Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sacred Valley and Aguas Calientes

We left Cuzco early this morning for the Sacred Valley. First stop just outisde of Cuzco was Saqsaywoman, which sounds like sexy woman.There was no sexy woman though, just a few ugly men wandering about. 

Then we continued on to the Sacred Valley. Amazing secenery. Breathtaking. Hard to take a bad photo here.

The first proper stop was to see some ladies make textiles, from turning the alpaca hair into wool, dying it and then making stuff.

A llama or alpaca. I dunno which.

Pisca was our next stop, which is an Inca city from around the 1300s. All the Inca ruins are very methodical in their layout. The terraces on one side are for agriculture and the town is on the other side.

This is a living Inca city cos people still live in the town.

The agricultural terraces are really interesting cos the altitude can vary a lot so the Incas would experiment to see what could be grown at each level. Apparently potatoes are native to Peru and their are over 4,000 varies here. I like these pink ones which I saw in Lima. Pretty.

Anyway, at the top of these Inca cities are houses for the royal families (closer to the Inca gods apparently), watch houses for the military (so other communities don't come and steal your potatoes) and religious temples, to worship Inca gods and Mother Earth.

Next up we headed to Ollantaytambo, where we would stay the night. Like Pisca, it is a living Inca city cos people still live in the town. This place also has some very cool ruins.

More agricultural terraces. Marco also calls this the Inca gym, since there are over 200 steps to walk up. Thankfully, I have aclimatised a bit today so it wasn't as bad as Cuzco yesterday. Plus we are at a lower altitude (2,700m).

At the top are some temples, which never got finished cos the Spaniards invaded. Those pesky Europeans, sailing the world and destroying local cultures back in the day. Actually the reason Machu Picchu is so well preserved is because the Spaniards never found it.

Back to this one, the stone work here is amazing. Each stone was individually cut and fit together. No mortar. This technique uses a template with corners and different shaped rocks to protect the temples from earthquakes, which they apparently had a lot of. They polished the edges to make them fit together perfectly. I'm so impressed with their engineering skills, when they obviously had very limited resources.

I'm also amazed at how they got the rocks from one mountain, across the river, and up the mountain on the other side. Lots of slaves/pilgrims and ramps apparently, which is the same techniques that were used to build the pyramids.

Looking to the other mountain, you can see a face in the rocks. This is naturally occurring and kind of watches down over the land. Ollantaytambo was an important military centre as it was in the middle of three valleys. Machu Picchu was one way, Cuzco another way, and I don't know what was the other way.

These buildings were grain stores. These are high up another mountain, away from the river in the wet season, and where the military could keep an eye on them.

The Incas were very connnected to the earth. Interestingly, they knew about dates and seasons from the full moons, before European invasion. They also knew about lines of lattitude. The Incas studied astronomy a lot. Well the royal families did, the peasants had to work the farms and haul big rocks around. They also respected water and built temples for Mother Water. This is one.

They also built these aqueducts around the town to carry water down from the glaciers, which are still used in the town today. 

Interestingly, but in a bad way, the glaciers, which are above 5,000m are shrinking at an alarming rate due to climate change and Peru is likely to have water problems in the not so distant future. Better start praying to those Inca gods again!

After going for a walk around the town, we didn't really make it beyond the square, cos we found a bar offering happy hour drinks. This is a Machu Picchu. Looks good, tastes kinda like mouthwash.

The next morning was the 1h45 train ride to Aguas Calientes. This tour I'm on does not include the Inca trail hike. I hate camping so much. As my mate Cameron pointed out to me, it's basically just a slap in the face to 2000 years of evolution and should only be carried out as a last resort. Well said. 

The train was really nice. It follows the river and has windows in the ceiling so you can see the mountains and a couple of glaciers.

Got to the town and we checked into the hotel. Luckily Govindas restaurant is pretty much next door so we went there for lunch. It was pretty good. This town only exists for the Machu Picchu tourists. It's basically hotels, restaurants, places to get a massage, and some thermal springs. However, it's quiet and pretty and really easy to get around since there are no cars.

Fountain for Tim. I like the statues. It gives it a nice touch.

After lunch our group did a walk up to the Machu Picchu museum at the entrance to the park. It contains exhibits about the discovery and some artifacts that were recovered there. Most artifacts are in the US as it was an American guy that led the discovery expedition. This is bitter sweet apparently. Peru wants them all back, but they'd get stolen so they leave them in the US.

Outside is a nice garden with lots of plants native to the area. Apparently they have over 300 types of orchards. That's so many. Shame they weren't in bloom. The Andes has has loads of pretty flowers though. I really like them.

Obviously this is not a flower, but it's cool.

We got back and Christine and I went to the town's second tourist attraction (the museum being the first), the hot springs. There are about five pools of varying temperatures. This one has a bar service so is obviously the most popular. Plus its deeper so there's no annoying kids it attempting to swim and splashing water everywhere.

The water is quite murky but not as brown as the river. I have no idea where it comes in and how long it stays in those pools. Probably best not to think about it too much. Can't say I felt great afterwards but group beers fixed that. It was a pretty early night for us cos tomorrow is MACHU PICCHU!!!!!