April 29, 2018 – Cusco to Urubamba, Peru
Well, so far I’m not having much problem with altitude sickness. Today was the test as Urubama is higher than Cusco. So far, so good.
We started early again this morning. Our 1st stop was at the Cristo Blanco (White Christ) statue in Cusco for a panoramic view of the city. From there we drove to the Piscac Ruins. These ruins were awe inspiring, but not nearly as much as the Ollantanytambo Ruins which was the last stop of the day. The Ollantanytambo Ruins are enormous. The town was a crossroads for the trade of goods between the Amazon, the Pacific Coast, the Peruvian Highlands, Brazil and other South American countries. It also served as a fortress for the Incas as they prepared to conquer Brazil which didn’t happen, of course, because the Spanish conquered the Incas instead. All but Donna, Wally and I climbed the innumerable steps to the top.
We stopped at a bakery in the new town of Pisac where we bought empanadas cooked in the old fashioned oven which was fired by eucalyptus wood. We also got to feed some guinea pigs there and play with a baby alpaca.
After the bakery we went to the Pisac Ruins. We were there early so it was easy to pull up to the gate and get out. We spent about an hour or so in the ruins with Rhody, our local guide, explaining the significance of these ruins. We saw the burial caves which are located high above the ruins. Some of them had bones or a skull which we could see. When we exited the ruins, it was an entirely different scene than when we came in. Where before there was an orderly scene with just a few tour buses or cars, there was now almost chaos. Cars and buses were backed up for half a mile or more. Those at the front of the line had nowhere to turn around, and they couldn’t back up. Fortunately, our driver had been there before, and after he let us out, he went about a quarter to a half a mile or so down the mountain and parked on the side of the road headed downhill. So, we walked through the gridlock to the bus and were on our way in no time.
We stopped at the Parque de la Papa (Potato Park) where we learned about some of the 4,000+ potato varieties grown in Peru. There are some 5,000 varieties of potatoes in the world. We also saw the implements used in the early days of potato farming, many of which are still used today. We saw how they wash alpaca wool, spin and dye it into wool fiber and then weave beautiful things. They use the back strap looms to do their weaving. They tie one end of the loom to something stable. The other end has a strap which goes around the weaver’s waist and attaches to the loom. We weaver leans back into the strap which creates the tension needed on the loom.
This park is supported by G Adventures and National Geographic. This park makes an effort to maintain the traditional way of doing things and to maintain traditional culture. Over 700 variety of potatoes are grown here. They provide potato seeds to the international seed bank in Norway.
We stopped on the way to lunch and bought a whole guinea pig for all of us to share. We had lunch at the Parwa Community Restaurant in the Sacred Valley. This restaurant is supported by G Adventures in order to maintain jobs for the village of 65 families. It was kick-started by money from G Adventures and the Multilateral Investment Fund. It is now a successful farm to table enterprise.
FYI, Inca was the name of the ruler not the name of the tribe which is Quecha. However, the Quecha are now commonly referred to as the Inca.
In this remote area of Peru, almost all children finish elementary school. Only 2 out of 5 finish high school. In order to attend high school, students must walk 2 to 2.5 hours each way to get to school.
There are vast reserves of oil under the Highlands. Since the central government doesn’t provide much, if any, support to these isolated communities, the locals have taken it upon themselves to organize and govern themselves. They feel that they can keep the oil companies from exploring the area since they claim ownership of the land. It remains to be seen if the central government will recognize the local ownership of the land, and if they can keep the central government from overriding their wishes to maintain their culture, way of life and sustainable, ecologically friendly practices.
Our final stop of the day was at Ollantaytambo. This is another Inca ruin which is awe-inspiring. You just can’t fathom how they managed to build something like this. This city was a royal estate. There aren’t words to describe the how high these ruins are in the mountains or how steep the access to them. The granaries look like they are hanging on the side of the mountain with no way to reach them. It is just something you have to see for yourself.
We got checked into the hotel and then met up for supper in the hotel dining room. Once again, we had fun just visiting, eating, and most importantly, drinking pisco sours.
Cusco is the entryway to the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley of the Incas or the Urubamba Valley is a valley in the Andes Mountains of Peru 12 miles north of the Inca capital of Cusco. It is located in the present-day Peruvian region of Cusco. In colonial documents it was referred to as the "Valley of Yucay." The Sacred Valley was incorporated slowly into the incipient Inca Empire during the period from 1000 to 1400 AD.
The scenic and historical Sacred Valley is a major tourist destination. In 2013, 1.2 million people, 800,000 of them non-Peruvians, are estimated to have visited Machu Picchu, its most famous archaeological site. Many of the same tourists also visited other archaeological sites and modern towns in the Sacred Valley.
The early Incas lived in the Cuzco area. By conquest or diplomacy, during the period 1000 to 1400 AD, the Inca achieved administrative control over the various ethnic groups living in or near the Sacred Valley.
The attraction of the Sacred Valley to the Inca, in addition to its proximity to Cuzco, was probably that it was lower in elevation and therefore warmer than any other nearby area. The lower elevation permitted maize to be grown. Maize was a prestige crop for the Incas, especially to make chicha, a fermented maize drink the Incas and their subjects consumed in large quantities at their many ceremonial feasts and religious festivals. Large scale maize production in the Sacred Valley was apparently facilitated by varieties bred in nearby Moray, either a governmental crop laboratory or a seedling nursery of the Incas.
The Inca customarily divided conquered lands into three more-or-less equal parts. One part was for the emperor (the Sapa Inca), one part for the religious establishment, and one part for the communities of farmers themselves. In the 1400s, the Sacred Valley became an area of royal estates and country homes. Once a royal estate was created by an emperor it continued to be owned by descendants of the emperor after his death. The estate of the emperor Yawar Waqaq (ca. 1380 AD) was located at Paullu and Lamay (a few miles downstream from Pisac). Huchuy Qosqo, the estate of the emperor Viracocha Inca (c. 1410-1438), overlooks the Sacred Valley. The estate of Pachacuti (1438-1471 AD) was at Pisac. The sparse ruins of Quispiguanca, the estate of the emperor Huayna Capac (1493-1527 AD), are in the town of Urubamba. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for Pachacuti.
Agricultural terraces, called andenes, were built up hillsides flanking the valley floor and are today the most visible and widespread signs of the Inca civilization in the Sacred Valley. In 1537, the Inca Emperor Manco Inca Yupanqui fought and won the Battle of Ollantaytambo against a Spanish army headed by Hernando Pizarro. Nevertheless, Manco soon withdrew from the Sacred Valley, and the area came under the control of the Spanish colonialists.
Pisac is perhaps best known for its Incan ruins, known as Inca Písac, which lie atop a hill at the entrance to the Sacred Valley. The ruins are separated along the ridge into four groups: P'isaqa, Inti Watana, Qalla Q'asa and Kinchiraqay. The Inti Watana group includes the Temple of the Sun, baths, altars, water fountains, a ceremonial platform and an inti watana, a volcanic outcrop carved into a "hitching post for the Sun" (or Inti). The angles of its base suggest that it served to define the changes of the seasons. Qalla Q'asa, which is built onto a natural spur and overlooks the valley, is known as the Citadel.
The Inca constructed agricultural terraces on the steep hillside which are still in use today. They created the terraces by hauling richer topsoil by hand from the lower lands. The terraces enabled the production of surplus food, more than would normally be possible at altitudes as high as 11,000’.
With military, religious, and agricultural structures, the site served at least a triple purpose. Researchers believe that Písac defended the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley, while Choquequiaro defended the western entrance and the fortress at Ollantaytambo the northern. Inca Pisac controlled a route which connected the Inca Empire with the border of the rain forest.
The sanctuary of Huanca, site of a sacred shrine, is also near the village. Pilgrims travel to the shrine every September. One of its more notable features was a large pisonay tree, which dominated the central plaza (it was destroyed by a 2013 thunderstorm).
According to the scholar Kim MacQuarrie, Pachacuti erected a number of royal estates to memorialize victories over other ethnic groups. Among these royal estates are Písac (victory over the Cuyos), Ollantaytambo (victory over the Tambos), and Machu Picchu (conquest of the Vilcabamba Valley). Other historians suggest that Písac was established to protect Cusco from possible attacks of the Antis nations. It is unknown when Inca Písac was built. Since it does not appear to have been inhabited by any pre-Inca civilization, it was most likely built no earlier than 1440.
Franciso Pizarro and the Spanish conquerors destroyed Inca Písac in the early 1530s. The modern town of Písac was built in the valley by Viceroy Toledo during the 1570s.
Ollantaytambo is a town and an Inca archaeological site in southern Peru some 45 miles by road northwest of the city of Cusco. It is located at an altitude of 9,160’ above sea level in the district of Ollantaytambo, province of Urubamba, Cusco Region. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region and built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. Nowadays, located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca ruins and its location en route to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail.
The main settlement at Ollantaytambo has an orthogonal layout with four longitudinal streets crossed by seven parallel streets. At the center of this grid, the Incas built a large plaza that may have been up to four blocks large. It was open to the east and surrounded by halls and other town blocks on its other three sides. All blocks on the southern half of the town were built to the same design. Each comprised two kancha, walled compounds with four one-room buildings around a central courtyard. Buildings in the northern half are more varied in design; however, most are in such a bad condition that their original plan is hard to establish.
Ollantaytambo dates from the late 15th century and has some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America. Its layout and buildings have been altered to different degrees by later constructions; for instance, on the southern edge of the town, an Inca esplanade with the original entrance to the town was rebuilt as a Plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial and republican buildings. The plaza at the center of the town also disappeared as several buildings were built over it in colonial times.
Araqhama is a western prolongation of the main settlement, across the Patakancha River; it features a large plaza, called Manyaraki, surrounded by constructions made out of adobe and semicut stones. These buildings have a much larger area than their counterparts in the main settlement. They also have very tall walls and oversized doors. To the south are other structures, but smaller and built out of fieldstones. Araqhama has been continuously occupied since Inca times as evidenced by the Roman Catholic Church on the eastern side of the plaza. To the north of Manyaraki are several sanctuaries with carved stones, sculpted rock faces and elaborate waterworks; they include the Templo de Agua and the Baño de la Ñusta.
Araqhama is bordered to the west by Cerro Bandolista, a steep hill on which the Incas built a ceremonial center. The part of the hill facing the town is occupied by the terraces of Pumatallis, framed on both flanks by rock outcrops. Due to impressive character of these terraces, the Temple Hill is commonly known as the Fortress, but this is a misnomer, as the main functions of this site were religious. The main access to the ceremonial center is a series of stairways that climb to the top of the terrace complex. At this point, the site is divided into three main areas: the Middle sector, directly in front of the terraces; the Temple sector, to the south; and the Funerary sector, to the north.
The Temple sector is built out of cut and fitted stones in contrast to the other two sectors of the Temple Hill, which are made out of fieldstones. It is accessed by a stairway that ends on a terrace with a half-finished gate and the Enclosure of the Ten Niches, a one-room building. Behind them is an open space which hosts the Platform of the Carved Seat and two unfinished monumental walls. The main structure of the whole sector is the Sun Temple, an uncompleted building which features the Wall of the Six Monoliths. The Middle and Funerary sectors have several rectangular buildings, some of them with two floors; also, several fountains are in the Middle sector.
The unfinished structures at the Temple Hill and the numerous stone blocks that litter the site indicate that it was still undergoing construction at the time of its abandonment. Some of the blocks show evidence of having been removed from finished walls, which provides evidence that a major remodeling effort was also underway. Which event halted construction at the Temple Hill is unknown; likely candidates include the war of succession between Huascar and Atahualpa, the Spanish Conquest of Peru and the retreat of Manco Inca from Ollantaytambo to Vilcabamba.
The valleys of the Urubamba and Patakancha Rivers along Ollantaytambo are covered by an extensive set of agricultural terraces or andenes which start at the bottom of the valleys and climb up the surrounding hills. The andenes permitted farming on otherwise unusable terrain. They also allowed the Incas to take advantage of the different ecological zones created by variations in altitude. Terraces at Ollantaytambo were built to a higher standard than common Inca agricultural terraces. For instance, they have higher walls made of cut stones instead of rough fieldstones. This type of high-prestige terracing is also found in other Inca royal estates.
A set of sunken terraces starts south of Ollantaytambo's Plaza de Armas, stretching all the way to the Urubamba River. They are about 2,296’ long, 197’ wide, and up to 49’ below the level of surrounding terraces. Due to their shape, they are called Callejón, the Spanish word for alley. Land inside the Callejón is protected from the wind by lateral walls which also absorb solar radiation during the day and release it during the night. This creates a microclimate zone 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the ground above it. These conditions allowed the Incas to grow species of plants native to lower altitudes that otherwise could not have flourished at this site.
At the southern end of Callejón, overlooking the Urubamba River, is an Inca site called Q'ellu Raqay. Its interconnected buildings and plazas form an unusual design quite unlike the single-room structures common in Inca architecture. As the site is isolated from the rest of Ollantaytambo and surrounded by an elaborate terraces, it was postulated to be a palace built for emperor Pachacuti.
The Incas built several storehouses or qullqas out of fieldstones on the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo. Their location at high altitudes, where more wind and lower temperatures occur, defended their contents against decay. To enhance this effect, the Ollantaytambo qullqas feature ventilation systems. They are thought to have been used to store the production of the agricultural terraces built around the site. Grain would be poured in the windows on the uphill side of each building, then emptied out through the downhill side window.
The main quarries of Ollantaytambo were located at Kachiqhata in a ravine across the Urubamba River some 3 miles from the town. The site features three main quarrying areas: Mullup'urku, Kantirayoq, and Sirkusirkuyoq. All of them provided blocks of rose rhylote for the elaborate buildings of the Temple Hill. An elaborate network of roads, ramps, and slides connected them with the main building areas. In the quarries are several chullpas, small stone towers used as burial sites in pre-Hispanic times.
Ollantaytambo is surrounded by mountains, and the main access routes run along the Urubamba Valley. This is where the Incas built roads connecting the site with Machu Picchu to the west and Pisaq to the east. During the Spanish conquest of Peru, Emperor Manco Inca fortified the eastern approaches to fend off Spanish attacks from Cusco during the Battle of Ollantanytambo. The first line of defense was a steep bank of terraces at Pachar, near the confluence of the Anta and Urubamba Rivers. Behind it, the Incas channeled the Urubamba to make it cross the valley from right to left and back, thus forming two more lines, which were backed by the fortifications of Choqana on the left bank and 'Inkapintay on the right bank. Past them, at the plain of Mascabamba, 11 high terraces closed the valley between the mountains and a deep canyon formed by the Urubamba. The only way to continue was through the gate of T'iyupunku, a thick defensive wall with two narrow doorways. To the west of Ollantaytambo, the small fort of Choquequillca defended the road to Machu Picchu. In the event of these fortifications being overrun, the Temple Hill itself with its high terraces provided a last line of defense against invaders.
Around the mid-15th century, the Inca emperor Pachacuti conquered and razed Ollantaytambo. The town and the nearby region were incorporated into his personal estate. The emperor rebuilt the town with sumptuous constructions and undertook extensive works of terracing and irrigation in the Urubamba Valley. The town provided lodging for the Inca nobility while the terraces were farmed by yanakuna, retainers of the emperor. After Pachacuti's death, the estate came under the administration of his panaqa, his family clan.
During the Spanish conquest of Peru, Ollantaytambo served as a temporary capital for Manco Inca, leader of the native resistance against the conquistadors. He fortified the town and its approaches in the direction of the former Inca capital of Cusco which had fallen under Spanish domination. In 1536, on the plain of Mascabamba, near Ollantaytambo, Manco Inca defeated a Spanish expedition by blocking their advance from a set of high terraces and flooding the plain. Despite his victory, however, Manco Inca did not consider his position tenable so the following year he withdrew to the heavily forested site of Vilcabamba where he established the Neo-Inca State.
In 1540, the native population of Ollantaytambo was assigned in encomienda to Hernando Pizarro.
In the 19th century, the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo attracted the attention of several foreign explorers. Among them, Clements Markham, Ephraim Squier, Charles Wiener and Ernst Middendorf published accounts of their findings.
Nestled high in the Peruvian Andes near Cusco, the Parque de la Papa – meaning Potato Park in English – is helping local farmers preserve their traditional culture, growing methods and biodiversity.
Lying between 10,498’ and 16,400’ above sea level and covering 22,239 acres, the Potato Park is made up of a group of local communities – originally six but now down to five – working together to produce a vast range of agricultural crops.
By banding together, the communities – representing 6,500 people – are able to tailor their planting program to ensure each crop is grown in the ideal area.
The land is divided into three zones by height, with the highest zone planted only in a broad range of native potatoes. The middle zone is allocated to the production of Andean root and tuber crops such as mashua, oca and ulluco while lower areas grow quinoa and maize.
"We have a strategy of rotation because we don't want to ruin the soil," local farmer Juan De Dios Pacco Huaraka said. "We will grow a crop on one plot one year, but next year we won't grow anything there."
The farmers grow their crops in small plots – often among a rocky outcrop or on the side of a steep hill – to reduce the impact of pests and diseases that can impact larger plantations.
The Parque de la Papa in Peru is helping local farmers preserve traditional culture & biodiversity. Communal labor is an absolute must: everyone pitches in to plant or harvest the crop each year. The park is home to more than 700 local varieties of potatoes, as well as five species of wild potatoes.
Local technician Aniceto Ccoyo said each community is represented on a management board by an elected president. "Everything is worked as a community, nothing is individual," Mr. Ccoyo Ccoyo said. "Other communities around here start to divide their land, but for us it is really important to work our land as a whole. Working together is better because we have a stronger position to deal with other communities, government or organizations. In terms of biodiversity, it's better to work as a community because we have more land, different climates, we can plant different varieties or different crops”.
"None of us has gone through university, we just have the knowledge that has been shared by our ancestors and around the communities. This knowledge has to be complemented by scientific knowledge but not to put aside what we know already, which is very important. "All the traditional knowledge from our ancestors has been kept until now, and we want to teach the children so all the knowledge is kept for future generations."
The formation of the park in 2002 helped the local people preserve not only their traditional farming practices, but also their way of life, while also opening up new business opportunities. "Most people think that the Potato Park is a place where we grow potatoes and that's it, but we're not just that," Mr. Ccoyo Ccoyo said. "The Potato Park has all the music, the traditions and the customs of the Andes. We are trying to keep our traditions and culture alive."