Everyone says you can feel the magic in Cusco, Peru but for me the real magic happens in the less visited Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River!
This is my magical place!
The people are wonderful, the food was amazing and the surroundings are like nothing I have ever seen! We spent three amazing days exploring the area by bike, raft, horse, and foot!
Cusco zoo and textile shops
Our first day in Urubamba was spent visiting a small zoo in between Cusco and Urubamba. The place might have been small, but they have huge heart; they are there to rehabilitate injured animals and hopefully release them back into the wild at some point! You can get uncomfortably close to a condor, which made for quite the photo opportunity, and there is everything from cuddly looking, but vicious mountain cats to llamas to pumas!
We moved on to a textile shop that had the women weaving on site!, and ate lunch at this amazing Italian villa in the middle of the Sacred Valley!! When we arrived in town, we stopped at a whole in the wall shop to pick up school supplies for a local elementary school and headed to the Rio Sagrado for the night!
Bartering at the Indian market and a day in school
Day two took us touring into an Indian market where we mostly admired the goods, but did barter to get a few deals! The women running the market stalls are almost aggressive the way they try to bargain with you, and they always say “Lady, I will make you a good deal. No?.. What is your price.. just give me a price”. It becomes slightly comical and very fun to try to get a ridiculously good deal!
We drove to a smaller town (village really) and stopped by a school with the unsuspecting school children. They were just adorable! I am guessing they were 5 or 6 years old, and they were completely caught off guard by our visit. A few of our fellow travelers brought them tootsie pops and they hardly knew what to do with them! Some kids had a huddled meeting to decided if they should eat them now or later (the vote must have been split half and half because some of them ripped the paper right off!) We explained who we were and that we wanted to bring them supplies because education is very important. They sang us some songs and thanked us! It was precious.
As we got back into the village we wandered through the narrow, meandering streets and found our way to a textile demonstration. This was another highlight for me! The women showed us how they grated a special root to clean the alpaca wool (it worked surprisingly well), and then they showed us all the natural ingredients they use to die the fibers, anything from purple corn, to moss, to coca leaves. The colors were amazing and they said they could make innumerable combinations! We all bought a few things and left the workshop jovial!
Inca terraced garden
After the village we set off on a short transfer to Marray, an Incan terraced garden. I have never seen anything like it: concentric circles descending into a large center circular area. It almost looked like an amphitheater. Several of us took to the Inca Stairs, which were only rocks sticking out of the terraces, and made it all the way to the bottom! We learned that the temperature varied 15* from the top terrace to the bottom, which enabled the Peruvians to plant and sustain several different types of vegetation all through the year! Genius…
Visiting the salt mine
Next we biked to the salt mine, which was a harrowing downhill ride! The view was spectacular and totally worth the white knuckles! We all gathered to see where the salty water came out of the mountain, and one by one we tried the surprisingly warm water, all scrunching our faces when we tasted the super-saturated salt content. The terraces seemed primitive at first glance, but they were truly well thought out.
By simply moving a rock (a damn from the small salty stream) the water would fill one of the salt pans a few inches deep, and then the rock would be replaced. After a few days the water would have evaporated and the locals come to scrape up the salt and move it to piles! There are three levels of salt: The top is for human consumption, the second layer is for treatments (salt scurbs and bath salts), and the third they use for the livestock. Each layer is a slightly different color due to the amount of earth minerals they come into contact with. With the sun about to set, the salt pans looked metallic with shimmers of silver and gold, breathtaking!!!
Day three to come..
Travel tip shared by Mindy Vanderhoof