A Stop at Chinchero on the Way to Urubamba and The Sacred Valley

There was no way for me to create daily blogs on the fly while we were traveling in Peru since were too busy visiting places.  Internet connections were also not always reliable.  Very often the days would start before 8 AM.  There was this day when we even departed in a bus for the train station at 5:30 AM after having checked out of the hotel!

Nevertheless, I did expend a few brain cells during the trip thinking about how I should structure this series of blogs.   I came to the conclusion that I should simply follow the flow of my heart and let it take whatever direction it wanted.  This might be considered a case of not have a well defined structure and/or principle of operation. A lifetime of experience has taught me  that having well defined principles of operation sometimes places unnecessary constraints, and can also diminish the joy of the process.  So I will allow this series of blogs to be more free flowing.  At the same time, I am sure that some sort of structure is bound to emerge, considering that this is a case of a former engineer’s brain cells being applied to the task.

But now that the trip has come to an end, I also need to move into action quickly, lest I forget all the details!  They say that memories last forever, but I am not at all certain that this is true.  Sometimes, these memories get lost in the crevices of one’s mind, and dragging these memories out becomes difficult.  Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in these blogs might help the process!

To get to the Sacred Valley from Lima, the place where we had arrived at in Peru, one has to get to Cusco first, and then proceed further by road or train.  We flew into Cusco with our tour group.   Cusco is at an altitude of 11150 feet.   We had been warned ahead of time to prepare ourselves for the altitude.   We had already started taking our Diamox pills in Lima.  We were now about to be introduced to the practice of chewing of caco leaves, an activity that the natives practice regularly.

We arrived in Cusco somewhat late in the morning.  We could see the mountains of the Andes all around us as the aircraft approached the city.  Because of the thin air and the need for additional lift to keep the aircraft from stalling, it came in for a landing at a greater speed than I am used to.   As we exited the aircraft and waited to board our bus, we breathed in the thin air of the mountains for the first time.  It all seemed good!

The plan was to head immediately out of the city on the tour bus that was waiting for us.

The next couple of pictures were taken outside the airport building after we got our bags.  What is noticeable in all of the places that we visited in Peru is that many buildings do not have a layer of plaster on top of the bricks.  It is standard practice in the country.  In some cases the buildings are complete and occupied in spite of looking unfinished.  In other cases, especially in some homes, you might even find rebars sticking out of the roof.  This is because the building is being constructed by the family a little bit at a time as money becomes available for construction. This does not mean that the part of the house that has already been completed cannot be occupied immediately.  You will probably see more pictures showing this type of construction in future blogs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture below is an advertisement for transportation to what may be the most popular destination in the country for international tourists.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we drove out of town, we passed a hill with a statue of Pachacutec, considered one of the greatest Inca kings, on top. It is now believed that he was responsible for what has been built on Machu Picchu.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was another monument to the Emperor Pachacutec, beside the road that we were driving along.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe climbed out of the valley that Cusco is situated in using a series of switchbacks. The bus made a stop somewhere along the way, on the hillside, to provide views of the city. While we were stopped we got instructions on the use of coca leaves to fight the effects of altitude sickness.  Our tour manager produced a bag of coca leaves that were safe to chew on. Essentially, one grabs a bunch and gently chews on it, or simply bites on it, on one side of the mouth.  It dissolves slowly over time. For people who do not know, coca leaves are also the source of cocaine when processed in large quantities.  The leaves, and any product made with coca, are banned in the United States, but its use is legal and accepted by all of Peru.  The locals chew on it all the time.  We used it regularly during the trip to help avoid altitude sickness.  There is little danger of addiction at the levels of our usage.  We also drank coca tea and enjoyed coca candies! Here is a view of the city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the kids walking down the hill in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped for lunch at the village of Chinchero.  We were visiting  a cooperative where the ladies make products from the wool of alpacas.

Lunch was served to us by the ladies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cuy, or guinea pig, pictured below is considered a delicacy in these parts.  It is a good source of protein.  The animal is domesticated for food.  It is difficult for some visitors to get used to eating cuy, especially in the form that it is usually presented in.  I found the little piece that I was given at lunch a little too tough to chew.  This was the only time I tried cuy.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was fascinated by the way the kids were carried around by their mothers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWho can resist pictures of cute children!  This one continued to turn around and look at me as mom walked away.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALunch was followed by a demonstration of the process for creating different colored threads from the wool. This thread is used for making the different products sold by the cooperative.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of the people in this part of Peru are Incas.  The Inca religion is polytheistic in nature, with Pachamama, or mother earth, being one of the more important deities.  The Spanish invaders brought in Catholicism in the 16th century, and the locals in some parts of the country now practice a form of religion that seems to mix of customs from the two ways of living.   Depending on where we were in the country, we saw either the combination of the cross and the bulls, or just the bulls, on the roofs of homes, meant for protection of the people living in the home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile walking through town we passed a procession.  It could have been the procession in celebration of Easter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere also seemed to be some kind of meeting going on in town.  I heard two different accounts regarding the subject of the meeting.  One was that this was a funeral service.  The other was that this was a meeting of the mayors of the local villages.  They are sitting to the left of the picture below.  I was told that the mayors carry their official staffs with them, and these had been collected in a standing pile in front of where they are seated.  A good amount of cerveza was being consumed by the mayors.  Some music was also being provided on the instruments that you can see in the foreground of the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was onward to our destination for the night.  The view beside the mountain roads was beautiful. We stopped for pictures.  The snow-capped peaks of the Andes appeared in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe valleys were covered with meadows, green fields, and clumps of trees.  There were flowers by the wayside.  For some reason I began to think of The Sound of Music.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe clouds moved swiftly across the sky.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we began our descent into the Sacred Valley following a series of switchbacks down a steep mountainside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was beginning to set as we got to our hotel on the outskirts of the town of Urubamba.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUrubamba is a small place beside the Urubamba river, one of the headwaters of the Amazon river.  We went out to a local restaurant for dinner with our tour group after checking into our rooms.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt dinner we were entertained by a musician playing music on different kinds of pan flutes.  He was quite talented.  Indeed, he had also made all of the instruments that he was playing.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile you are in Peru, you will hear the song El Condor Pasa almost everywhere you go.    We heard the song being played most beautifully that evening.  Most of us from the US associate this song with Simon and Garfunkel, but the song actually originated in Peru.  The condor, puma, and snake, are the sacred animals of the Inca people.

We returned to our hotel after dinner and crashed out after the long day of travel.  So far there have been no issues in dealing with the altitude, but Urubamba is at an altitude of only about 9400 feet.

Next blog in the series here.