The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru

Photo ©Jean Janssen. In traditional dress in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The spectacular Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, Peru

We woke up in our gorgeous hotel in the Sacred Valley in the Andes Mountains of Peru ready to start the next phase of our Peruvian adventure, discovering the sites of the ancient Inca culture. Late this afternoon we will take the train to Machu Picchu which we will visit tomorrow. After breakfast we headed out for Moray.

Photo ©Jean Janssen View from our hotel in the Sacred Valley, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our hotel in the Sacred Valley, Peru

At 11,500 feet and sitting just west of the village of Maras, is the Inca ruin Moray. The site contains a series of terraced circular depressions. The largest depression is 98 feet deep. Significantly, the temperature difference between the top of the highest terrance to the bottom of the lowest can be as much as 27 degrees F. The Incas were ancient masters of design. Their ruins are architectural marvels and their understanding of orientation, the wind, and the sun was excellent.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Inca ruins at Moray, Peru.

The purpose of the Inca depressions at Moray is not certain. The Incas had no written language so there are no ancient texts to consult. It has been suggested that the terraces at Moray were designed for agricultural purposes, an amphitheater for ceremonies and celebrations, a quarry that was retrofitted after mining was complete, or were even the site of an extraterrestrial landing. The most widely accepted theory was that the area was experimental terraced farming with various microclimates at the differing levels given the temperature differences and the sun hitting specific sections at varying times of the day. The Incas developed a series of channels that fed water to the terraces from high in the mountains. It has been suggested that they used the knowledge gained from the experimental production to develop farming techniques for the varying landscape of their empire.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Inca ruins at Moray, Peru.

Excavation of the site “suggests that the bottom six terraces may have been built by a culture predating the Incas. Presumably, the Wari culture who thrived from the 6th – 10th century.” What we see today was created by the Incas between the 12th and 14 centuries. The farmers who live is this area have always known about the ruins, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the terracing at Moray came to the attention of western cultures. Since the 1970’s the areas has served as a tourist attraction. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A necessary stop is always on the agenda and Carlos was on hand with supplies to make it as pleasant as possible.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the weavers’ farm we were greeted by the community members in native dress. The stick in the front is one of honor and is carried by the mayor of the community.

We will see more ruins today, but our next stop was a little different. We are visiting local weavers for a demonstration and the opportunity to purchase the artisan crafts. This is llama and alpaca country and their fur is what serves as the base for the local textiles. We were greeted by the mayor-his ceremonial stick present during the demonstration-and the women who make these beautiful products. They were dressed in traditional costumes. The difference in headwear showed us that one of the women was from a different community.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natural products are used to dye the fur. The basket on the left shows the natural color of the varying shades of the alpaca fur after it is cleaned.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of the looms used by the Sacred Valley weavers. On this smaller apparatus, a cloth in the fur’s natural color is being created. The intricate, traditional designs are time consuming hand work.

Carlos started with an introduction and a translation, but then one of the woman surprised us by speaking beautiful accented English. Even joking with us in English. During the demonstration we saw how they clean the fur, derive color from the natural products, and weave the cloth. They used different looms to create the various items, some very colorful and some in the natural color of the alpaca fur.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This long runner was created on a larger two person loom. The products are often started in the community center by the group and then taken home by the women to continue the work there. A larger product like this one can take two months to produce. It just happened to go home with Natasha.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. This Peruvian woman came from a different community as evidenced by her headdress. The day started off cool so they were dressed warmly during our visit.

They showed us how many of the products served multiple functions from table linens to personal garments. One of the most interesting was an almost square piece of cloth that was used to carry a baby or small child. The little boy who was “volunteered” for the demonstration on how to fold the cloth was adorable, especially when he got a break and was given a cookie. We were never sure which of the women was the mother. They all held him at some point during the demonstration. I also admired the beautiful pom poms the women wore in their braids which traditionally would have indicated what community they were from. When the two braids are loose the woman is unmarried. She wears the two braids bound together after she marries.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Just driving through the villages of the Sacred Valley we saw evidence of the ancient monuments being incorporated into present day buildings.

We are traveling around the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the Andes Mountains just north of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas. The area is also known as the Urubamba Valley, coming from the name of the Urubamba River that flows through it. Today this is agricultural land, villages, and ruins from the Inca civilization. Our guide Harvey will tell you that the Spanish Conquistadores did not conquer the Incas, although they did steal their treasures and abuse and enslave their people. Harvey is of Incan decent. You can see it in his size (smaller stature) and his features. It is his belief that the Incas are alive and well today and in many ways tricked their Spanish invaders into thinking they had adopted their religion and culture. He promised us more examples when we tour Cuzco.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. I took this picture from the bus as we traveled around the Sacred Valley. The woman wears the traditional tall hat of the region. It is worn only by the woman.

“The Cusco region attracts around 1.8 million visitors annually, many of whom are on their way to visit Machu Picchu. The iconic royal retreat is the best-known tangible remnant of the Inca Empire, which arose out of the Andean Plateau near Cusco and grew to encompass most of the Andean highlands. The Sacred Valley of the Incas envelops a fertile agricultural and cultural landscape, punctuated by small villages of Quechua-speaking communities and dotted with the surviving remains of great Inca family estates.” World Monument Fund. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Sacred Valley of the Incas. (excuse the glare from the bus window)

We drove through the Sacred Valley, crossing back and forth over the river. We saw the “cabins” on the mountainside that you can stay in; you have to repel in. Fascinating, but not in my wheelhouse. Our next stop is the village of Ollantaytambo where we will visit a traditional house, tour the famous ruins, and later today board the train to Machu Picchu. In the mid 15th Century, Ollantaytambo was part of the personal estate of the Inca emperor Pachacuti. Here the emperor built lodging for the Inca nobility and terraces and irrigation systems for support. Later when the Spanish would raid the region, Ollantaytambo served as the temporary capital of the native resistance against the Spanish Conquistadors.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. “The valleys of the Urubamba and Patakancha Rivers along Ollantaytambo are covered by an extensive set of agricultural terraces or andenes which start at the bottom of the valleys and climb up the surrounding hills. The andenes permitted farming on otherwise unusable terrain; they also allowed the Incas to take advantage of the different ecological zones created by variations in altitude. Terraces at Ollantaytambo were built to a higher standard than common Inca agricultural terraces; for instance, they have higher walls made of cut stones instead of rough fieldstones. This [is a] type of high-prestige terracing” found at other royal Inca holdings. Wikipedia
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Colorful decorations greeted us as we entered Ollantaytambo. Today, this is a town for tourists looking for a glimpse of a different way of life, the ruins of an emperor’s private estate, and a jumping off point for travel to Manchu Picchu.

The Sacred Valley village of Ollantaytambo is “set on the Urubamba River amid snow-capped mountains. It’s known for the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. Major sites within the complex include the huge Sun Temple and the Princess Baths fountain. The village’s old town is an Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings.” Google

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Traditional dress of the native people of Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Altar in a traditional home in Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Food stocks in a traditional home in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Our first stop in the village was a traditional home where we were welcomed by the owner. We entered through a courtyard and went down steps into a large room. There was a hayloft, but otherwise the home was a single room with sections dedicated to specific functions. Alpaca skins lined the benches of the table as cushions, small altars were set up around the room, native clothing was hung as a display, and colorful textiles were folded on the end of the bed.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Colorful textiles on the edge of the bed in a traditional home in Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo ©Carlos Alvarez. Hand milling in a traditional home in Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo ©Carlos Alvarez. Grace gives it a try

Harvey gave us an introduction to the various sections of the room and introduced the owner who gave us a demonstration on how grain was hand-milled. Grace was given a chance to try it and confirmed it was hard work. On of the corners of the room was a short walled sections that served as a pen for guinea pigs. They are not kept as pets. Guinea pig is considered a delicacy in Peru. One guinea pig serves as a meal for two persons.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Guinea pig pen inside the home in Ollantaytambo, Peru.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The homeowner, Ollantaytambo, Peru.

After the home tour, we headed over to the ruins. There was a market place set up right next to the ruins entrance. Ollantaytambo has a thriving tourist industry. People come here to glimpse a traditional way of life, the colorful native dress, the beauty of the Andes, the spectacular ruins of the Inca Empire, and as a jumping off point for the train up to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. Just like in other tourist destinations, there is someone dressed up for a photo op. For a small fee, you can have have your picture taken with an Inca Emperor, although this one is wearing a face mask due to COVID restrictions. The hot items to buy here are anything with coca leaves or walking sticks. Boris brought some walking sticks from home, but I picked up a pair for $20 that I will use tomorrow at Machu Picchu.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Have your picture taken with an Inca Emperor in Ollantaytambo, Peru. With continuing COVID restrictions, even the emperor is wearing a face mask.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Wearing the traditional tall hat of the Andes, this Peruvian women sets out a picnic meal near the marketplace in Ollantaytambo, Peru

After entering the archaeological site, Harvey gave us an orientation as we looked up at the temple steps. It was very windy and dry (a far cry from the still, humid rainforests of last week on the Amazon), and we had to look away to keep the grit out of our eyes. On “a steep hill…the Incas built a ceremonial center. The part of the hill facing the town is occupied by the terraces of Pumatallis, framed on both flanks by rock outcrops. Due to impressive character of these terraces, the Temple Hill is commonly known as the Fortress, but this is a misnomer, as the main functions of this site were religious.” Wikipedia

Photo ©Jean Janssen The temple hill steps at the terraces of Pumatallis at the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo by Jean Janssen. Joe, Joh, and Sue start the trek up Temple Hill at the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, Peru.

With very limited time and a desire to save my strength for tomorrow’s visit to Machu Picchu, I decided not to make the 30 minute hike up and down the temple steps. A few members of our group made the trek and the rest of us took pictures and then headed over to the fountain bath of the princess.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Instead of climbing the temple steps, Boris agreed to pose as Natasha’s model at the terraces of Pumatallis at the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, Peru. Note the start of Boris’ Indiana Jones costuming as we get closer to Manchu Picchu
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Storehouses on the hills at the Ollantaytambo ruins, Peru.

Walking toward the fountain, we could look up and across and see the wonderful storehouses with their unique ventilation system set in the hillsides of Ollantaytambo. Because the storehouses were located high in the neighboring hills where there is more wind and lower temperatures, the contents could more easily be defended against decay. While Harvey was describing the bath of the princess at the base of the ruins, the fastest trekker, Joe, arrived to celebrate his victory. Ah to be 20! It is his, and his twin Grace’s, birthday today. Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, Per arrived to celebrate his half climb. Got to give him his due as well.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Joe celebrates his successful climb and decent of the temple steps.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the bath of the princess, Per claims victory for his half climb and decent.

We had to hurry out to the bus and a few people got caught up in the shopping, but it was time to finally head to lunch. That’s right, everything that I just described was from the first half of our day. Rather than try to find a place to accommodate our large group for a “midday” meal, we are going for a picnic lunch. I had envisioned box lunches at a park, but Carlos reminded me that this is Uniworld.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Fabulous spot for a picnic lunch in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

We went to a open field near town where gorgeous tents had been set up for a lunch with multiple courses with perhaps the best steak I have ever had and I’m from Texas. We were entertained by musicians on traditional Peruvian instruments including the pan flute. Then we were each given a pan flute as a souvenir and had a lesson in playing it. I was terrible. The video of the group attempt is hysterical.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Luncheon musicians. They tried to teach us how to play the pan flute.

Up next, the train ride to Machu Picchu and Natasha’s experience at the #1 thing on her travel bucket list….

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Seen from the train to Machu Picchu

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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