THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS
THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS
Ever since we left the Andes, the landscape has changed completely. We don’t mean the absence of mountains or the Pacific along which we’ve been driving on the Pan-American Highway for hours already. It’s the barren and dry desert landscape that we are amazed about. We’ve heard of the sand dunes on the Peruvian coast, but we were not aware of the how many hundreds of kilometers they stretch.
We reach the capital and look forward to exploring it in the next few days. Right on the first evening, we visit one of the many “Cevicherias” and order the national dish of raw fish in lime juice enriched with onions and tomatoes. Among connoisseurs Lima is considered as a culinary metropolis and we therefore plan to visit one or the other restaurant. But things often turn out differently than expected… After returning from dinner, we find that one of the solar panels was torn from the roof and stolen, even though we parked our vehicle in a guarded parking lot with cameras and security guards. Of course, we heard and read about the dangers in Lima beforehand and therefore – at least that’s what we thought – we took appropriate precautions. But neither the camera recorded anything nor has the security guard seen someone and he asks only “if it had not been stolen before”… And we’re not the only ones! We meet a French family whose entire motorhome was cleared of valuables while they were shopping in the supermarket and a German couple had their backpack cut open and their wallet stolen. That’s too much of a good thing and we decide to just replenish our supplies in one of the well-stocked supermarkets and then turn our backs on the big city much earlier than planned.
EVEN MORE SAND
Again, we drive through a sandy landscape, but this time we expect it to be. After all, our destination is right in the middle of these sand dunes. It’s the small and somewhat touristic oasis “Huacachina” where we want to spend the next days. During the day, the sun burns mercilessly from the sky so we enjoy the pool of our campground, but as soon as the fireball is lower in the sky we put on socks and shoes – the hot sand burns blisters in the soles of our feet otherwise – and discover the mini-Sahara on foot, with the drone and once with a buggy tour. Like a madman, the driver races up and down the dunes, making us feel like we’re on a roller coaster and we only remain in our seats thanks to the tight seat belts. At one of the photo stops on top of a dune ridge with a great view, we get a sandboard pressed into our hands and a few short instructions on how to use it. The most important rule is “to keep your mouth closed at all times and under all circumstances”… You can only guess how good the extensive shower felt afterwards. ?
BACK INTO THE MOUNTAINS
Somehow we almost missed them, the winding roads through the Andes and on the second day at the latest, a feeling of familiarity sets in… Yes, we said goodbye to the coast and are on our way to “Cusco”, the center of the Inca culture in Peru. En route, we make a small detour to visit the “Aguas Turquesas” of Millpu. We received this insider tip long ago from a fellow traveler and after a two-day journey on bumpy dirt roads we also know why this emerald-green stream is not often visited… Thanks to today’s GPS technology it’s easy to find but all technology doesn’t help to get there any faster. And we are lucky, just as we park our expedition mobile and start hiking, the cloudy sky clears up and a short time later we let ourselves be enchanted by the magnificent color of the stream.
THE OLD INCA CAPITAL
After three more driving days through the Andes with thousands of curves and crossing several mountain passes we reach «Cusco». We camp a little outside the former Inca city, which today benefits from the many remains of the ancient kingdom and proudly presents them all spruced up. We wander aimlessly through the narrow streets and over plazas and treat ourselves to a “Pisco Sour” at sunset, the national drink of Peru. It’s a distillate that, unlike Italian Grappa, is not made from pomace, but from grape juice and is preferably served on ice with whipped egg whites, some sugar and lime juice. We find that every gram of the six to eight kilos (!) of grapes per liter are well invested – cheers! ?
Then we receive a message from Leah and Karl and learn that our friends we had to let go prematurely in the north of Peru are nearby. So, we don’t stay any longer, leave «Cusco» and head for the sacred valley.
What a joyful reunion as we embrace the two of them and over a pleasant dinner we exchange our adventures since our paths separated. Then we make plans to explore the “Sacred Valley”. Together we visit some of the many Inca ruins in the area and marvel at the huge, well-preserved terraced slopes on which the Incas not only lived but also farmed. At the ruins of “Moray” they built the fields as circular terraces in order to create their own microclimate. This enabled the Incas to control irrigation more efficiently and to achieve a temperature difference of up to 15 degrees Celsius between the top and the bottom terrace, with the advantage that different plants thrive at the same time on the different levels.
In contrast to those fields, the salt terraces of the “Salinas de Maras” are still in use today. A cooperative in the nearby village decides about the salt mining and when which pools are supplied with the extremely saline water from the underground spring. After the pools have dried up, each family extracts the salt independently. In the rainy season we are told, all the salt basins lie fallow because the fresh water that falls from the sky in the form of rain makes salt extraction impossible.
THE HOLIEST OF ALL MOUNTAINS
At the very end of the sacred valley, not even connected to civilization by a road, lies one of the most sacred places of the Incas, the famous “Machu Picchu”. For weeks, we’ve been debating whether to remember this Inca site as we experienced it 10 years ago on our first visit. The ever-growing rush of visitors since being named one of the 7 new wonders of the world was certainly not conducive to the mystical atmosphere… But we get tickets at short notice for the earliest possible entrance at sunrise and so we hop on the panorama train to “Aguas Calientes”, the gateway to the Machu Picchu. We are astonished at the number of hotels and the crowds in the restaurants, although it’s not even high season at the moment. But we do also enjoy the advantages of the infrastructure designed for international tourism, eat in a French-Peruvian restaurant and treat ourselves to an Italian ice cream for dessert. ? Then it’s early bedtime because at 4 o’clock in the morning we have to be at the bus stop to actually make it on board the first bus. The half-hour drive through the darkness only lets us guess how steep the serpentines are. Once at the top, after a very strict access control with ticket and passport, we get the green light and hike the last few meters up to the famous view point. By the time the sun rises over the horizon behind us and puts the old Inca city in a golden light, we don’t regret coming back a second time. It’s definitely a magical place and a majestic sight and we enjoy the tranquility before the big crowds arrive. Only three hours later, the ruins present themselves not only proverbially in a completely different light. Hundreds of visitors now walk around the ruins like ants and we decide that the time has come for us to leave the no longer so magical place.
After that much culture and history, we are drawn back to nature. What we don’t know yet is that our next and at the same time one of the last stops in Peru will be an absolute highlight. In “Cusco” we saw pictures of a “Montaña Arco Iris” – a rainbow mountain – in the travel agencies again and again. Thanks to our home-on-wheels, we are neither dependent on transport nor accommodation and set off on our own. It’s not easy to get there, the last kilometers are again bumpy, steep and our engine is fighting for every bit of oxygen. After all we are once more at 4800 meters above sea as we reach the parking lot. We pack our backpacks with food, water and a thick down jacket and start walking. What we then get to see after a not even long but very exhausting ascent is truly magnificent! It is a mountain ridge that shimmers in all sorts of colors and only a short hike to the next view point reveals an amazing view into a red-green shining valley. It looks as if nature experimented with a paint box and we can hardly get enough of it! We like it so much, that we decide to make a detour to visit a second, less known rainbow mountain not too far away. Again, nature doesn’t let us down: instead of one mountain ridge, there are several that look as if a rainbow fell from the sky and colored the ground. To anticipate it right away, some of the stunning vistas will be featuring in our next movie. ? Until it’s ready you have to be a little patient, because the famous Bolivian lagoons route is supposed to be part of the film too and so we are on our way to discover it and collect some more footage…