Thursday, June 12, 2014

Notes de Peru - 3

        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!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Snapshots de Peru -2

Notes –as we travel, there are odd moments of waiting.  These times are when I jot notes for this blog. – If the blog at times is a bit disjointed – that is the reason…
Also – apologies is you have attempted to contact us – our internet connections have been rare

The great golden condor wakes early and begins his flight overhead.  First the mountaintops are lit with his brilliant light, and then the light moves into the valleys below.  We wake; eat our breakfast of quinoa, papaya, yogurt, bread with butter and marmalade, and egg. Today our climb up to the Incan ruins begins before the first sunlight reaches us.  The trail we walk was constructed by the Inca in around 1400. By Sierra standards this trail is demanding.  We climb steep rocky terrain- much of it requiring our hands to scramble. After an hour hike we reached the grain storage warehouse on a south facing canyon wall.  We are continually amazed by the careful construction designs of the Incas – rocks are fit together without mortar. This granary stored corn, wheat, and oats for the village. From the granary we climbed to a higher point, which was a lookout in ancient times. From here we can see the entire length of the “sacred valley”.

But let me tell you more about where we are.
Friday was a a day of transition... Our plan was to take a taxi from the Hacienda to Cusco and then go by collectivo (communal taxi), to Ollantaytambo.
 In our travel we encountered a large street demonstration of medical workers who blocked the road for over an hour.  The police were escorting the delay! They were supporting the civic right of workers to strike…even if it totally blocked traffic! Cultural difference…
Much in Ollantaytembo has changed little over the centuries – it is an ancient Incan town laid out in the traditional grid fashion – streets 2-3 meters wide are lined with large cobblestones, - and many streets have sides made up of the large close fitting stone work of the ancient ones – unchanged and still functional.  Many of the streets have a stream of running water in a stone lined ditch running along the wall.  These ancient ditches produce music much like a mountain stream.  The elevation here in the bottom of the valley is just shy of 10,000 ft… At first we could feel the elevation – but have pretty much adjusted.
The people here live very close to the rhythm of the seasons and the ripening of each crop in its time.  This is the time for digging potatoes; corn is also being gathered in, and quinoa, fava beans, and giant yellow pumpkins.  Some of the corn is sprouted and fermented to make a very popular beer like drink called che-cha.

6/7 We followed general directions given to us to “go to the vegetable market” “ continue to the horse farm” “ ask permission is cross private land” and we would find the ruins of Quelloilakay… Of course we got lost in the process and met a remarkable Australian woman who is volunteering here in the local schools – She was a valuable source of information for us about Ollantaytembo.  These ruins were uncovered only 5 years ago…A reminder of how many Incan sites must lie still uncovered.

There are also the major ruins – a temple or hall of government on the hill above the town… Beautiful huge stones fit perfectly together with no mortar holding them.  The stones have been so carefully shaped that there isn’t room to push a playing card between the stones!  The Inca village was in the same location as modern Ollatautambo (and many of the living spaces have been in constant use since nearly times). Official buildings and storage buildings were built on the higher elevation hill sides.’  Terraces for growing crops extend fall up the hillsides – plants chosen for the microclimate conditions.

6/8 Last night was without a doubt the most remarkable parade I have seen in my life!  The people are celebrating the Christian day of Pentecost… but the parade showed the strong Incan traditions still alive with the people.  Some dances are also on the theme of history or human relationships; many deal with ancient Incan mythology.  Different communities or groups prepared masks, costumes and dance to celebrate an aspect of the culture.  This was a real celebration of the people –this is about the people remembering who they are – about their identify… few tourists are present.  .
We felt honored to see the 4-day event.
The members of one dance group each wore hideous demon masks to remind us of the Incan past and the evil ones who came from underground
These demons can only be destroyed only by the power of Jesus also portrayed as part of the dance group.  Another group reminded us of the once a year day set aside for settling scores with those with whom you have arguments – the dance represented fights with bull whips… A third group wore exaggerated black face masks…they retold the story of slaves brought from Africa- the white landowners were portrayed as evil white face masks with huge noses.  At a point in the dance the “slaves” pulled out broken chains and they changed their demeanor as they became free men – again it was due to the power of Jesus working to free them.  The white slave owners were humiliated at the end of the dance. 
All the dancers in every group carried a picture of Jesus on their costume – but the messages of the dances were often more local or cultural. We loved it!!  Later in the evening there were massive overhead fireworks just over our heads –sky rockets and then to everyone surprise in the audience, strings of large firecrackers had been stretched across the plaza - 15 feet over our heads – as they were ignited they dropping glowing debris on the crowd below – my wind breaker now has two nice new holes … Oh well part of the experience.

Saturday we took a combi van into the high mountains to a Quetchua speaking village to see the weaving of the local women.  The mountains are beautiful – the village fascinating – but the work of the local women is incredible.  The Inca had no written language but told their stories in their weaving.  We try to buy one nice piece from each trip – and we certainly are pleased with the piece we found…I had a nice exchange with 4 Quetchua boys – them speaking Quetcha, me trying Spanish – we all had fun…