Friday, July 24, 2009

Sacred Valley of the Incas

With Cusco as our base camp, we set out to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a vast landscape with incredible Inca ruins that scale mountains along the Urubamba river valley. Our first stop was Pisac, a fortress built high on the mountainside above a small town. We climbed up for hours among large terraces the Incas built for agriculture and to prevent erosion. After some grueling switchbacks, we arrived at castle-like buildings called Pisaqa where curving walls with finely shaped windows peer over the valley. We followed a path to Intihuatan, a large group of temples with beautiful rock masonry. There were water channels, solstice markers, and rock walls that were awe-inspiring. We walked through a tunnel to the Q'Allaqasa military fort which we explored before starting our descent, passing a group of dilapidated buildings that once housed Inca families.

The next morning we explored the Moray ruins. After a surprisingly short bus ride, we got off in what we thought was Cincero, a gateway town to the ruins, but which was actually a small town 30 minutes short of Cincero. Luckily, we hitched a ride with a nice Peruvian man who stopped to show us a beautiful lookout before taking us all the way to the ruins. The Moray ruins are a series of circular terraces that form several amphitheaters. Each level is said to have its own micro-climate. Clay stood in the bottom circle while I stood on the top level and, through song, we experienced the auditory depths of these mystifying ruins.

After climbing out of Moray, we jumped into a cheap 'colectivo' on its way to Ollantaytambo, which, although terrifying, got us to the town in record time. From the town we approached the ruins which spanned both sides of the valley walls. Ollantaytambo is a temple fortress believed to have been the home of Emperor Pachacuti who was the reigning Inca king during the building of Machu Picchu. The enormous rocks were carried up the steep mountainside and then shaped into smooth sturdy walls. Several rocks were left unfinished, reputedly because slaves quit in the middle of what must have been a near impossible construction project.

On day three of our self-guided Sacred Valley tour, we rose at 6:00am to ensure an early arrival at Sacsayhuamán. This beautiful fortress -or temple, experts disagree- of humongous limestone boulders carved in unique forms to create earthquake-proof walls. The largest of the stones weighs up to 200 tons. We walked along the undulating terraced walls and imagined what an intimidating and massive fort it must have been 1000 years ago.

After wandering for days among steep terraces, huge rock walls, and massive fortresses, the mystery and the majesty of the Sacred Valley of the Incas stays with you.


foster said...

I've never seen stones with such personality. I especially love the rounded corners. Thanks for these mind-blowing images of things previously unknown to me. Bravo!

Addie said...

Nice details...I can't believe people built that! Amazing