Peru Photojournal, Part 2
This half of my travel journal will cover what I consider the ‘spiritual heart’ of Peru. Namely, the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu.
Our journey began snug in the Andes, with a bus taking us from Cuzco airport…
… past whispering hills
… deeper into the Sacred Valley.
We passed striking scenes of mountain life, contented livestock…
… and happy Incan children.
We stopped for lunch at Chinchero, a picturesque village perched atop a hill.
Left: Quinoa soup, stuffed peppers
Right: Coca tea
Even though it was quite heavy on tubers and grains, I really enjoyed this lunch.
And here’s a whole roasted guinea pig (cuy), a Peruvian delicacy.
We weren’t offered this, understandably… but later on, I caught our guide FEASTING on this platter with another local. Quite funny that our guide gets a ‘fancier’, more protein-based meal than us!
After lunch, we were shown hand-weaving techniques. Alpaca wool is dyed naturally using a variety of plants… and insects!
Another bus ride, then we spent the evening exploring the ruins surrounding this town.
Top: View from hotel room in Urubamba | Ollantaytambo ruins (on the hill)
Bottom: Ollantaytambo town
We liked this township so much that we returned here the next day to explore it more.
Ollantaytambo is an ancient Incan town and archaeological site that, amazingly, has continued to function till today.
It’s also considered the gateway to Machu Picchu. The 3-day Inca Trail that leads to the sacred ruins starts from this town.
We decided to climb up one of the mountains to explore this ancient granary that overlooked the town.
View from the granary
Cobblestoned streets, timeworn roofs, trapezoidal doorways, quiet courtyards…
…circled by mountains with the breeze in your ears… it was peaceful.
Walking down the narrow streets, the roll of clear running water down the stone aqueducts lent a beautiful audio backdrop.
We were definitely very, very far away from home…
Papa a la Huancaína (potatoes in yellow sauce)
Rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper) | corn snack
The comida tipica (local fare) here was less exciting though. Outside of Lima, most of our meals were not that appetising.
Different varieties of Peruvian corn
And… don’t laugh… but Peruvian fare made us quite gassy all the time.
We visited Machu Picchu the easy way… by training it there rather than hiking. And I’m thankful for that, the high altitudes (and rainy weather) made it hard to do anything strenuous.
Still, the whole journey took awhile, involving a 1.5hr train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.
View from the bus
Then there’s a precarious 30min bus ride up the side of the mountain to the actual site. By this point, the scenery already started looking pretty spectacular.
With my heart in my throat, we stepped into the Lost City of the Incas.
I love ruins and lost civilisations, this has been one archaeological site that I’ve always wanted to visit since I was a teenager.
But after all the images I’ve seen in books and on TV, I half-expected to be a bit disappointed by the real deal.
I couldn’t have been more wrong…
The site was magnificent.
In between bursts of phototaking, I just stood silently, and stared…
And a part of me wished…
it really really wished…
… that we’d had more than just the one day to spend there.
It’s the sort of place where you’d drink in the view silently, and then think to yourself ‘okay. I can die now’.
Here I am, at the spiritual city of the Incas, built at an almost impossible spot. Placed atop a mountain… surrounded in all directions by valleys, rivers and even more mountains.
It’s a site that gives a sense of changelessness,
of inviolable peace…
…a location that I will never forget.
Cusco is a big city (with half a million people) high up in the sacred valley. It’s where most people fly in to get to Machu Picchu.
Like many cities in Peru, most parts of Cusco looked a little bit unfinished.
But its historical centre, where our hotel was, is very charming and European-looking.
Breakfast at Hotel Libertador, Cuzco
It rained quite a bit when we were there, so we didn’t wander all that much.
However, a lot of doorways did beckon exploration…
…and they always seemed lead into beautiful courtyards.
Being a bigger city, we had more interesting food here. Including lunch at a local cebicheria, complete with live music and indoor umbrellas.
Unfortunately, this meal gave a few of us tummy troubles!
We also tried Peruvian Chinese fare, called ‘Chifa’ – which is a loose translation of 吃饭 chi fan (Chinese for ‘eat rice’).
Sadly, the cuisine has gone very tangential over the centuries and the flavours leant towards being too sweet for my palate. Only the hot and sour soup on the left was nice.
Dinner at Chicha
Taboule Cusqueo (quinoa salad) | Chaufa Andino de Quinua y Cuy (deep fried guinea pig w chifera sauce)
Pannacotta de lúcuma | Creme Brulée Mazamorrera (served over purple maize pudding)
One of the better meals we had was at Chicha por Gastón Acurio. I had deep fried guinea pig with Chinese-style fried ‘rice’ (but using quinoa). It was fragrant with wok hei (fire of the wok). I also enjoyed the desserts, lucuma is a less common fruit (called chiku ‘चीकू’ in Northern India) that I used to eat in Singapore.
Tram on wheels in Cuzco
That’s the end of the Sacred Valley leg of Peru, I hope you enjoyed it. To have a sense of the other parts of Peru that we visited, take a look at Peru Photojournal, Part 1.
In the next travel instalment, I will be covering the widely contrasting landscapes in Chile!