Leaving Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo was a bit like leaving the PNE. You were amazed by all that happened but you know you need a rest. That is exactly what the Valle de Sagrado (Sacred Valley) offered. Here are a few tidbits from some of the places we visited.
The only way out of "Dodge" (Aguas Calientes) is by train. Carole described the lulling of the train on the tracks to A C in an earlier blog. The ride was equally as beautiful on our return, although we did have a few extra features on the return trip. The train came to a stop in the middle of somewhere and we were entertained by a few vendors selling flowers etc. We then heard music on the train followed by a scary dude dressed in costume dancing up and down the isle. This was followed by him inviting others to join him in the narrow aisle. Following the dance fest we had a fashion show. Yup the stewards of our car morphed into fashion models showing many a Peruvian wear for about 1/2 hour! Oddly, when the show ended the train resumed its trek!
We landed in Ollantaytambo, without a place to stay and wandered towards town in search of a hospedaje. We came across what appeared to be a nice place and indeed it was. It was family run and over our time there we got to know Moma, Papa, and the two little ones. The hostal was directly beside the river, which lulled us to sleep at night. Ollantaytambo was an incredible mixture of natural beauty and town life. The pueblo is nestled in low lying mountains, rich in shades of green and adorned in hectares of amazing Inca ruins. A one night stay in Ollantaytambo turned into 3 as we decided to visit ruins on both sides of the mountain, followed by an amazing hike on our 3rd day, in search of more ruins.
Our hunger and thirst was quenched by great food and refreshments in the local restaurants in town. One restaurant in particular, Corazon de cafe (hearts cafe) was started by an English woman several decades ago to assist in funding projects in the high Andes. The projects focused on nutrition and education. Quite an amazing woman! Her restaurant, for better or worse, has served as a mentorship for staff who strike out on their own. Currently there are two other restaurants that have opened with employees from her restaurant. Indeed all the restaurants were fabulous. The Coffee Tree was the last we visited before leaving this beautiful location. Below is a photo of the owners.
The Sacred Valley has many Pueblos throughout this rich fertile plain. We caught a ride on a local bus to our next stop, Urabamba. We arrived on a Sunday morning to this quiet town and decided to relax in the Plaza de Armas where we were entertained by a gentleman offering fire and brimstone to anyone who would listen. Occasionally, he would forget where he was in his sermon and offed a few moments of silence to the public, before ranting on again!
We found a splendid hospedaje in a quiet area of Urabamba. It was quite exquisite with very hospitable hosts. I did say a quiet neighbourhood . . . except for the early riser roosters. One morning we found our host with a rooster in a headlock, returning him to his owner next door.
Moras and Moray
The next morning we boarded a bus and headed for yet another hike in the Sacred Valley. We made our exodus from a crowded bus that stopped on the highway where we were accosted by cab drivers ready and willing to" take us for a ride". We decided to walk into the small and beautiful pueblo of Moras where we relaxed in the Plaza de Armas and watched all the preparations for Semana Santa. We then did a cross country hike to Moray. The hike was astoundingly beautiful with mountainous pasture land, sheep, cows and trickling streams all nearby. We stopped in a field for our specialty lunch, canned tuna, buns and juice boxes! Fuelled and relaxed we trekked on to Moray. If any of you remember Van Morrison's Into the Mystic, that's what happened in Moray when we entered the site. Essentially Moray is a hole In the ground about the size of 6 football fields. The hole, about 90 feet deep is terraced in concentric circles. According to the literature, there is about a 15-20 degree temperature differential from top to bottom. Researchers think the site was used by the Incas as an experimental biological garden to determine optimum growing conditions for crops. Amazing huh!
We were able to hitch hike back to Moras. Puranos, like Canadians like to be fuel efficient where ever possible. So on all the downhill runs (and there were many) our driver chose to put the transmission in neutral and coast. He also had the habit of looking at passengers when talking to them! Nasty combo on the narrow and windy roads at Mach 10 speeds!
Once safe on the ground we hiked to the Salinas or salt flats. Salt flats is a bit of a misnomer as they were similar to all the other terracing in Peru, except the Salinas was designed to harvest salt from a saline creek. Truly an amazing place. It looked quite eerie, much like a moonscape with incredible beauty found in such starkness. Our hike to this sight was equally as beautiful. We looked a bit like the overlanders as we crested the hill to the sight and saw half a dozen tour buses bursting with folks eager to see the salt flats. Many asked how far we had hiked to get to the sight. It felt so right to exaggerate the distance travelled to increase their look of awe!
From Urubamba we travelled to the land of confusion, Calca! It seemed like we entered Zombie World. Nothing seemed to work for us in this community. For example, all directions given to us by locals ended nowhere! When we finally found a place to stay it didn't have power or hot water till the early eve. We were told that the hike to the hot springs was an easy half hour hike. After an hour and one half of walking uphill, we were informed we were still 2 hours from it! Of course it started to rain on our return. Only to mention a few idiosyncrasies of Calca! We decided to press on to Pisac the next morning!
If you consider the Sacred Valley with bookends on either side of the Valley, you would have Ollantaytambo on one end and Pisac on the other. Ollantaytambo would be akin to Tofino with young, star struck men and women just hangin. Pisac on the other hand is akin to Cortes Island in the 80's! Pisac is filled with any kind of healer you could ever imagine. One small tienda (shop) literally had a mountain of crystals in the middle of the floor! The owner looked like Baba Ram Das after a nasty round of ayahausca! You would need to walk around the crystal pile (and Baba) to get to the other side of the tienda. Pisac also had a fine array of eating places, which again we thoroughly enjoyed. Pisac also has incredible ruins. We took a taxi to the top of the site and hiked back in the rain for 2 1/2 hours. It was yet another beautiful ruin and wonderful hike.
After a few nights in Pisac we decided to leave the Sacred Valley. You could feel the energy shift as we climbed upward and out of the Valley back towards Cusco.