Flight to the Sacred Valley
Trip Start May 08, 2011
8Trip End May 16, 2011
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Cuzco is in a little bowl surrounded by hills, so before we could get to lower ground we had to climb over the surrounding hills. On the way we stopped at our first Inca ruins, a site called Saqsaywaman. Actually the original site was probably built around a thousand years ago, but the Incas expanded it and it was probably used as a fortress to defend Cuzco, which was not only the Inca capitol, but considered to be the center of the world. Our Cuzco guide, Cesar, pointed out the incredible stonework--massive stones brought from who knows where, who knows how, and fitted together (without mortar) so perfectly that you can't pass a sheet of paper between them. Amazing to think this was all built by people who had no wheels or iron tools.
After a picnic lunch overlooking the spectacular views of the Andes, we went to look at the local residents, the camelids. This is the technical term for the family of animals that includes llamas, vicunas, alpacas, and guanacos, as well as camels and dromedaries. I still can't tell a llama from a vicuna but we had a ball feeding the animals and taking their pictures. Although they do eat the meat, Peruvians raise these animals primarily for their soft wool, and we all enjoyed browsing through the beautiful woven bags, blankets and sweaters. It was also here that we got our first taste of coca tea. They sell it everywhere and we found it on the hotel breakfast buffets as well. It's a great picker-upper when you're exhausted from trying to breathe the thin Andean air.
Then we started the drive down (down is definitely a relative term here) into the Sacred Valley to our hotel at 9000 ft. The Hacienda del Valle will be our base for the next 4 nights, although we will pack an overnight bag and spend one of those nights at Machu Picchu.
The hotel was charming and full of beautiful flowers, details of tile and stonework, and even friendly farm animals. The beauty of the surroundings made it worth the uphill hike to the rooms. By the fourth day, I could make it up the hill without stopping for a breath and water break!