Our days acclimatizing to the altitude in Cusco continued with a nice half-day drive to visit the Sacred Valley. We went through Haku Expeditions, who picked us all up at the Novotel in a 6 passenger jeep type vehicle and off we went! The drive took us up the far side of the valley to Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “sexy woman” in Spanglish) and through some of the more rural countryside. It was nice to see the more “normal” parts of Peruvian life, without all the touristy influence. It seemed to be mostly agricultural villages we passed by, small houses with livestock and fields nearby and beautiful countryside. We even passed a wandering llama! I wish I remembered more about the driver and guide, they were both very friendly and gave an excellent tour, I would join them again!
We took a few stops to admire the views, including “Condor Hill” near the village of Pisac and the Sacred Valley. The cerro (hill in Spanish) is terraced for growing crops but built into a vague shape of a Condor.
We learned a lot about the spiritual significance of many things and cultural history while in Peru, including the Incan Trinity – the Condor, the Puma, and the Snake. I think more so on this tour than on some of the others. These three animals are sacred in Incan culture because of what they represented to the Incan people.
The Puma, revered for its strength, signified courage and the ability to attack fear. The city of Cusco originally was laid out to resemble a puma to represent the city’s willingness to defend itself without fear.
The Snake for its speed and its movement represents the path of life, winding and searching. We didn’t stop at the fortress of Sacsayhuaman but it is supposed to be built in the shape of a snake.
And, the Condor, the ruler of the sky and master of the wind was the most important of the three. The Condor has many abilities including freedom, the ability to transcend earthly bodies and elevate the soul. The Condor is a large bird, standing over 4.5 feet tall (142cm) with a wingspan of nearly ELEVEN feet (330cm)! The Inca believed the Condor was immortal (their lifespan is actually very long, 50-80 years) and because of its ability to soar so high, could communicate directly with “the Creator”. We were told by our guides that since the Condor is a carrion eater, the Inca believed that the Condor could consume the spirit of the dead and raise the spirit to the Creator.
Our journey continued on to the Sacred Valley where we stopped to explore the ruins of Pisac, there is evidence of people living there from 800 B.C. The terraces that the Inca used to grow their crops are really very interesting, and beautiful. The way they built places to grow food and survive in the mountains of the Andes was ingenious. The terraces are stacked and built not to collapse and much thought and planning went into the directions they faced for the best sunlight, wind protection and the best way for water to drain without eroding the mountainsides. The amount of labor involved is staggering to think about. There was one terrace we didn’t get to visit, the ruins of Moray, where the terraces are a circle with a temperature difference of 27°F (15°C) from top to bottom. Maybe they were using the temperature difference to grow different types of crops at differing levels? Either way, amazing to wonder how they used the terraces for different things. Simply incredible, there is so much more of Peru we would like to explore.
After exploring the ruins we wandered through the Pisac market, a colorful and busy maze of outdoor stalls selling all kinds of handmade items, though much of what we saw was similar to what was in Cusco. After lunch we went to visit an animal sanctuary, the Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi. This sanctuary rescues local animals who have been injured or were involved in illegal capture for sale. Some of the poor animals appeared very beat up like one toucan was missing half its beak. We were told that the bird had been on display in a Peruvian upscale hotel in the lobby as…decoration? Since they didn’t want it to fly off, they’d clipped its wings but it was given enough slack on its chain than when it tried to fly away, it only fell and broke his beak off on the marble floor and then no longer wanted by the hotel since it was “pretty” anymore and needed much more care. Other animals had been hit by cars or found injured and would be re-released once healed, others would be residents indefinitely, like the toucan, depending on their various conditions. The sanctuary offered us an up-close look as some of the indigenous wildlife of Peru, including the condor. It was a nice stop on our way back to Cusco and we were happy to spend some money there to support their work.
On our way back we stopped the jeep to admire a field of quinoa…yes, quinoa. That superfood that is indigenous to Peru, is absolutely beautiful as it grows. I had no idea! If they had offered a tour of the farm and fields I think I would have paid for that or maybe I’m just weird. After taking a few roadside pictures (one of which is now enlarged to a 10×12 print, matted and framed in my kitchen) we continued on back to Cusco with one last mini-stop at the Cristo Blanco – the White Christ. This 26 foot (8 meters) tall statue was a gift after World War II from Arabic Palestinians after they were given refuge in Cusco. The statue is easily seen from anywhere in Cusco, especially when it is lit up at night. It is a smaller statue but similar to “Christ the Redeemer” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We took a few minutes to enjoy the statue and the view of Cusco but storm clouds were coming in and rain with it so we hopped back in the car and ended up back at the Novotel with time enough for a shower, a nap and dinner. It was a very nice day-trip to take from Cusco that we appreciated.
Next up we start our journey to Machu Picchu, make new friends, and test our limits.