Territory is but the body of a nation. The people who inhabit its hills and valleys are its soul, its spirit, its life.James A. Garfield
March 29-April 2 2018
In the Andes of Peru, tucked between Cusco and Machu Picchu, lies the Sacred Valley of the Incas. A stretch of virtually untouched villages and ancient ruins ranging across broad fields and mountain slopes, it drips with Andean history, culture, and beauty.
Originally formed by the Urubamba River, the valley was once the fertile and spiritual base of the Incan Empire. Corn, coca, potatoes, and more grew in fields and along terraced mountain slopes, while the Incan astrological beliefs reflected the river’s relentless flow.
Today, the mountain air is crisp and thin. Massive sky tumbles into tremendous landscapes. Quechua-speaking farmers work the fields with methods unchanged since the ancient Incan era. But while the Sacred Valley is deeply rooted in its history, contemporary influences are now intertwined with tradition. The only thing more striking than the landscape is the cohesive, living blend of the ancient and the modern.
Our visit took us to several spots within the valley. Our base was just outside the main commercial center of Urubamba, set among the fields was our rustic farmhouse. Running water could be heard all around coming from the drainage and irrigation system that has been used for centuries.
A few miles down the road we checked out the town of Ollantaytambo. Dominated by two massive Inca ruins, the village is is the best surviving example of Inca city planning, with narrow cobblestone streets that have been continuously inhabited since the 13th century.
Not far from our place we took a short hike to the Maras Salt Mines located within a small canyon. Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to propitiate a salt pond get the one farthest from the community. The size of the salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family’s size. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working.
Lastly, we headed to the far eastern end of the valley to visit the small town of Pisac, best known for its Sunday market. Even though it was Easter when we visited, the village was bustling with market stalls filling the streets and plazas. We also witnessed processions from a constant stream of church goers throughout the day. Between the common tourist junk you can find all over Peru, we were able to find some treasures, including handmade and painted pottery by one of the countries most recognized ceramic artists.
Riding between towns on the local collectivo bus or via tuk-tuks was an exciting adventure, surrounded by beautiful nature and seeing a traditional way of life in the Andes.