We awoke at 6:30am to have the included breakfast at Hatun Quilla (Booking.com) and to get ready for the day. Breakfast consisted of 2 rolls each, tea, butter, espresso, and jam. We left our 3kg of dirty laundry at the hotel to be washed for 5 soles per kilogram.
Today we went on a tour to the Sacred Valley with Llama Path. We met for our tour at 8am outside Llama Path’s office, and ended departing around 8:20am. Our group included 11 of us plus our guide Juan and driver Mario. 8 of us – including a father and son from San Antonio, us, and two couples travelling together (one from the UK and one from Boston) – start the 4D/3N Inca Trail tomorrow (although 2 groups start tomorrow so we may or may not be with them) and the three Canadian guys (on a six week South American trip) finished the 2D/1N Inca Trail yesterday.
First we stopped at a roadside market, which had snacks, bathrooms, pictures with llamas, and merchandise all for sale. We dislike tours that take us to designated shopping spots, as we are paying to go on a tour to see things, not to be taken to shops. Nonetheless, we made the most of our 25 minute stop and each bought a 10 sole warm alpaca hat from a nice, not-pushy Andean lady and used the 1-sole per person bathrooms.
Next we stopped at a view point overlooking the Sacred Valley to take pictures. Apparently most of the terraces you see in the Andes are natural. These terraces lead to an interesting layered look when viewing the mountains.
Finally, we made it to the Pisac archaeological site. We each had to buy 70 sole ‘partial’ tourist tickets for entry into the sacred valley sites (no ISIC card discount for the ‘partial’ ticket). The Inca-built agricultural terraces at Pisac were neat, and it was interesting to hear Juan talk about how the Incas grew almost everything here as the climate was just right. This particular site was supposedly their crop laboratory, where they tried new crops out before growing them in the Sacred Valley below. We explored the water ‘fountains’ which is where the town drew its water. Thia water was (and still is) being channeled here from 40-42 km away – and it was cold! We also got to walk through a tunnel while exploring the site during our 25 minutes of free time.
We traveled 60 minutes through the sacred valley to get to our lunch stop. We stopped in Urumba, where we were suggested to go to Incas House Restaurant 42 sole buffet. Juan claimed most anywhere else you would go in Urumba would be at least as expensive, but said we could go elsewhere on our own or order off the menu if we wished. Everyone in our group opted to eat at Incas House, but only 6 got the 42 sole buffet (which they didn’t rave about). We opted to each get a 18 sole soup – JT got Quinoa and Katie got corn cream. Both were decent, but not amazing. JT paid with a 100 sole note, but the server acted as if it was only 50 when giving change – shorting us by 50 soles ($18). It was quickly fixed when JT sternly pointed it out, but it was still disappointing.
Next we drove 30 minutes to the Ollyantambo archaeological site, which consisted of more Incan terraces. Juan gave a long introduction complete with a lot of history, which seemed to be a bit much for some in our group. First some people (including Katie) sat in rock windows and then others opted to sit on the ground (JT). Then we climbed to the top of the terraces, which was certainly a demanding climb for those having trouble with the altitude (Katie especially). The view from the top was excellent though. Juan gave a few more history lessons. From his talks, it is clear that he is likely an Incan descendent and is very proud of the Inca heritage. To Katie, this gave a biased slant to his talks but was indeed endearing at points. We also saw a bull ring (with a bull inside) down in Ollyantambo village. Finally, we walked across a cliff and came down a different way. Coming down was easier on the respiratory system, but harder on the knees.
Next we visited Chinchero, which was a high altitude plain with some terracing. There was hail on the ground too, probably part of the storms that dumped rain on us as we were driving over. Some locals gathered the hail into a mini-snowman, complete with sunglasses. You could see some tall peaks with glaciers in the distance including the third tallest peak in Peru (at 6500 meters).
Then we walked over to a textiles store. We were originally not too thrilled to visit another store, but they gave a nice presentation of how alpaca wool is cleaned, dyed, spun, and weaved. This opened our hearts, and we bought 2 pairs of alpaca socks for 25 soles total.
Upon returning to Cusco, we went to an individual briefing for our Inca Trail trek starting the next morning. Despite knowing that 8 people in our Sacred Valley tour group were going on Inca Trail treks, they still scheduled the pre-trek talks for before the tour would return (5pm and 6pm). We got our red porter bags (1 bag per half porter ($70)) and were notified that we should be at Regocijo Square at 4:30am. Then we went to eat pasta for dinner at a place near the Plaza de Armas, bought some more coco leaves and toilet paper for the trail, and then headed back to Hatun Quilla. Once at Hatun Quilla we picked up our clean laundry, notified them that we would be leaving around 4:15am, and arranged for baggage storage while hiking (free, although we gave a tip).
However, once we got back up to our room, we realized that three clothing items and our laundry bag had not returned with the rest of the laundry. Katie went downstairs to reception to notify the hotel that some of our laundry was missing. Katie had trouble explaining ‘women’s underwear’ to the guys at the front desk who only spoke limited English. Eventually, they called the manager/owner, who sent his wife over to the laundry place to attempt to find our missing clothing. The manager/owner and his wife seemed sincerely concerned that some of our clothing was missing. After two trips to the laundry place, she was able to successfully retrieve Katie’s two pairs of underwear and Columbia hiking pants – but the laundry bag was not found. We were just happy the clothing had been found, so we were not really upset about losing the laundry bag.
A few Incan facts we learned on the Sacred Valley tour:
3 rules (with consequences):
- Do not steal (or your hands will be cut off)
- Do not lie (or your tongue will be cut off)
- Do not be lazy (or you will be banished to work in the mountains with no food)
3 sacred foods:
- Coca leaves (of which we have bough a bag to assist with the altitude)
3 sacred animals:
- Snake, wisdom, of the ground
- Puma, strength, of the mountains
- Condor, of the heavens
- Soccer is indeed king here. We’ve seen lots of spray paint signs for high school soccer teams as well as fields in little villages.