Losing My Mind in the Ancient Land of Salt, Wind and Hills

Cruising the Sacred Valley – Maras l Moray 

I have been a regular traveler ever since I was around 16 years old. I have always dreamt about going abroad. I spent most of my time shuttling back and forth between Thailand and the U.S. during the second half of my adolescence as I built a relationship with my host family in Minnesota. I have grown accustomed to going to the airports, staying abroad for months at a time. So much so that traveling does not scare me anymore, I look forward to it. I love the excitement of adventure and traveling solo. I would do a 10-day backpack alone in France and Spain and Portugal in my early 20s when friends at home would travel together domestically.

After I started working, I didn’t earn so much and the day of family support is over, I did not travel as much as I used to do when I used to save from my own allowance plus I started traveling for scuba diving a lot, an activity that I have come to fall in love and had been a very big part of me. I dove in the Maldives, Indonesia, Philippines and Egypt and these travels were always in groups. Later I traveled again for school in the US and of course studying and trying to find a job did not leave time/money to go elsewhere that is not home in Thailand and the U.S which has been my home for five years. Staying in the U.S gets me accustomed to comfort, the usual and routine of things – I must admit that I become scared of the outside of the comfort zone and forgot who I really am and the wanderlust I used to have.

I took off to Peru, quite a giant step away from my comfort zone. I was warned about the taxis that I should not take, the places I must not go alone – listened to the advice. I anticipated for the worst but like they said in business, no risk no return. I decided to be reckless but within the safety limit – staying at nicer hotels, getting on taxis that are arranged by the hotels etc. They all worked out great – with a bit more money I put in. Spend when you have to spend, do not compromise on your safety when you are a female traveling alone.

I decided to skip sightseeing in Lima because I was not looking for traffic and city lights. I had to stay a night and I dreaded the experience because of the traffic that was only second to Bangkok. I caught a flight after the morning I landed to Cusco, the capital city of the Inca Empire.

Cusco is strategically located in the Andes, it is the town that is the birthplace of the Inca Empire. It is located at 11,000 feet above sea level and many people have problems acclimatizing when coming from the sea level (Take Seattle or Bangkok). I was advised to start off in the Sacred Valley which is in a lower altitude to acclimatize so I decided to take on Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu before circle back to see Cusco and off to the Amazon.

I asked my hotel in Ollantaytambo to arrange a transportation to pick me up from the Cusco Airport with a stop along the way to see Maras Salt Mine and Moray ruins before dropping me off in Ollantaytambo, which is a pitstop town for the train to Machu Picchu. The ride in a rather good condition Toyota Yaris taxi costs an extra $75, which, given the distance (More than 80 km) and my driver’s reliability I think it is a great price.

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Welcome to the Sacred Valley 

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 The Field of Dreams

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The Snowcapped Andes contrasting the arid terrain of the valley

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Making a living

The ride along the way is absolutely gorgeous. The meandering road from Cusco to Ollantaytambo took us through the hilly terrain of the valley. The towns along the way reminds me of rural Thailand and Indonesia but the way of living is completely different. I did not see the sign of struggle for materialism like I did in Thailand or Indonesia, all I see is the well preserved way of living. There are traditional houses, corn fields (Best corns I have ever eaten in my life are in Peru), animal herds – literally the field of dreams, and of course, you are surrounded by the hills and peaks of the Andes.

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The Many colors of the Andes

First stop of the day is the ancient salt mine (Salinas) of Maras. I cannot really remember the entrance fee (something along the line of 10 soles and it does not include in the turistico boleto – a tourist pass to various ruins in the valley – 130 soles). I have come to learn about the difference each type of salt can make during the cooking class I took in Seattle a while back. There is a reason the expensive salt is expensive because the saltiness it gives can make food tastes significantly better or worse. It all depends on the mineral the salt accumulates. The salt of Maras is also world famous.What is even more exciting is the beauty of this place.

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Salt mine that belongs to all in the community

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Saltwater that runs through the crack of the ponds, drying with sunlight in the process

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Pachamama (Spanish for Mother Nature) in the works 

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The brown ponds are not ready for harvesting, they need sunlight for the salt in the pond to dry up

Salt water has been running through the soil of the salt mine even before the Inca time and has been producing salt for the locals since. Each family in the community can request to own a pond by petitioning for it and is on the first come first serve basis. Those who own it from the very beginning gets the pond that is close by.

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Maras towner with her signature Andean braids and outfit. The hat is so fashionable just like what I see on Instagram of my Thai friends 😀

After a full appreciation of mother nature at the salt mine, the driver continued on the road for the first ruin I see in Peru, the Moray agricultural station. This ruin entrance is included in the tourist pass which can be purchased at the entrance to Moray as well.

Moray agricultural terraces are believed to be the agricultural station that the Incas used to experiment with different kinds of vegetation. The temperature from the bottom to the top are different by 15 celsius . Pretty clever use of land, don’t you think? Really simple but really intuitive.

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Moray agricultural terracing

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Moray against the magnificent backdrop 

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The stone masonry work of the Incas, terracing is the main feature of their ruins

Next stop is Ollantaytambo. More amazing stuff to see in the next posts!

XXOO,

Fon

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