The Incan Sacred Valley: Part 1

The Sacred Valley is a region in Peru’s Andean highlands. Along with the nearby town of Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, it formed the heart of the Inca Empire. Stretching roughly 60 kilometers, it’s an area of fertile farmland and Spanish colonial villages like Pisac and Ollantaytambo.

We rented a private driver/tour-guide that was supposed to guide in English, but the guide spoke as much English as Sarah speaks Mandarin. So Eitan stepped up and translated for the next few days!  The drive was absolutely breathtaking and it takes a couple hours.

The first stop was the amazing and unique salt mines of Maras.  Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds.

Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the workers.

The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond.

The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier.

As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker.

The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to propitiate a salt pond get the one farthest from the community. The size of the salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family’s size. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working.

As of September 2019, MaraSal S.A., the company that owns the salt pans, announced that tourists are no longer allowed to walk around the salt ponds due to contamination. So we lucked out!

If you ever come to Peru, you can’t miss visiting this place.

We jumped in the car to travel to our next place, the Moray Ruins.

The ringed Incan ruins known as Moray have long been a mystery, but it is looking more and more likely that the nested stone rings may have been part of a large-scale agricultural experiment.

Unlike a number of the elaborate metropolises and statuary left behind by the Incan people, the rings at Moray are relatively simple but may have actually been an ingenious series of test beds. Descending in grass-covered, terraced rings, these rings of rings vary in size, with the largest ending in a depth of 30 meters (98 feet) deep and 220 meters (722 feet) wide.

Studies have shown that many of the terraces contain soil that must have been imported from other parts of the region. The temperature at the top of the pits varies from that at the bottom by as much as 15ºC, creating a series of micro-climates that — not coincidentally — match many of the varied conditions across the Incan empire, leading to the conclusion that the rings were used as a testbed to see what crops could grow where.

There was an Andean Musician playing in the parking lot. Eitan loves this type of music from when he was a little kid where he used to listen to the artist “Cuzco” with his dad.  Eitan bought a traditional Andean flute from him.

If you are curious what Andean music sounds like, you can listen to one of my favorite songs here: https://youtu.be/KfVKcpF67Ww?t=384

The ride to our next destination passed through the Andes Mountains. Such a  beautiful country.

We found Quinoa in the wild!! We really did not know how this grain grows, and we only knew because our guide told us!

Sometimes we crossed thru little villages.

Our last stop for the day was the tiny beautiful town of Chinchero. This town is believed to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow.

The village mainly comprises mud brick (adobe) houses, and locals still go about their business in traditional dress. The village may have been an important town in Inca times.

In the main plaza an adobe colonial church, dating from the early seventeenth century, has been built upon the foundations of an Inca temple or palace. The ceiling and walls are covered in beautiful floral and religious designs.

The local women hold a market where they sell their handmade textiles.  CHinchero is the center of weaving in Peru, and these textiles are considered the best you can find around here.

The most striking remnant of this period is the massive stone wall in the main plaza which has ten trapezoidal niches. The construction of the wall and many other ruins and agricultural terraces (which are still in use) are attributed to Inca Tupac Yupanqui who possibly used Chinchero as a kind of country resort.

We could not take photos of the inside of the church. But it had amazing well-preserved frescoes. (This one is on the outside of the church)

We walked a little bit  around the ruins.

Chuño is a freeze-dried potato product traditionally made by Quechua and Aymara communities of Bolivia and Peru. It is a five-day process, obtained by exposing a frost-resistant variety of potatoes to the very low night temperatures of the Andean Altiplano, freezing them, and subsequently exposing them to the intense sunlight of the day.

Bonus Pic Of The Day: When you visit Peru you will find that in the entrance of the houses the locals put tiny horseshoes for good luck and protection.

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