Exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas

After our day walking up and down far too many steps at marvelous Machu Picchu, I tentatively put my feet on the floor getting out of bed expecting my thighs to be a bit sore – but hooray, my legs were ticketyboo! Well at least for a few hours…

We had spent the night flat out tired in a friendly but grim B&B in Machu Picchu Pueblo, our next destination was to Arequipa on the overnight bus from Cusco that evening.
So with a full day ahead to explore the Sacred Valley we set to it.

Peru Rail entertained us with an Alpaca clothing fashion show and a strange Chitty Chitty Bang Bang style devil dancer man on the journey to Ollantaytambo station. The Vistadome train gave us great views of the sunshine filled valley. We had prearranged to meet Alfredo a taxi driver who was going to drive us around to visit some incredible Incan sites before delivering us back to Cusco.
We were so over climbing Incan stairs, but at Ollantaytambo we learnt about this ancient Incan military city where the Inca strategically won a battle against the Spanish, defending themselves from the high walls overlooking the town. These Incas were geniuses, they built their cities without the use of mortar. Carved stone blocks were carefully placed with smaller pieces of stone used to wedge the gaps and cleverly built to withstand any earthquakes.
Alfredo took us back up to high altitude at 11,500ft to visit the Moray ruins. This site definitely gets the alien and mystical conspiracy theorists buzzing, with a lot of crazy imagination, alien spacecraft could perfectly land into these sinkholes of concentric circular deep terraces on this high mountain plateau!
But in reality the Incas probably did some experimental gardening here. Although the surrounding terrain is very fertile the harsh colder conditions meant farming needed a helping hand. It’s believed the Incas would plant a row of crops on the lowest level for the first season, then each season cuttings and plants would be moved up one level.
By the time the plants reach the top level they would be hardy and ready to plant out on the surrounding fields. In these man-made terraces the micro climate temperatures can vary from top to bottom by 15c degrees. Walking back up to the top my thighs were starting to say to me ‘no more steps’!
There is no end to the ingenuity of the Incas, our next visit was to Salineras Salt Mines.
Natural warm salty spring water has been channelled into hundreds of shallow pools that have been carved into the hillside. After dipping our fingers into the water they tasted well..salty! Once the water evaporates in the bright sunshine at high altitude the salt is collected and used for cooking and for food preservation purposes. Unfortunately the rain clouds were heavy overhead, I’m sure on a sunny afternoon the pools would glisten beautifully and shimmer in this amazing quarry.
Heading back to Cusco the surrounding views of the Vilcabamba mountains and the snow-capped peak of Salkantay were just stunning. We stopped at the village of Chincheros to view the perfectly built agricultural terraces and village, which could have been an Incan countryside resort. At a local craft cooperative traditional Quechua women gave us a demonstration on how  Alpaca wool is processed into hand-woven textiles.
Our final stop overlooking Cusco City was a quick view of Sacsayhuaman, another wonderful example of perfect Incan stone masonry.
Our time in Cusco and the Sacred Valley was exhausting,  breathtaking, fascinating and ultimately a very special experience.

But it was time to drop a few thousand feet and head back down to the bright sunfilled warm city of Arequipa for New Year where my tired thighs could rest up!

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