Monday, January 20, 2014

Urubamba Valley Tour

I woke up early today to go to the Urubamba Valley tour that ProWorld paid for as part of the program.  The morning started in an interesting way, since it always seems like there’s a little bit lacking in communication.  Nico brought us to a bus, and the girls and I assumed that he was going to come with us, or at least explain what was going on.  We all got on and he said goodbye.  It makes sense that ProWorld wouldn’t pay for their employees to go sightseeing, but it was still confusing.  No one on the bus talked to us for some time, but it ended up being alright.  They went around the city to pick up various tourists, then we were off to the valley. 

We drove by several historical sights, but I hope to return to them while I still have a tourist ticket to visit without additional charge.  I only have 10 days to use it, but it came included with this trip from ProWorld.  Sacsayhuaman and Pukapukara are the 2 that are close to Cuzco that it would be reasonable to visit.  Our first stop was basically a market for tourists up in the mountains, near 3800 Meters.  I found a fedora there that looked very Peruvian, but it was 50 soles and I only had 40 with me.  That’s still not too expensive, but I figured I could wait.  I also saw some sweaters that I liked.  They cost 40 and 50 soles respectively, but she lowered the price when I was about to walk away.  I still didn’t get one because I didn’t want to use all my money before the trip barely got started, but I learned that I can do a better job of bargaining and save money here.  During this portion I also met a few more people, including a couple from Canada (eh) and a lady from Switzerland.  These Canadians said “eh” more than anyone I’ve ever met, confirming stereotypes.  And apparently the Swiss like Peru a lot.  This was super tourist-y so it’s not like these people will be here for a long time, but it was fun to meet them. 

The mountains are absolutely stunning here.  I could take pictures of them all day and never get tired of it.  At one point we stopped at an overlook over the Urubamba Valley.  Absolutely breathtaking.  Some savvy townspeople set up little shops on the pull off by the side of the road, and some of them approached me.  I’m really bad at saying no.  That’s not just because I give into their pressure, it’s that the things they have are so cool!  They had little rock sculptures of animals and other figures for 15 soles, which is under 6 dollars.  The lady said it takes them a day to make.  Onyx was the only rock I recognized, but I ended up getting an owl made of something else.  A brown stone with some variance in hue.  It’s incredibly cool, and would probably cost 30 bucks in the US. 
Our first archeological stop was Pisac, which was a city high in the mountains that the Incans used as customs for people coming from the Amazon.  It was also a treasured food supply for the rest of the people, meaning it had a very sophisticated terraced agricultural system.  When the Spaniards destroyed Incan establishments, they typically left the terraces alone because they were harder to deconstruct.  So these terraces are still completely intact today, and the aqueduct system still works perfectly.  It has probably been working for near 800 years, with no upkeep necessary.  No erosion, nothing.  So impressive.  They are also constructed to conform to the shape of the mountain, so each level is a different width.  The engineering behind this construction was very complicated and well done.  The picture below shows the terrace system.  Also, the ruins of the town are interesting.  Next door is the only visible graveyard of the incas.  It consists of holes in the mountainside, and there are over 300 holes visible.  There may not be much left inside because of grave robbers, I’m not sure.  This was also a shockingly beautiful place for flowers too.
 
After this, we went down to the modern town of Pisac, which was founded by the Spanish.  This was basically a tourist trap with things to buy.  I didn’t fall into any traps there.
The town of Urubamba was our lunch destination, and wow it was great.  Buffet with so many options.  I can proudly say I made this a 5 course meal.  Throughout lunch a guy was playing a very exotic, Peruvian looking instrument that added to the atmosphere.  The setting was absolutely gorgeous, with many llamas walking around and beautiful flowers everywhere.  It was included in our tour, but I’m pretty sure I would have been ok with paying the 35 soles ($13) to eat there. 
A short drive away was Ollantaytamba, which is an incredible place.  It’s probably my favorite thing I’ve done here since I arrived.  This city was an Incan city which monitored the river and served as food storage.  It is always windy here; all day, all night.  The Incans utilized this wind by setting up storehouses in the mountains that were open to the air.  This is how they dried out food for preservation purposes.  They also grew crops on another elegant terrace system.  At the top of this was the Sun Temple, which was actually never finished.  It was under construction when the Spanish invasion began.  Upon hearing that the Spanish were coming, the construction ceased.  This provided archeologists a unique opportunity to observe the Incan process of stone-cutting and transportation that were required for building their extravagant temples.  The quarry is still fully intact because the Spanish were unwilling to move rocks as far as the Incas.  The temple itself was still largely destroyed by the Spanish for their own uses, but what remains is very impressive.  There is a set of massive stones that still remain, and it’s hard for me to imagine what these must have been like to drag those to the top of a mountain.  The city itself at the base of the mountain is still a “living Inca city,” in the words of our tour guide.  There aren’t too many fully intact Inca buildings, but just about every building still has 1 to 2 meters of Incan wall base.  The roads are still Incan roads.  The outer wall still remains.  Terraces are all around the city for agriculture, not just at the main historical site.  So the layout of the city is still exactly the same as when it was initially built many hundreds of years ago, even if colonial-style houses have taken over the pure Incan buildings of the past.  It is also here that I found a fedora for 20 soles, which is incredibly cheap.  I wanted to take more time to decide, but the bus was leaving so I grabbed one and left.  Number 11!  Here are a few of my favorite pictures from Ollantaytamba:
 
The last archeological site we visited was Chinchero, which is a small but historically significant place.  It was first destroyed by the Incas; when Manco Inca (the primary rebel against the Spanish in Cuzco) fled Cuzco after his defeat, he took the resources from this place then burned the rest so the Spaniards couldn’t use them.  The Spanish finished the job of destroying everything.  It’s hard to compare to Ollantaytamba, but still worth checking out. 
Our last stop was seeing some traditional making of Peruvian textiles.  Absolutely beautiful.  It’s incredible the colors they are able to make with little more than llama wool and some plants.  And time.  It takes many days to make some of the most intricate textiles, but they are some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen.  At this point I was down to 5 soles so I couldn’t get anything, but I loved spending time here and learning about how they do everything.
Eventually I got home, and I was too tired to do anything but write this post.  Tomorrow I have a lot to get done (including completing my first Gilman blog post), so I need my sleep!

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