Sacred Valley, Peru

Most of our itinerary was set prior to our departure, but how we were going to visit Sacred Valley (aka-Urubamba Valley) was left to be determined once we arrived in the area.  As it turned out, our hotel, Amura Hostal, in Cusco offered a tour which included the Pisac and Ollantaytambo ruins, two highlights of the Valley.  Starting soon after dawn, we were picked up and transferred to the central bus terminal in Cusco, where tour participants were sorted by destination and language requests.  The luck of the draw landed us with a native, originally from Ollantaytambo, who spoke flawless English in addition to Spanish and the local Quechua.  Throughout the tour, he was able to provide interesting personal tidbits, and a perspective that tour books cannot provide.

Once outside Cusco, and on our approach to the Valley, we were given the opportunity to view the area from overhead.  Formed eons ago by the Urubamba River, the Valley was historically, and still is, a fertile agricultural basin.  Crops are grown without benefit of chemicals, and are rotated over 3-4 years with subsequent fallow periods to help sustain the health of the soil.  The geographic and climatic variations allow a wide diversity of crops.  Approximately 3000 varieties of potatoes are grown in Peru, and the crop was domesticated, near here, between 7,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Pisac has the best system of terraces created by the Incas in the Andes.  The community was a settlement along an important Inca road between the highlands and the Amazon jungle.  After walking around the ruins, we went into the nearby modern town of Pisac, offering an "Indian Market" on Sunday, which happened to be the day we were visiting.  Ponchos, bags, ceramics, jewelry and crafts, in addition to produce are offered.  Our accommodations in Cusco didn't provide cooking facilities, so we didn't purchase any of the many potatoes available.

We traveled next to Ollantaytambo, a military, religious and agricultural center, which was built on two mountains with strategic locations overlooking the valley.  The Inca town is mostly intact, and descendants still live in some homes of the original settlers.  Education of the indigenous children in the highland areas is difficult not only because of the geographic challenges but the linguistic problem.  Children may need to travel hours to get to a school, and then classes are taught in Spanish, not Quechau or Aymara, which is spoken at home.  Our guide had been raised in a home in which his family had raised crops on 12 terraces for generations.  Decades ago, the government took over the ancient terraces to "protect" them, thus eliminating the livelihood for the family.  Agriculture is still important, but tourism is taking over as a primary income source for many.

Ollantaytambo is a starting point for the 4-day, 3-night hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  We opted to for a much easier route, via the Vistadome with PeruRail.

Overlooking the valley
At Pisac
At market
In Pisac
At Ollantaytambo
Young indigenous girl near Ollantaytambo
Quinoa growing on the mountainside
Terraces at Pisac
Alan at top of Pisac
Granaries and watch towers at Ollantaytambo
At Pisac
At Ollantaytambo
At Ollantaytambo
Main street, Pisac
One of the unusual potatoes found in the market
At the market
At Ollantaytambo

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