Tuesday 3rd May
Following a fun evening with some of the ex-pats last night, in The Real McCoy at a pub quiz to raise funds for another local charity – Challenge Peru- (they do this every week) I had discussed wanting to visit Moray- an Inca site that fascinated me and which I hadn’t seen. Carol suggested the best way to get there, a lovely 3-4 hour walk if I was up for it, taking in the Salt Pans – Salinera de Maras before various forms of transport back to Cusco so I thought why not. This proved to be quite interesting in more ways than one! From strange, potentially dangerous taxi drivers to amazing Inca sites to seeing local farmers working to incredible modes of transport....read on......
So I was instructed to start early and be out for 8am, which I was. I had asked a young girl who was staying in the hostel if she had wanted to come but had declined. First I had to get a taxi to Calle Pavitos where the “Urubamba Collectivo” runs from. This is where taxis wait, fill up and take you to Urubamba...slightly more comfortable than the bus. However when I arrived a pleasant looking guy asked me where I was going. For Moray you need to get off at Ramal (basically a junction) and get another taxi to the site. He insisted I should take his taxi and he would charge me 60 solis. I asked about the collectivo – it was 10 solis but a taxi from Ramal would cost me 45 solis. After some back and forth with my pigeon Spanish I said no I wanted to go on the collective so I got into a minibus with another group. Just as it was about to leave he stopped them told me to get out as there were 2 others for Urubamba. He then sent me to his car and said he would take me for 10 solis. As I waited more cars filed out full. I got out and asked him how long I would have to wait..he said 50 mins. I said no, took my bag and went to another car with 3 others leaving in 5 mins...I actually think I might have had a lucky escape. His car wasn’t even sitting ready to leave; it was parked up! So onwards to Ramal – 10 solis (about £2.50) for a 50 min journey is pretty good. When I was dropped here there were a couple of taxis waiting, one with 3 people already in. I was told they were going to Maras but I would have to pay more for Moray as I was the only one...15 solis. Slightly different to what the taxi driver in Cusco said! Again this taxi driver tried to persuade me to have him wait and bring me back to Maras for the salt pans. He doubted my ability to walk and said it would take all day..I told him I had all day!! So finally, safely dropped at Moray, I began my exploration..I might add this is one of the new sites added to the Bolleto ticket, which lasts 10 days, and you can visit about 9 sites at a cost 130 solis. If you choose to do any of them singly it costs you 70 solis but as this one has just joined you can still enter for 10 solis...result!
It was a beautiful day with only a few clouds in the sky..so I had to be careful of sunstroke..having already experienced this (that will come out in the Choq trek – last day) I got me hat out pronto!! There were a few tours there but not many and it was so peaceful with lots of butterflies – the lovely yellow ones I mentioned earlier – birds chirping and silence – no noisy tourists...a real delight to explore. Here is a little history of the site and the reason I wanted to visit. It is very different to the others I have seen..it almost looks like an alien landing site or a coliseum but they think it was an experimental station for plants and crops.
“The site contains unusual ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is about 30 m (98 ft) deep. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and bottom. This large temperature difference was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. In other words, Moray was perhaps an Inca agricultural experiment station. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system” .
OK, what else you need to know is the excavations have found different soil in the lower parts in comparison to what is in the surrounding area to try to grow other plants. The soil is believed to have been transported from Northern Peru and was very dark in comparisons to the clay, light coloured soil from the area, to try and grow other crops. They found coca leaves amongst other things which they tried but couldn’t grow so it is thought the Incas were having limited success. They have found what they think is a complicated irrigation system underground to capture the condensation, river water and rain...all in all it was a lovely site. In each Inca wall at intervals there are various protrusions which actually seem to be steps. I used a set that seemed to be in use to descend to the floor of the sit. Unless you were reasonably fit you wouldn’t manage this as some steps were spaced quite far apart or a bigger drop..I was the only one going down..it is also quite a climb back out. In the centre there seems to be an area for a fire or sacrifice ..the reason for my own hypotheses above..probably rubbish though!!
Anyway before I descended into this site there was a guy on a bike speaking English (well American actually) so I took the opportunity to ensure I knew the path Carol had mentioned back to Maras. I knew it wasn’t the road the taxi had brought me in as it took a convoluted way to get there. He said he didn’t but his colleague would, so we went to meet him. As we walked I asked him if he had been involved in the Downhill Cycle race that Carol and Paul competed in at the weekend and Carol got 2nd in the women’s race which she was as high as a kite about. He had but hadn’t got on very well. He remembered Carol and Paul so we chatted a minute. KB, his colleague as it turns out had organised the event and he gave me clear directions about where to go. As it turns out Chris was “Chris Van Dine” and is the actual Pan Am Downhill Cycle Champion..worth a Google to see some heart-stopping pictures of what these guys get up to..not for me..but Carol and Paul get such a buzz from this stuff.
So after exploring the site I set off on my little walk. This is real farming country and looks like something from war times. On the way to Moray I had seen oxen pulling a plough, here there were sheaves of corn either drying in the sun or already constructed into stacks. This area is part of Sacred Valley so very fertile. Along this very pretty and peaceful road I met women mostly, but some men tending or moving their animals , sheep and goats running together, little piglets kept with the sheep, some fine looking bulls and donkeys..all in small numbers but what you would expect from small holdings. It was just lovely. Once I reached Maras I wasn’t sure where to pick up the track for the Salt Pans so I had to ask a few people. Eventually I found it after wandering around a number of streets, encountering the odd bull wandering around the street with seemingly no owner and some men digging up potatoes on the outskirts. The track led me straight down to Sacred Valley past lots and lots of maize plants. I wasn’t sure what I expected to see from the Salt Pans but it was certainly a surprise when I did see them. On the way I met a few locals – a couple of old ladies carrying large loads of grass in the large shawls on their backs (these red shawls are used for carrying everything including the babies) a man with his donkey laden with grass, a dog tending a herd and deciding he didn’t like me but fortunately didn’t attack me plus the guy seemed to know it and pacified it before he moved on. The local people are all very friendly , smiling and greeting you...you just have to remember which part of the day it is so you greet them appropriately..”Buenas Dias” until lunch,” Buenas Tardes” for after lunch until about 9pm then “Buenas Noches”..often this gets shortened to Buenas...kinda lets you off the hook! So just when I thought the Salt Pans were the dried hillside I had past, I rounded a corner to see a mass of white at various levels. From the distance I couldn’t tell if it was the roofs of houses or what it was but as I got closer I could see all the different levels of salt baths. From the first view point you think you have seen it all. It is only as you walk further along the path you realise how extensive they are. Most of the visitors ,who come in by car/ bus along a very contorted and long road, would never realise the true size as the rest are hidden around a bend. It truly was a wondrous sight. As with Moray I have added a bit of detail for those who are interested...
“Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the "farmers". The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond. The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond's bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond "farmers" that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond's earthen walls and on the pond's earthen floor. The pond's keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual "farmer". Some salt is sold at a gift store nearby. The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working. The effect of sunlight reflecting from the maze of ponds is quite stunning. “...
Quite interesting I thought. There were salt ornaments and pink salt for baths etc on sale in a shop on the site..I resisted. The bulk goes for table salt.
I had stopped here in the shade of a small church at the top of the site to have my lunch (I’d taken a couple of extra rolls from breakfast as I knew it was too early to get provisions before I set off). I don’t think I have mentioned the rolls here, but they are very flat and mostly quite hard. I am assured that seemingly yeast doesn’t function as well at altitude so it doesn’t rise..whatever the reason is, that just how the rolls are and are challenging to cut open cleanly. Invariably you have a hole 80% of the time with jam, or whatever gooey filling you may have, leaking out!
As mentioned in the last blog I also saw lots of wooden crosses of Christ sitting out, with people on watch nearby and fireworks being set off here giving me the fright of my life! As with all the churches the doors were lying open for those wishing to enter. I sat outside on one of the benches.
So onward on my walk.... it ended up coming up onto the main road again but further down from where I had left it. This time, however, I wasn’t sure which direction to walk in..my gut feeling was to turn right and (for a change) this proved right! The road had brought me out below Urubamba so I now had to flag down one of the collectivo taxis. The first couple went past, heaving with people, but the next one stopped. A young couple whom I had passed at the Salt Pans also got on this one. This was a real eye opener. This was your standard minibus with about seating for 12. By the time the driver had finished there were 24 of us on this bus (Maureen calls them the clam buses)!! Just when you thought there was no way to squeeze any more people in he would look in his mirror at us and stop again..he obviously spied a space we couldn’t see!! I had to laugh. In front of me one of the school kids was obviously doing her homework project.... Stinking little sticks together with glue making a raft, as far as I could see. I was impressed, as it was quite intricate work and the bus was a tad rickety. She didn’t surrender the spare seat beside her until the very last and pressure from the other passengers! Once in Urubamba the bus came to a final halt at the bus terminal – cost 70 centimos (less than 20p). As it turned out the girl (from the young couple) spoke some English when I had asked her, in Spanish, where the bus stop to Cusco was. She guided me through the bus terminal to the relevant side for the Cusco buses. Here we bought tickets for Cusco with seat numbers on them (cost 3.50 solis – so again less than £1 - cheap for 1.5 hours travel). The numbers were obviously written on our tickets from memory because the couple had to go back out and check as their numbers were duplicated. It took me a minute to find out how I knew which seat to sit in. I knew I had seat 15 but couldn’t see the number. It was written in pen on the panel above the seat! I thought this means of transport seems better and more organised...I should have held that thought! Just as we were about to leave, on piled all the school kids until we were fit to burst! I don’t think they must pay for transport as I never saw any money exchanged. I don’t think there is such a thing as a timetable as it only moved when we were nearly full and there was lots of shouting “Bus para Cusco”. Anyway loaded with people and anyone with large packages could have them launched onto the top of the bus via the ladder up the side of the bus by the young boy who seemed to act as a type of conductor; or they could sit on your knee. This is where my rucksack stayed for the next hour and a half, as we stopped and started (literally... as the engine cut out every time he stopped to let someone off), until we reached Cusco. The bus really was a bone-rattler and the window next to me, I felt sure, was going to fall out of its runners either on top of me or out! The bus never seemed to empty..as the school kids got off more piled in so there were always lots of people standing. It definitely was like one of those films you watch in India with people jumping on and off buses. In Cusco the bus reversed into a small yard and we all piled out onto the street. This wasn’t the bus station I had been at last year but could see I was near where I had been dropped in the morning for the collectivo. I couldn’t see any taxis so walked, in what felt like the right direction. It was still light and there were lots of people about, some smartly dressed so I felt it was OK to walk. I could see the cathedral roof a short way off and soon realised where I would come out. It wasn’t that far to my hostel. I might add I did flag down a taxi a little earlier but when I told him where I wanted to go he said “No”. Some taxi service that was, especially considering it wasn’t that far!!
.....All in all it had been a very interesting day!!