Dad and I left Los Angeles just a bit after midnight for Cusco, and so our trip to Peru began. On the flight I managed to sleep for 7 of the 8 hours we were in the air, which I was thankful for once we touched down. We were greeted in Lima (we took another flight from Lima to Cusco) by a representative from Wildland Adventures named Ernesto; although we didn’t need anyone to meet us there since all he did was walk us from the International flight area to the domestic flight area, it was nice to have someone to be there and welcome us to Peru. Once we touched down in Cusco, we were picked up and driven the 2 hours to the Urubamba Valley, our first destination. Luckily neither of us had any effects of altitude sickness, and after dinner and 19 hours of travel, I quickly fell asleep once my head hit the pillow.
Before I say anything about our travels on our first full day in Peru, let me tell you about the amazing hotel we stayed in. They had two restaurants, a horse stable (where you could apparently horse back ride whenever you wanted; unfortunately we found this out too late and were not able to do so), a library full of books on Peru, a bar, a spa and really amazing rooms. They also had a variety of local plants scattered throughout the hotel which made everything look that much more colorful and beautiful. Because of the garden which spanned across the entire property, everywhere you went was covered in flowers. Additionally, all of the buildings were painted a bright color from blue to pink to yellow. It definitely made for a great place to begin ~our adventure through Peru~.
The next day we woke up and had an AMAZING breakfast from the hotel’s buffet and then met up with our tour guide for the Urubamba Valley and Cusco: José. Our first stop was Pisaq, a 50 minute drive from our hotel, which is a picturesque Andean town. On the way, José told us some history about the Incas, who called themselves Quechua; only the king was called the Inca.
While on our way to Pisaq, we saw many visions of poverty; the main thing that struck me was that I couldn’t tell the different between the houses people lived in and houses that were under construction. Many houses did not have windows and had piles of trash outside while cows, sheep, pigs, and dogs roamed freely on the streets. The van that we took all over the Urubamba Valley was the same kind of car used for a city bus for these small towns and more than once we saw people squished into these 8 person vans.
Once in Pisaq, we were treated to a windy drive up the mountain for a bit and then we began our hike. We started off at an Incan “neighborhood”, as José called them, which overlooked a part of the Urubamba valley and the Urubamba river. Since we were high up (literally in the mountains), the views were incredible. Since the neighborhood we were in was not initially Inca, the architecture was a bit different; Incan architecture (as I heard OVER AND OVER for the next 4 days) is known for being simple, symmetric and stable. However, the people who lived there before the Incas had discovered the concept for micro climates and had created various terraces in the mountain to grow corn on the bottom terraces and potatoes on the top terraces. Since the Incas appreciated this technology, they absorbed the original culture into the Incan empire instead of destroying them.
We continued around the mountain on our way to Incan temples on the top of the mountain. At these various temples, they tracked the changed in the position of the sun and the moon throughout the year. Since the Incan people believed in astrology, these temples were a place to give thanks to the solar system and to pray to the sun. At this point José told us a little more about Incan traditions and religious ceremonies, particularly talking about how they believed in a sort of “rule of threes” system (apparently the Incas were the first comedians). They believed that there were three realms which governed the universe and they were signified by the condor (sky), puma (earth) and serpent (underworld). Their laws, handed down from the gods, also came in sets of threes. Their religion was very similar to Taoism in the sense that everything related back to natural elements such as the earth, moon and stars. The Incas also placed a great deal of emphasis on water’s ability to purify (if only the Peruvian government did as well), do at every Incan religious site, water is present.
After we visited the Incan temples in Pisaq, we made our way back to the car through a route of fields and steep stone stairs (however, I wished these stairs were the ones we had to crawl up in order to get to Machu Picchu…but more on that later). On the way back to the car, I thought I was going to have a heart attack because it was so steep and long. Once I had finally reached the top, I was panting an embarrassing amount and had to awkwardly tell a native woman I didn’t want to buy any of her lanyards while also dealing with my impending death. On the way back to the car, we ran into two native women walking their cows to graze. I never knew cows were so HUGE until I had to walking in between two of them. I guess I really am a city person…
We got back into the car and headed to lunch at a place called Tunupa, which was back in Urubamba. The restaurant is in a Spanish hacienda from the Spanish occupation, which was very beautiful and had delicious food. I was do hungry while we were there that I didn’t take the time to take any pictures of my food, and instead preceded to shove as much food as I could into my mouth. Luckily for us, there were plenty of vegetarian options for us, including a broccoli quiche which I devoured in approximately 5 seconds. Despite how delicious all the food was, the real highlight was the backyard which had real live llamas!!! I gasped when I saw them but was too afraid of them spitting on me to get really close to one. However, I did manage to get some food pictures of them lounging on the grass. One thing I never knew about llamas is that they have HUGE black eyes, which is a little terrifying when one stared at me for a good minute.
I was willing and ready for the next hike after eating my body weight, and so we headed off to Ollantaymbo; Ollantaymbo is another city in the Urubamba Valley about 20 minutes from our hotel. This city is significant because it is an ancient Incan city which has survived (for the most part) en masse. Typical of many Incan cities, we were greeted by a staggering amount of wide terraces for their agricultural needs as well as, at the top of the hill, a temple. The Incas had incorporated this temple into the previous structures built by earlier peoples. Researches estimate the building of this temple to have been done around 1500 because the temple is unfinished and they believe it was because of the Spanish invasion. The “puppet Inca” put in place by the Spanish ran to Ollantaymbo and held it for two years before having to run to the jungle where the empire lasted another 33 years.
Throughout all of the old city you can see evidence of an irrigation system which was used to water the various terraces, bring water to the community and provide running water for religious ceremonies. While the worshipping of the sun happened in the temple of the sun on top of the hill, the purification rituals were done at the base of the hill in the water temple. During the winter solstice’s sunrise (for them this is June 21), the running water which comes into the water temple lights up by then sun’s rays. Whomever is bathing in the water at this time is blessed with purity, youth, a new beginning, etc.
Once we got back to the hotel, dad and I were too lazy to go out and get dinner. Taxis in Peru are actually just motorcycles that pull along a cart, and doing that at night without any knowledge of Spanish seemed like an adventure that we could go without. The next day provided much in terms of adventure, including hikes without trails and a mysterious shaman.
Part two of our Urubamba adventure coming at ya tomorrow! Stay tuned…