Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 25, 2010

Rain and flooding in Cusco

Our last few days in the Cusco area were marked by constant rain. We rode back from Pisac to Cusco city after a night of fairly intense rain, and landslides had made the road one-laned in places.

It looks like we got out just in time, though. The rains have been continuing, and reports are coming in of the extensive damage that’s taking place.

We’ll update as we see more news come out. Our thoughts are with all the great people we met in our last week in the Sacred Valley…..

Posted by: robertkittilson | January 22, 2010

Photo: Jan. 22nd 2010

We are getting out of Cusco tomorrow with a leap.

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 21, 2010

Bambas, Tambos, Markets and Rocks: Sacred Valley, part 3

This is Part 3 of our adventures in the Sacred Valley. Did you miss Part 1? What about Part 2?

Moray: more terraces!

No Sacred Valley Tour is complete without a visit to the agricultural oddity of Moray. Terracing has been used in the Andes for millennium to several purposes: a) to create more farmland on inhospitably steep slopes, b) to prevent erosion and defend against landslides, and c) for defensive fortifications.

The Moray site is unique in that instead of long terraces climbing up the hillside, these circular terraces are built into the ground, a descending series of rings that would make Dante happy. The way these depressions were constructed catches the sunlight and protects the crops, creating microclimates in which, the theory goes, the ancient Andean people developed and refined crop strains.

Click here for more Moray photos.

The site itself consists of three of these depressions. The biggest has been restored and you’re able to enter it by climbing down the stonework stairs built into the terrace walls. The smaller two are in the process of restoration.

From Moray we began the long walk back to Urubamba, where we would collect our belongings and head to the last punch on our tourist ticket:

Ollantaytambo: them’s some big rocks.

These days Ollantaytambo is seeing more traffic than usual, since the tourist train to Machu Picchu isn’t leaving from Cusco, and busloads of tourists are being shuttled through it’s narrow streets to Ollanta’s train station. It’s always been rightly famed for the ruins perched just above the town itself—they were the site of one of the few effective attempts to repel the Spaniards.

We checked into the hotel where we were to stay the next five nights (much to the bemusement of the staff; no one seems to spend more than a night in Ollantaytambo), and began to wander the city streets. Apparently Ollanta is one of the few Peruvian cities that still takes the form of the Inca settlement it was built over, and many of the old Inca buildings have been preserved and are still being used.

Click here for more Ollantaytambo “The City” photos.

Just walking through the streets is fascinating—there is no car traffic in the main body of the town, and many Inca doorways remain, leading into barnyards and restaurants and tiendas.

We went the next morning up to the ruins of the fortress where Manco Inca retreated to make a stand against the Spaniards. The defenses are formidable—steep terracing augmenting the natural cliffs, huge walls cutting off any attack.

The most famous structure is an unfinished platform whose single finished wall is made of six massive monolithic stones. Theories abound as to why the platform was never finished, but other equally massive stones lie on temporary platforms, as if the work crew had just gone off for lunch and will put them up after they get back.

Click here for more Ollantaytambo “The Ruins” photos.

Getting to Moray: The closest town is called Maras (see Salineras in Part 2’s post). To reach it, take a bus from Urubamba or Cusco (S/.2 [$0.60] from either direction) and ask to be dropped off at the road to Maras. Drivers wait at the crossroads to take you to either to the town (S/.1 [$0.30]) or to Moray (S/.15 [$5.25]). You can either walk back to town (about an hour and a half), or walk down to the Sacred Valley via a nice gravel road just below the smaller depressions (about 2 hours).

Getting to Ollantaytambo: From Cusco, either take a car directly to Ollantaytambo (S/.10 [$3.50]), or take a bus to Urubamba and then a combi or collectivo to Ollantaytambo (S/.5 [$1.75] in total). You can’t miss the ruins. Ollantaytambo is surrounded by interesting things to do and see (mostly ruins), and there are several tour agencies located in the Plaza de Armas waiting to take you rafting or horseback riding.

Posted by: robertkittilson | January 20, 2010

Photo: Jan. 20th 2010

The road to Urubamba.

See more photos from our walk to Urubamba.

Also, all of the Pisac Ruins photos are available.

Don’t forget to read Part 1 and Part 2 that Jessie, my Intelligent and Beautiful wife, has written so far.

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 19, 2010

Bambas, Tambos, Markets and Rocks: Sacred Valley tour, part 2

This is Part 2 of our adventures in the Sacred Valley. Did you miss Part 1?

The road to Urubamba: Cows and Corn!

From Pisac we decided (based on advice from Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost) to walk along the Urubamba River for a time, rather than just catching the bus. There are roads on both sides of the river: the main paved road on the north side of the river, and a little-used dirt road on the south side. They’re connected by bridges every so often, and we had read that from Pisac it was a 9 kilometer walk to the next bridge. We geared up and set off.

Cow on the road from Pisac to Urubamba

The afternoon threatened rain, but we only caught a few stray misty drops as we walked through the miles and miles of farmland. Nearly every inch of land is covered with corn fields, and of the remainder of what’s not used for houses is pasture for cattle and sheep. It was a peaceful walk, picking our way along the sometimes-muddy road, avoiding the occasional mototaxi and the animal droppings.

The road passes through a few small settlements before finally arriving at the bridge at Coya. Coya itself is a town full of donkeys and a strange breed of mototaxi that looks more like a mini troop transport vehicle, with two benches facing each other in a covered cart behind the body of the motorcycle. We haven’t seen these before, or since.

Once in Coya we caught a bus to Urubamba, the main transport hub of the Sacred Valley. Nearly every bus, combi and collectivo starts or ends in Urubamba, where you must transfer to another vehicle. Although the system is a bit annoying it doesn’t slow your trip down much, as there’s always another vehicle just about to leave.

Despite the general lack of things to do around Urubamba, we decided to make it our base for the next few days of exploring, given how easy and cheap it was to get anywhere from the Terminal Terrestre (bus station). Most of the tourist hotels and restaurants are spread along the highway, but we found a nice hostel near the Plaza de Armas and set up base camp.

Chinchero: Show me the Rocks

In our quest to get a punch for every site on our Tourist Ticket, we caught an early bus to Chinchero. This little town is famed for its grand Inca wall and terracing, its colonial church, and its Sunday handicrafts market. As far as we could tell, there’s not much else there.

Most other towns we’ve been to have been bustling with day-to-day activity, the tourist attractions incidental to the actual working of the town. In Chinchero, however, the only people we saw were punching our tickets, offering to be our guide, or trying to sell us handicrafts. The rest of the town was an eerie tangle of deserted streets and padlocked doors.

Carved Inca rock outcroppings at Chinchero

The ruins themselves were nifty, as far as Inca ruins go. By far the most interesting part were the carved rock outcroppings in the valley below the terracing, where the Incas had shaped benches, stairways and niches into the solid rock (thanks again for the tip, Peter Frost and Exploring Cusco). We explored the outcroppings, watching people herd their cattle and sheep down the valley to pasture, the mist rising out of the potato fields. It really couldn’t have looked much different to the Incas who carved the stones, except for the groves of eucalyptus trees—beautiful and serene.

Salineras: the famed Pink Salt of the Incas

Salineras was out of our way, and not on the Tourist Ticket, but we went anyway to see the salt flats. Even before the times of the Incas, people have gleaned salt from the spring in the valley below Maras, and over the centuries, the salt farmers have built an impressive site of terraced pools and channels to direct the water from the spring. They open and close the channels to fill their pools, then let evaporation do its work.

Salt flats of Salineras

In the dry season the terraces are encrusted with a dazzling white layer, but now the rain washes earth into the pools, tinging them a rusty brown. Only one woman was working her salt pool when we arrived, scraping a gigantic pile of salt crystals out of the muddy water.

Salineras was by far one of the strangest and most fascinating things we’ve seen in Peru. We bought a rather pricy jar of this famed “Pink Salt” (the salt is pink from the reddish local soil), which we’ve been using to spice up all our meals lately. The trendy little store at the entrance to the salt flats also sold bath salts and salt scrubs at US prices. I didn’t buy any, but it’s got me missing girly bath products a lot….

A woman works her salt pool at Salineras

Getting to Chinchero: From Cusco, take a bus headed to Urubamba, or vice versa. Ask the driver to let you off at Chinchero—you won’t miss the large blue INC sign pointing the way to the ruins. Fare should be S/.2 ($.60) either direction.

Getting to Salineras: Take the bus from Cusco or Urubamba (S/.2 [$.60]) and ask to be let off at the Maras cutoff. Taxis wait there to take people to Maras for S/.1; ask them to let you off at the path to Salineras, where you can walk about an hour down to the flats. It’s about another 45 minutes walk from Salineras to the Ollantaytambo-Urubamba highway down in the valley. Alternately, you can hire one of the taxis to drive you to Salineras for S/.15 ($5.25).

Posted by: robertkittilson | January 18, 2010

Two Photos: Jan. 18th 2010

Here are two animal photos for all you animal lovers out there.

Check out more PISAC photos.

Also I updated the Bicycles Page…Check it out.

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 17, 2010

Bambas, Tambos, Markets and Rocks: KnK explore the Sacred Valley

Part 1.

Most tour agencies in Cusco offer a one-day Sacred Valley Tour, where they hit up three Inca ruins and stop for lunch at a touristic restaurant where people dress up to play panpipes at you. “The Sacred Valley is three sites,” one tour operator told me when I asked him what else there was to see. “Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero.” Yes, but what else is there? He sighed, exasperated with me. “The Sacred Valley is three sites.”

Great if you have only one day to spare, but since Rob and I had all the time in the world, we decided to take our time and stretch the one day tour into five.

We have to give props here to the book Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost. The 5th edition is sold in bookstores around the area, and although it’s about 10 years old it’s still a valuable source of information, history and maps of sites around Cusco. Since we weren’t going with a tour guide, this book has been indispensable.

Pisac—Rocks and Handicrafts!

We started in Pisac, a town that got so famous for its Sunday market that it’s now held on Tuesday and Thursday, as well. It’s also famous for the pretty spectacular set of Inca ruins that are perched high above the city.

We arrived on Tuesday and wandered through the market. There were many of the same mass-produced goods that you find in Cusco (and everywhere else, for that matter), but there were also a few gems of local art, such as belts and purses embroidered with flowers in bright yarn, and hand-woven tapestries and blankets.

There are some quality artisans selling their wares in Pisac. We met Julio on our way up to the ruins the next morning: he and his family weave tapestries using only the natural colors that can be found in the mountains. There are 28 different colors that can be found, he told me, pointing out a few in the plants that grew beside the bench I was sitting on.

The ruins above Pisac were some of the most interesting we’ve seen in our last few weeks in Inca Land. We climbed up to them from the town, a 800 meter, very steep climb. It was a good thing that the scenery was so beautiful, as this allowed us to stop, panting, and admire it while we caught our breath.

The ruins are built on the crest of a mountain spur that knifes out over the valley, with the usual Inca masochism in choosing sites that are horrendously challenging to get to. The stonework is lovely, of course, but what is fascinating is how the walls cling to the mountainside, the crumbling towers jutting out of sheer stone cliffs.

As it’s rainy season, the entire site is covered in wildflowers and blooming cactus, and everything is a brilliant green. Unlike some archaeological sites which have been cleaned to death, bromeliads still cling to these lichen-covered walls, making it seem like you’re stumbling upon new ruins around every bend.

Getting to Pisac from Cusco: Pisac is about a 45-minute drive by taxi (S/.35 [US $12.25], though they’ll try to charge you more), or an hour drive by bus (S/.2.40 [US $0.90]). Taxis you can find anywhere, and the bus leaves from Av. Tullumayu, just south of Garcilaso every 20 minutes (final destination is Calca). There are a few hotels/hospedajes scattered around—Pisac is pretty small, so ask around.

Getting to the Ruins: If you want to hike up, the trail leaves from the northwest corner of the Plaza de Armas. It’s super easy to follow—just keep climbing toward those towers. Taxis hang around the bridge (on the main highway) to take you, as well. They charge a set fee of S/.20 (US $7) to the highest parking lot, and S/.15 (US $5.25) to the lower parking lot. You can make the round trip from parking lot to parking lot in about an hour, and you should be able to find taxis waiting to take you down. If you’re planning on driving up and hiking down, choose to take the higher path—it’s spectacular.

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 16, 2010

Quick update

Hey all,

We’re back in Cusco for a few hours before heading back out to Ollantaytambo, and I thought I’d drop you a note to let you know that we’re having fun, we’re still alive, the Sacred Valley is beautiful, and we’ll be posting more about that later.

We decided that we really like Ollantaytambo (more popularly known as the jumping point to Machu Picchu), and we’re going to spend a few days there to get to know the area. In order to do this, we decided to swing back through Cusco to get our big backpacks (we need to change our clothes).

Ollantaytambo has internet cafes, so we’ll post something tomorrow about our trip through the Sacred Valley.

Jessie and Rob

Posted by: robertkittilson | January 12, 2010

Photo: Jan. 12th 2010

See more from Lake Titikaka on flickr

Posted by: Jessie Kwak | January 11, 2010

Eight down, Eight to go

We’re still chipping away at our mission to hit all sixteen cultural sites on the Cusco Boleto Turistico (Tourist Ticket). We lost a day to food poising on my part (that day had to come at some point, right?), and we also lost some quality time to American football and American beer.

But we have persevered. We took a full four days to explore the hills above Cusco (only netting us four stamps total). Although the closer, more popular sites like Saqsyhuayman are pretty crowded, we took a couple of long walks through the countryside and found bits of terracing, carved stones, aqueducts and more. We also found hailstorms (see yesterday’s post).

The weekend was interrupted by a visit to an American guy, Aaron, who brews his own beer in Cusco. He treated us to a delicious Honey Porter, a quite tasty attempt at cloning Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale, and a preview of a Belgian Strong Ale that he’s in the process of conditioning. Needless to say, I was in heaven.

He also treated us to something that Rob’s been craving as much as I’ve been craving hops: American Football. We’re both feeling better now.

Today we pressed on with our quest, visiting the rather fascinating terraces/irrigation experiment of Tipón, the Wari settlement of Pikillacta, the Monument to Pachacutec, and the Contemporary Art Museum. The first two were fascinating, the third not much more than a tourist trap, and the last had some surprisingly good work in it. Look for a full account of the sixteen cultural sites coming soon.

We’re heading out tomorrow for the Sacred Valley, and we’re not sure hew much time we’ll be there or how often we’ll get to the internet. If you get bored, just watch that hailstorm video again. (And thanks for leaving us that poncho, Mom and Dad. It was a lifesaver.).

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