The Sacred Valley: From Aguas Calientes to Pisac and Cusco
Saturday, December 24, 2011
We left Aguas Calientes around 9 am via train—enjoying again impressive views to the left and right of the railroad.
Boarding the train.
Steep mountains (too steep to ski), terraces along the valley, Inca village ruins, snow-covered peaks, a blue sky, mountain streams, the racing Urubamba river, rapids...
and, in the distance, hikers on the Inca Trail.
We arrived in Ollantaytambo at around 10 am and continued via bus to Pisac.
On the way we stopped at a Chicheria—a place marked by a red plastic bag planted on a wooden pole —where Chicha, the local corn beer, is brewed.
We had fun with a few round of the Sapo game, also known as Hampatoo (which Heiko won).
The players try to throw coin-shaped discs onto a little table aiming at the holes or (even better) the frog's open mouth.
We took a look at the owner’s little guinea pig farm ...
before entering the chicheria for a taste of corn beer.
The chicheria also showcased some artifacts...
such as a guitar about the size of a mandolin made of an Armadillo shell called charango,
and the knotted lines which encrypted messages and were transported by runners through the Inca empire.
We also learned that there are over one hundred types of corn (some with gigantic kernels) and over 3000 varieties of potatoes, one of which is so dry that it can be stored for hundred years in special aerated storage houses.
In the back of the chicheria, a special display showcased the power of common beliefs: Even today, every new home is blessed by a shaman to purify the spirits.
A collection of offerings such as this one is buried into the foundation.
Around lunch time we arrived in Pisac, famous for one of the most vibrant markets in South America.
After lunch at Ulrike's Cafe
we visited a jewelry store.
In the back of the store, we could observe a silversmith:
First, the silver is melted, next 5% copper are added to increase its flexibility, and finally the artist bends the thin silver bands into typical patterns.
Those are then filled with tiny pieces of colorful stones, conch shells and other minerals to reproduce typical Inca jewelry.
For the Inca, the conch shells from the Galapagos Islands were more precious than gold or silver.
Gisela bought a few pieces as Christmas presents and one round pendant depicting the Inca calendar for herself.
The Pisac market itself, one of the largest artesian market in South America, was disappointingly small – we had picked the wrong day to visit.
It was Christmas Eve, and around 3 pm the few traders selling mainly jewelry, hats or alpaca sweaters, were already packing up.
Sophia found a nice silver pendant depicting the medicine god and Alexandra selected three bracelets and one pair of earrings.
Then, Carlos guided us to a dealer of looted Inca artifacts—these were items from illegal diggings in the ruins. In a far-back room, we saw artifacts thousands of years old, including 10 inch-high sculptures for $4,500. According to Carlos, the owner of the shop bribes the police so they look away when he is trading these artifacts.
During a light rain, we returned to the hotel “La Casa Del Abuelo” in Cuzco.
Carlos had some local people prepare an "American" Christmas feast for us - with turkey, heavenly mashed potatoes, apple sauce and a few vegetarian dishes. He did not fail to include Panettone, a type of sweet bread/dessert traditionally served in Peru at Christmas (originally from Italy).
Our 2011 family Christmas picture in the small hotel lobby.