Kongo is sure you will love the views, the llamas, and the propina ladies in Pisac.
Along the way we stopped for lunch at a great little restaurant where you could also get your photo taken with, you guessed it, a llama! Here Martha, one of Kongo’s group, poses with a llama.
You can view a lot more of Kongo’s Peru photos here.
Travel safe. Have fun.