Travel Journal



We decided to hire a driver/guide to take us to Cusco as there were a number of interesting sites enroute and the local buses would not take us there. We had prebooked Percy Salas to pick us up at our hotel first thing in the morning. Percy was a middle-aged man who once worked for the tourism dpeartment of the government.. He told us he chose to be an independent tour guide because of the flexibility and better pay.

First on our itinerary was "Semenario" in Urubamba. We had passed it on the way to Ollanta a few days ago and I had dismissed it as a potential tourist stop, thinking it was like a semenary of priests or religious order. Was I wrong! Seminario is the name of a famous ceramics designer who had a huge workshop in the town. He and his wife use pre-Inca design to create the most beautiful objects. I promptly fell in love with his work! We were taken on a tour of the facility (we were the only ones there) where each step of the process was demonstrated for us. We browsed the show room, admiring/desiring many items. We ended up purchasing some bowls, and I wish now I had splurged to purchase some of the wall art and vases (they would have needed to be shipped to Canada)

Afterwards we climbed out of the Sacred Valley and followed a dusty road through that high plateau to visit Salineras, a unique salt facility run by the people. We were told that the Incas had discovered a natural spring that contained about 70% salt. Thousands of pools were built and when the sun evaporated the water, a thin crust of salt was left. The people of the area still work the "salt mines". It is quite a unique sight in the middle of vast flatness of the Andean high plateau.

Returning to the main road to Cusco, we took another detour to visit an Incan phenomenon, the "rings" of Moray. In three large natural depressions, the Inca built terraces in cocentric circles looking somewhat like a Greek amphitheatre. There are a number of theories as to why the Incas built them, but most accepted is that it was a kind of experimental agricultural laboratory, based on the fact that at each level a different microclimate is evident, irrigation canals are included and a variety of different seeds were found scattered around the site. Another unique place in the Andean plateau...!

Our next stop was the little town of Chinchero, whose claim to fame was the excellence in textile production. Although somewhat off the beaten track, many tourists come on market days to check out the works of talented weavers. It wasn't market day for us but Percy took us to a private house where the women, wearing their traditional clothiing, gave a detailed demonstration of their craft. Beautiful work!

As we approached Cusco, I asked Percy if we could add to our itineray a quick stop at Sacsayhuaman (or "sexy woman", as tour guides joke). This Inca fortress sits high above the town of Cusco. The walls contain some amazingly huge stones fitted so perfectly together that experts are puzzled as to how the Incas accomplished this. Today the large open field inside the walls is home to the huge solstice celebration (worshipping the sungod) and is a place many locals come to stroll or picnic.

Cusco looked very beautiful from our viewpoint at Sacsayhuaman, almost European with its sea of red tile roofs. As Percy drove us down into the city and eventually to our hotel, we were excited to have the next day to explore this Inca capitol and UNESCO world heritage site. Our colonial-style hotel was conveniently situated near the main square, very close to several recommended museums and churches. We had one and a half day in the city so our agenda was full.

On the afternoon of our arrival we checked out the lay-of-the-land in the Old Town. The Plaza des Armes (or main square) with the huge cathedral looming on one side, was teaming with people. Streets were narrow and cobble-stoned and lined with small shops. The whole atmosphere reminded us of a Spanish town. We wandered a bit, found a restaurant recommended by Percy for dinner (and it was excellent) and retired early.

Cusco has a number of excellent museums of pre-Inca and Inca history. We spent the next morning enjoying their well-organized exhibits, then toured the grand baroque cathedral. The cathedral was built in the mid 1700s on top of an Incan palace to celebrate the victory over the Inca. It is lavishly decorated with paintings from the Baroque Cusco school of artists and has a massive gold main alter. It rivals many grand churches of Europe and we were impressed.

Later in the afternoon we wandered narrow streets of the artsy San Blas neighbourhood, coming across a small craft market in a square and checking out the wares of local artists. Back in the main square we enjoyed a pre-dinner glass of wine on a balconey overlooking the Plaza. Our dinner that night again was excellent--we are so impressed with the food in Peru and are certain we have gained a few extra pounds... We were off on the "Inka Express" bus to Puno early in the morning so another early night for us!