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Day 7 – The Sacred Valley

Wedesday August 28th

We awoke to torrential rain. This was not a good start to the main part of our trip. Never mind – we layered up (t-shirt, shirt, fleece, raincoat and a peaked cap) and off we went.

A woman’s life

One of the things that strikes you immediately is the 50/50 split of men and women that you see. I comment on this because there have been too many places that we have visited in the recent past – in Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries in particular – where all you see are men. It’s as if half the population doesn’t exist!

The second thing is the bright colours of the clothes that the women wear – again, in stark contrast to the drab colours of the few women you do see in Middle Eastern countries. They are bright reds, pinks, yellows, aqua blues…. The list goes on. Women here really do seem to have an equal place in society. We’d noticed it in Chile too.

The women here obviously work hard – but so too do the men. They generally seem a very happy bunch. Poor – but happy.

Politics

As you drive down the road you notice a number of symbols painted in red, black and white on brick walls and buildings. Some have names next to them, many don’t. There are two main ones

– a shovel and a football.

We asked Juan what they were for, and got a very interesting lesson in Peru politics. The symbols are for a particular Peruvian political party, of which there are many. They use symbols because a proportion of the population can’t read.

Apparently 20 years ago corruption in Peruvian politics was rife. There were huge scandals about ‘jobs for friends’ and other perks given out by ministers for large back-handers. And the population rebelled and voted for a complete outsider who stood for ‘no corruption’. So all the old politicians deserted their old parties (which were tarred with the corruption banner) and started new ones. As Juan says, they’re the same parties but with different names!

There has never been a female president, although it’s nearly happened twice. However, this doesn’t mean that a woman has never run the country. Apparently it’s a well-known fact that the current president’s wife is the one that tells him what to do. She’s known as the ‘President that was never elected’!

Ollantaytambo

This is where the trains to Machu Picchu leave from – but today we were visiting the village itself.

Ollantaytambo village

Ollantaytambo is the best surviving example of an Inca city. It’s been continuously inhabited since the 13th century and has the original cobbled streets, houses, water drainage, etc etc…. And you could see, through the rain, that it is a pretty little town.

Juan took us through the narrow cobbled streets and into a ‘genuine family house’ where the family still lived. They may well do, but they’d obviously had a good spring clean and tidy up, and there were lots of visiting tourists to it! Even so, it was good to see it. There was a dirt floor with an iron bedstead with a woven throw (and a carefully positioned pair of shoes under it to show people really did live here!), some beautifully kept guinea pigs running everywhere and being fed on what looked like a pile of coca leaves. As these were bred for food I couldn’t help thinking that they may have a short but very happy life! Slightly disconcerting was the table and wall at the opposite end to the bed which seemed to be a shrine of sorts – old Inca antiquities and three mummified animals, one of which was definitely an alpaca cria.

Next were the Ollantambay ruins. And we were introduced to a neat little ceremony by Juan, that was intended to blow the rain away. Kevin was chosen for the honour of performing the deed, which involved saying some sacred words to the four mountains to the north, south, east and west of us, then blowing hard. Would it work??

Tip: The second one for coca leaves. When climbing upwards in the thin climate, chewing coca leaves can help. Or more to the point, you take a number of them, roll them up into a wad

Ollantaytambo

then pack them into the side of your mouth between your cheek and teeth. Then the saliva will release the coca and you swallow your saliva.

We climbed upwards with the help of Juan’s coca leaves. They did seem to work! The steep terraces were one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors lost a major battle. There’s also a ceremonial centre at the top, but Juan didn’t take us that far. He’s definitely breaking us in slowly!

Back at the square, we had an opportunity to get a warm cup of coffee. There were also some market stands and one of them was selling gloves! As Art’s hands were frozen (and mine weren’t much better) we bought two pairs.

Moray Terraces

Moray Terraces

The journey to the terraces is interesting, along a dirt road and through farming country. There are locals still keeping guard over their herds of sheep, cows and donkeys, just as they used to. We even saw a field being ploughed with oxen. Unfortunately as the windows of the bus were steamed up most of the time, with rainwater running down the outside in torrents, we couldn’t take any photos.

The Moray Terraces themselves were very interesting – they look like they should be an amphitheatre for a play, but in fact were built for growing crops. The idea was that they were sheltered from the wind.

Maras Salt Mines

Our final visit of the day was to some ancient salt mines. Although I’m not sure this is the right description for them. They’re more like salt evaporation man-made terraces.

Maras Salt Mines

But they’ve been around for a long, long time. The water that is saturated with the salt comes out of the hillside into a channel, then this runs into the salt terraces. These cascade down the hillside – quite a sight.

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