Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Road Trip - Andean Mountains

Written by Karen.
I confess that before we took this journey I didn't know much about the specifics of Incan history.  As we have delved deeper and deeper into South America, my fascination with the historical specifics has grown significantly.  It is aided by the close proximity of living, seeing, breathing, touching and walking through historical sites and the majestic and awesome angular beauty of the Andes.  

We saw both yesterday as we took a road trip from Cusco to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley.  We left Cusco expecting to take a bus, but one thing led to another, which led to another, which eventually led us to Max.  We hired Max and his car to take us to Ollantaytambo to allow us to take our time and stop along the road to take pictures.  Besides, what better tour guide could we have than a local Peruvian?

The Andes in January/February are still green. Impossibly green with yellow flowers dusting the mountains as if a light snow had fallen.  The patchwork squares of verdant and striped planted greens march up and down hills and give way to raging rivers, yellow, orange and brown fields and reddish-brown hills and high desert. The shadows and light from the rapidly changing and fast moving clouds highlight for a moment then change and showcase another vista, taking with it your eyes and attention.

The beauty was simply breathtaking.  The colors; the shadows and light; the height and cragginess of the dark mountains, still topped with snow; the simple agricultural daily rhythms; and, the seemingly endless open spaces and vistas.  I was smitten.  

Max asked if we wanted to see some off-the-beaten track Incan ruins, and of course, we said yes.  We left the two-lane paved highway, and began driving down a dirt road towards the small pueblo of Moras, and then back into the hills until we reached the archeological site of Moray (10,824 feet above sea level).  These Incan ruins were discovered in the 1930's and are thought to be a series of planting terraces that have similar greenhouse principles to planting principles used in modern times.  Each ringed terrace that goes deeper into the earth gets warmer and warmer, with the lowest being downright hot.  We wound up climbing down most of the terraces, just to get a feeling of the changes in temperature.  

Our road trip was initially expected to take 1-1/2 hours, but wound up being 4 hours long with all of the stops and off-the-beaten track sights that we saw.  Maybe one of the slowest road trips ever - after all Ollantaytambo is about 45 miles away from Cusco - but this road trip was not about speed or efficiency.  The beauty and sense of history and our place in history that we saw and now understand a bit better was memorable and absolutely priceless.  

Incan ruins on the side of the road.  Most likely grain storehouses.
Pueblo of Moras 
Incan planting terraces as you look from the top.  In order to get down to the bottom, you walk down the path that you can see towards the back of the picture.  You can see the lighter color path against the green as you make your way further and further down into the terraces.
The steps to get down each terrace are built into the terrace.  Each terrace is about six feet high and the stones are between 2 and 3 feet apart.
Enjoying the heat!

Carved stones closer to the entrance of the Moray ruins.
More views of the Andean mountains as we leave the Moray ruins and make our way down a small, rutted dirt road towards the Urubamba district of the Sacred Valley.

Urubamba district 

The Sacred Valley is so named due to this area being considered some of the best land in the Incan empire.  As a result, this land was not only a part of the Incan empire, but was the property of the Incan emperors.


David in SF said...

Fantastic pictures! It's nice that you were really able to get off the beaten path, literally- how fascinating to see such sites/sights where most guide book-carrying throngs of tourists wouldn't know about. Great travelling!

Observers of Life said...

Thanks David! If you can believe it, the pictures don't really do this place justice! There is so little air pollution that the light and the shadows and the colors just pop! Truly a memorable trip!


Anonymous said...

I am very much enjoying what you write and of course your great photographs! Steve Stubbs

PS. I'm passing on the link to John Mora, who I'm sure would appreciate your blog.

Observers of Life said...

Hi Steve!

Thanks! I'm really glad that you are enjoying the journey! Thanks for passing the link along....the more the meriier!