Friday, April 3, 2009

Discovering My Hiking Limits

Our tour operator wanted to give us as much for our money as possible, and perhaps didn't realize that this group's varied interests made getting them all from place to place on a schedule a bit like herding cats.  The schedule needed daily adjusting. If you ever go to Cusco, you can save money by purchasing a Boleto Touristico del Cusco, a pass that gives you entrance to sixteen sites for a reduced price. We did not see all sixteen, and it might be too exhausting to try.

This woman with a baby llama, in fact a herd of llamas, was posing for tips outside a small adobe factory that produces fine alpaca and vicuna goods.  Several knitters in the group convinced our guide to take us there to buy alpaca yarn and fine woolens and learn how to spot the difference between the acrylic sweaters and hats sold on the streets and the real alpaca goods.  It turned out to be an interesting stop, and I did buy a baby-soft alpaca sweater in natural colors.  Tip - real alpaca costs more, and the nice sweaters have no seams.

Another archeological site close to Cusco is Tambomachay.  By this point I had a good night's sleep and my initial headache had passed. So I headed uphill to this wonder of Inca architecture.  By the time I made it the quarter mile or so to the site I was winded again, and the best I could do was plop myself on a rock and wait for the others. Tambomachay is made up of a series of platforms, niches, and fountains that have flowed freely since they were built 400 years ago. Water flows down from a spring higher up.  The Incas worshipped a water god, and this was both a resting place and a place of ceremonies. This is also where one starts the four day hike of the Inca Trail.  Actually, it is part of the Cusco ceque, a set of imaginary lines radiating out from the city to all parts of the Inca empire.  

The Sacred Valley is an area between  Pisac and Ollantatambo, and the Urubamba River flows through it.  You can see Pisac, a popular market town, in this photo.  The Urubamba is a tributary of the Amazon, and is popular for fishing and rafting.  This entire area is very beautiful and we got off the bus several times for pictures and short hikes.  The vendors at each stop made making a quick get-away tough.

The Incas had to terrace the mountainsides in order to grow vegetables.  Our guide said they started at the top of the mountain and worked down.  Each terrace was developed by hauling soil up from the rich valley below, and every one has a slightly different microclimate.  We had the chance to get out here above Pisac and hike what Danny our guide called a "short and easy" section of the Inca trail that wound around this mountain and ended up at a ceremonial site. My husband and the younger members of the tour wanted to go, and I didn't want to be left behind.  Silly silly me.  How could I have forgotten my creaky knees, sore at sea level, much less the high altitudes of the Andes? However, the scenery was stunning and I made it to the end, but there were times when my legs, complaining about the hundreds of stone steps, made me consider just staying there forever.

After our like we took a short side trip to Pisac for a chance to find "facilities." Touring tip: carry small change and a packet of tissues for visits to bathrooms.  Anyway, this mask adorned the Pisac area tourist bureau.  I'm not sure, but it looks to me like a representation of a puma, one of the three Inca main deities.  I wish I had been more energetic about taking pictures at the market here, because vendors sell everything, from clothing to rugs to food.

After a really fine lunch at a place called the Inca House in Urubamba, where we had typical Peruvian fare and some live music, there was still one more site to visit.  It was getting on to late afternoon, and in the interval between our lunch and now, my knees had settled into a dull ache and had begun to stiffen, so while my athletic husband and some others continued to the top, I settled in with my sketchbook half way up and just drew.  It's nothing I plan to share, but that bit of sketching allowed me to rest and really look at the walls and surrounding scenery.  

This was Ollaytatambo, another sacred site.  In the town below there was a market, and to tell truth, I was so tired at that point I don't remember much of what I was told.  I do remember that on the way back to Cusco we stopped, once it was dark and the stars were out, to see the sky of the Southern Hemisphere, Orion looking not quite the same, and the Southern Cross. Oh my.

Some Quechuan women who sang for our group at Ollaytatambo. The woman on the far left is blind, and was playing a harp when we first arrived.


Margaret Ann said...

SPECTACULAR!!!! I feel as if I am watching a National Geographic special...Wonderful dramatic views...OH! How your spirit must have soared!!!

Keep the posts coming! :)

Teri C said...

Wow, this is quite a journey. so many new and exciting things to see and experience.

Sharon said...

Oh, gorgeous costumes. I've really been enjoying the tale of your journey.