Once I get above 10000 ft, especially with a steep rocky hill to climb, I begin to move more slowly – Yesterday Judy and I hiked about 5 miles to a major Inca fort (round trip 10 mi. and all above 10,000 ft.). The fort was magnificent – but like many things here, the journey is just as significant as the destination. We walked for miles along a fast moving mountain river in a valley with steep cliffs on each side, we passed little adobe homesteads, cows, bulls, sheep, and horses and the everywhere friendly dogs. We were not sure of our way much of the time as we sought to reach the Pumamarka fortress site. We asked several times along the way and the people we encountered assured us that it was “the way”. Later we discovered that they were sending us up the longer but less steep route…the terrain changed as we climbed higher – immense scree slopes at the bottom of steep rocky cliffs, small Inca terraces still functioning to support small farms, meadows with livestock grazing, corn, wheat, oats, quinoa all growing over 10000 ft. Frequent switchbacks led us higher to magnificent views of the entire valley below. Much of this time we were not sure where we were due to the absence of any signs. Finally we reached the top, to discover that the road did not climb the last several hundred feet to the ruins. I made a frontal climb, puffing my way slowly up the hill, passing through fava bean fields, also corn, and quinoa… until I reached the fortress…it had a central plaza surrounded by thick red stone walls that rose to 15-20 ft. Inside were many chambers and overlooks. I can imagine a heavily clad enemy climbing this hill and facing his opponent in a state of exhaustion.
When we thought of returning to Ollantaytambo our instructions said that we could take the footpath back – but where was it? I called out to some farmers in their field of corn and asked for the “camino para pedir a Ollantaytambo” … they pointed in a general direction and off we went… after a moment we saw that the farmer’s teen age son was running to us – he made sure that we were on the correct path – so typical of the people here. The footpath down was wet at times, scary with a steep drop beside us at times, through dense brush at times, and we lost the trail once… but it was all fascinating – Whenever we passed a habitation, the people came out to see who we were… I think they did not get many visitors. Frequently I would shake hands with the men 4-5 times. One man who we thought might be a bit drunk assured us that it was only 15 minutes to Ollantaytambo (In fact it was two hours more.) For a long distance we traversed the hillside wondering when we would descend. Finally we found out – and the trail dropped very severely. By now we were watching the clock and hurrying a little – we did not want to get stuck on the mountainside in the dark…but we made it barely – and walked back into town in the dusk…We were a bit tired so we went directly to a restaurant and splurged by ordering Beef saltado… it is an incredible dish… that and a Cusqueno Negro beer did wonders to brighten our energy level.
To travel is to be open to the unexpected – a breakfast conversation led to an invitation to share a taxi and travel back roads to Moray. This is the grandest of the Incan agricultural research centers – immense, laid out in concentric circles providing a great variation in microclimates to determine the best growing conditions for each variety. There is such beauty to the design of these Incan developments. They were carefully planned to make use of natural springs to deliver water to all parts of the project. The Inca seemed to have had a special love of well planned water projects – there are many springs and little stone lined canals throughout the region. So here we were way far out on a mountainside exploring options for getting on to our next destination- Salineras de Moras. We asked a couple of collectivos – but they were full… But as fate would have it, an empty taxi was just ready to leave… The drive was through vast high plateau lands planted in short-stem wheat. We had a fine conversation with the driver who told us much about the region. Hard for us to imagine that here there is no cold winter season - only a wet season and a dry one. Salineras is lower – only about 10,500 – and an incredible site. A spring here has consistently produced an outflow of very salty water since pre-Incan times. The people then and now have created a vast system of small catch basins to trap the saltwater and allow the hot sun to evaporate the water to leave salt that can be harvested. Hundreds of individual “salt farmers” make their living here. The water if the spring is divided into smaller and smaller channels to make use of every bit of the salt.
We walked a narrow 1-foot wide trail through the evaporating salt pools with steep drop offs on one side and salty water flowing on the other side… between the two of us we only had one saturated salty foot…
Then we had a 2 hour climb down off the mountain of a very steep trail to reach Urubamba were we hitchhiked a ride back into Ollantaytambo.
What North Americans call lunch is the main meal of the day – called Comida… it is the big meal of the day – served at about 2-3… In the evening we have a small meal called Cena – at 7 or 8. We love feasting with a grand meal after a good hike!