Monday, August 13, 2012

The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Hello friends and loyal readers!

I will take up the story of our travels where Matt last left off...

Tuesday evening we went to see a dance show that featured several traditional Incan dances as well as a Marinero, the national dance of Peru. There was a live orchestra with violins, wooden flutes, guitars of all sizes and some drums. We saw dances for different festivals and from different regions and the costumes the dancers wore were very beautiful. The Marinero was saved for last, and with good reason. The dancers were spectacular and the audience went wild!

Wednesday, we went to two of the museums included on the Boleto Turistico, the Natural History and the Popular Art Museum. The art museum was small, but had some interesting work done by local artists. The History museum was larger and had some interesting English Translations of the exhibits. Later, we went down to Calle Infancia, where we were told there are many good cevicherias. We ate Cevicheria el Pulpo, and it was in fact, delicious. After our bout with giant portions in Lima, we decided to split two orders between the three of us and it was lucky that we did. We ordered one ceviche and one fish apanado, meaning breaded. Each meal came with fried choclo, which is similar in taste and texture to Corn Nuts back home, a shot of leche de tigre, which is the juice leftover from making ceviche, a bowl of fish broth soup, a glass of chicha morada, a purple corn drink, and the main dish itself. The food was very reasonably priced and quite tasty. We also went down to the bus terminal to check out departures to Puno, on Lake Titicaca.

Thursday morning, we packed our bags and headed on a small bus to Pisaq, about an hours drive away from Cusco. Our hostelier recommended a good place to stay and so we found the hostal and dropped our bags. We spent the afternoon wandering around the market, taking photos with some local children who hoist around baby sheep and llamas for pictures and tips, and eating some delicious chicken from a cart. For dinner, we got some fresh empanadas from a bakery. Peruvian empanadas are baked in a bready dough with various fillings.

On Friday, we tried to get up and out a little early to spend the day at the Pisaq ruins. We took a cab to the top of the ruins and walked around all day. Unfortunately, there wasn't a good map and we had to back track several times to see the entire complex, which is huge. We then walked down the path to the town, which involved several switchbacks, large stairs, a very secure bridge, and a walk through the market. We were exhausted by the time we got back into town and went straight to lunch. Elliot had never tried cuy, so we had to go have some of the typical cuy al horno, or baked cuy, baked in a traditional wood-burning oven. Though Matt and I agree that the grilled cuy in BaƱos was better, this cuy was also interesting. The baking method made the skin a little more leathery and harder to chew, but they stuffed the cuy with some greens and herbs which were quite tasty.

And now, a short digression...
Matt and Elliot know each other from university, where they were in a fraternity together. Elliot is Matt's "little bro", meaning he was a sort of mentor or guide to him within the fraternity. Elliot's little bro and Matt's "grand" little bro, Daniel, is from Peru originally (though he grew up in LA and coincidentally went to my high school, though is younger than me, so I didn't know him there.) As it turns out, Daniels REAL younger brother, Jonathon, was in Peru for the summer with an internship and the same weekend that we were touring the Sacred Valley, he was, too, with his aunt Lilly and a new friend from his internship, Sarah from Egypt.

After our return from the ruins, we called Jon and he told us to meet them at a hotel in Urubamba for drinks and then invited us to stay with them in a house they rented just outside of town, which actually belongs to Lilly's niece. The hotel was the Tambo del Inka, which is more of a resort, and was stunning. We had some chilcanos and maracuya sours, two drinks made with Peru's national drink, Pisco, then headed to the house for dinner. The house was also amazing, an 8 bedroom mansion that was impeccably decorated. After all the drinks and a big meal, it was easy to fall asleep in my soft, warm bed!

The next day, we were up early for a breakfast of Quinoa pancakes before heading off to do some mountain biking in the hills about Urubamba. On the bike ride, we passed through the town of Maras which has some salt mines. Though Lilly had asked for the easiest ride possible, the route was quite strenuous, and what we were told would be a 2 hours ride turned into three and a half hours! By the time we got back home, it was 2:30 in the afternoon and we were sweaty, dirty, and tired. We had a large lunch and then we piled back into the car to see some more sites, though unfortunately, Lilly stayed behind as she was feeling very tired. We went first to Chinchera, a town known for its beautiful weaving and saw also the chuch which was built upon Incan ruins. The ceiling of the church was hand painted and so beautiful, that at one point, the church ordered it painted over since it was distracting people from the mass! Luckily, the work has since been restored. Lastly, we drove to the ruins of Moray, a circular amphitheater that allegedly has energy-giving powers that was used for ceremonies as well as introducing crops to high altitudes. We arrived at Moray just as the sun was setting, so we didn't get all the way down and it got very cold and windy, so we hurried back to the safety of our car.

Sunday morning, Jon and Sarah headed out very early to go see Machu Pichu and Matt, Elliot, and I headed to Ollantaytambo to see the ruins there. We were very tired from all the activity the day before, but somehow managed to see the whole site. I can only imagine how Jon and Sarah fared at MP! We hoped to meet up with them back in Cusco in the evening, but they did not return from the train until well past ten o'clock and we three were exhausted and couldn't manage to keep our eyes open. We took a combi from Ollanta to Urubamba and then a van to Cusco in the mid-afternoon, found a hostal to stay at, and had dinner at a small restaurant nearby.

This morning, we all slept in and enjoyed breakfast of the terrace of our hostal which has a lovely view of the Plaza de Armas. We went to the last two museums on our boleto turistico, both of which were rather small and not worth seeing. But since we had the boleto paid for already, we had wanted to check them out. It's been a very active couple of days, so I plan on resting up for the next two days in preparation for our Jungle Trek. We leave on the 16th, which will be another day of bicycling. On the 17th (my birthday!) and 18th, we'll be hiking an alternative to the Inka Trail to Aguas Calientes, and on the 19th we'll see Machu Pichu and Huayna Pichu and take the train back to Cusco. We are thinking about trying to hop on a bus to Puno that night, if we make it in time, and resting up from what is sure to be an exhausting adventure by the lake - but we will see if we make it in time and have the energy to do it!

That's all for now, dear readers, so look forward to our post-MP post, which is sure to be exciting!

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