Of mountains and pigs
Jul 15, 2012
|Day Three – 15 July 2012
Up at 5:30 and bags in the hall, then a quick breakfast, onto the bus, and off to the Lima airport. Weather was warm, rainy, and cloudy. So much for the dry season... Check in was no problem and we had only a 2 hour wait.
After about 20 minutes in the air we left the clouds and rain behind and flew over the Andes Mountains. Absolutely stunning. Most were brown and barren with an occasional settlement. As we flew deeper we started to see snow covered peaks and a number of lakes. Settlements, trails, and even towns became more evident. Then, Cusco...
We landed and were warned about attitude sickness. They had a bid bottle of oxygen just in case... We got out of the airport the air was crisp and cool. We all were walking slowly to the bus. I was approached by an old Andean woman who offered... coca leaves! I bought a small bag and proceeded to chew. They were rather bitter but I soon got used to the taste. The only reason I was chewing them was to avoid attitude sickness, but there was no noticeable effect at all – except I had a mouth full of mushy leaves and no where to spit...
The bus took us through the shanty towns and slums of Cusco – all high up on the mountain. Many new constructions of brick and tile roofs, but also a huge number of places made of mud bricks. Indeed, we passed several places where people were making the bricks and drying them in the open air. Lots of folks in traditional Andean costume – and many shops selling deep fried pig skin – huge sheets of it!
After a while we entered the countryside with lots of small fields – mostly potatoes but some millet and other things. Buildings almost all of mud bricks, some with straw covered with stones. Saw many people doing laundry in streams and springs, many drying the clothing on bushes.
We paused for lunch at a small village (Ollantaytambo) and even there we found many huskers – even children. The meal was quite fantastic – four kinds of potatoes, bread, a nice soup, chicken, and, of course, guinea pig... If you're wondering, it tastes like camel. After the meal they presented a fully roasted guinea pig for us to take pictures of – it was to be served to the next group.
A number of local women presented a weaving demonstration, from raw wool or alpaca to the finished dyed product. The dyes were from local plants and insects – the red coming from an insect that feed on cactus. The woman giving the tour crushed a live one, then rubbed
it on her lips – the same as much red lipstick in the US. She said the natural was better because it was kiss proof. When I offered to help her demonstrate how it wouldn't come off, she refused.
The demonstration was followed by the typical selling of their home made products. Bought a scarf for Alice (she bought six llama dolls for her friends) and a mask for my collection. Then off again.
After reaching our second highest elevation on the trip (12, 500 ft) we descended into the Sacred Valley to look at some pre-Inca ruins and hear about the latest thinking in Inca archeology. It was quite cool as by 3:00 PM the whole valley was in shadow. We did see, however, the places (and backups) of when the equinox would occur. Crowded but a huge ruin!
Back on the bus and off to Urubamba and our hotel. Two of the travelers got altitude sickness and had to be on oxygen for a while. Both recovered. The hotel room is quite nice.
I had to get some money from the ATM so at 6:00 I headed down the dark street – no street lights and it gets dark early! About half a mile there and back again. This is really a small town with lots of small (like fifty square feet – sno-shake size) shops selling everything from popped corn (about as big as your fist!) to motor oil.
Finally off to a local restaurant where we had limed trout (raw), rice, a local breaded perch, a nice lime-like drink, an Inca Cola (clear – almost like a cream soda), and chocolate cake! During the dinner we had flute music (I got a couple CDs) and some local kids came to preform local dances. At the end they invited anyone who wanted to to dance, so I had a dance with a rat – well, she had on a rat mask. I think it was a she... Still fun, but I was really out of breath when it was over – forgot we were at 9,000 feet.
Finally back to the hotel and out of the bus I looked up. The stars were fantastically bright, but they were all jumbled up... I couldn't recognize even on constellation! Quite a sight to see.
Tomorrow is unplanned. Maybe a local spa, maybe kayaking, maybe back to the sacred valley, maybe stay in bed all day...