Category Archives: ruins

Inca Life: The Sacred Valley Peru

We had already gone over our ‘time budget’ for Peru, but we couldn’t resist the pull of the Sacred Valley, framed by it’s magnificent snow capped peaks.

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It would be impossible to take a bad photo of the Salineras de Maras, as we wandered through in the fading light of the day. Salt has been farmed here since pre Incan times, and it all starts with a salty water spring nearby. The water flows through narrow channels down into hundreds of handmade drying ponds. The colour of the salt varies once it has been collected. Apparently it takes more time and skill to get the pure white salt. Despite this, I thought that the salt stained pink by the red dirt from the valley was the prettiest.

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And if this place wasn’t already cool enough, they also let us camp in the carpark without batting an eyelid. “Si, es normal“. They just locked the bathroom, telling us it was fine to water the garden.

Sacred Valley 08Sacred Valley 09Mornings with THIS guy, and THAT hair.

Another visual delight in the Sacred Valley is the agricultural ruins of Moray. These massive circular depressions are thought to be the site of agricultural experimentation during Incan times. The different levels would have provided different growing conditions. Walking around, it definitely felt hotter down the bottom, which was also much more sheltered from the wind.

So pretty much, it was a big Incan veggie garden. Although it looked stunning covered in grass, we couldn’t help but wish that it was still packed with fruit and veggies.

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If it isn’t already blatantly obvious, we have loved the food in Peru. This lady, with her delicious road side treats, made our morning. Street food hasn’t been this good since Mexico, and unlike Mexico, we haven’t been sick once.

Sacred Valley 15Sacred Valley 16Rocoto Relleno and our favourite…aji salsa. Aji might be the best flavoured chilli pepper of all time.

On the recommendation of my mum and dad, i.e. “if you go there we’ll shout you something”, we visited one of the weaving cooperatives in Chinchero. It was so much nicer than going to the markets, which are amazing, but are a complete sensory overload. We were able to see the ancient process the ladies still use to naturally dye the wool, and chat to them about their amazing work. They have a judging system, where they grade each others finished products before sale.

Sacred Valley 17 Sacred Valley 18 Sacred Valley 19 Sacred Valley 20 Sacred Valley 21The lady on Mark’s right made this one. Judged to be first class work.

It was time to finally leave Peru. What an amazing time we have had here. They really have it all. Amazing desert landscapes, magnificent mountain ranges and mystical cloud forests. Old and new exist together here, creating a rich and interesting culture. Most importantly though, the food has been a revelation. From the fancy restaurants to roadside stands, Peru has delighted our tastebuds every step of the way.

Posted from La Paz, Bolivia.

A Misty Morning : Machu Picchu Peru

Although you can’t drive all the way to Machu Picchu, you can get pretty close.

The drive from Cusco took us through some amazing scenery, from the open farmland of the Sacred Valley, up through the alpine meadows and down again into the jungle.

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Towards late afternoon we left the tarmac and took the sketchy dirt road to Santa Teresa. We could hardly see the road through the dust and were relieved to make it to Santa Teresa before sundown, without being thrown off the sheer cliffs by speeding taxi drivers.

Machu Pucchu 32 Machu Pucchu 33 Dust banditos

The next morning, we parked the van near the Hydroelectric station and walked the line to the town of Aguas Calientes. This is the cheapo way to get to Machu Picchu.

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We were up nice and early in the morning to climb the steep trail to Machu Picchu. We had planned to get there for the famed magical sunrise, but the weather did not cooperate. We hiked for an hour through thick fog and arrived at the gates drenched with a mixture of sweat and rain.

Visibility was about 10 metres, which gave the site a peaceful but eerie atmosphere. The thick fog enclosed us so that we felt like the only people there. When we could see other people they were just silhouettes. With the bright coloured gore-tex and sneakers hidden, we could almost imagine them to be the original residents going about their daily tasks.

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Since it was high season, we had bought our tickets a few days earlier in Cusco. The coveted permits for climbing Huayna Picchu were already taken, but we were able to get passes to climb the even higher Montaña Machu Picchu for some of the most spectacular views possible. We started the climb in a white out and joined the thirty or so people at the top as we all waited hopefully for the skies to clear.

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The sun finally broke through and lit up the mountains and the ruins site in all their splendour. We sat at the top for quite a while just soaking it all in.

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It was about lunchtime by the time we made our way back down to the ruins, so we found a spot on the terraced slopes to kick off the boots and have a lunch break before exploring a little more.

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The place really is pretty massive, you can wander around for hours and keep finding new places you haven’t yet visited.

Machu Picchu 19The Inca Bridge, this crazy trail runs along a sheer cliff

Despite how much we had read and how many amazing photos we had seen before arriving here, we were still impressed and awed. There’s just a really great vibe, and so many mysteries to ponder. You can spend all day wandering the ruins imagining all sorts of stories about the people that lived there.

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Also, the stone masonry is truly impressive. The stones fit together with such precision that mortar wasn’t necessary.

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Anyone who has visited Machu Picchu will tell you how overpriced the snack bar. We didn’t care, we were really ready for a beer after a few hours inside. But, we did bring our own snacks.

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Rested and refreshed we went back in for a few more hours of wandering as the sunlight waned. The crowds slowly thinned throughout the afternoon and as the light turned golden the place was feeling quite empty. Except for the maintenance staff and a few llamas.

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We had been looking forward to Machu Picchu since before we started our trip. It had become a bit of a milestone in our journey, but as the time came closer we had become quite apathetic about it. All our research on how to get there and how much it would cost made it seem like a logistical nightmare and an overpriced tourist trap. We’re so glad that those impressions were wrong.

We loved every minute… from the beautiful drive, walking the train lines and catching our first glimpse of the ruins way above us, to the bustling village of Aguas Calientes and the awesome street food vendors there (I especially liked the old ladies selling slices of their home made pineapple cake). And of course, the ruins themselves were absolutely stunning.

We both agree that our expectations were far exceeded.

Posted from La Paz, Bolivia.

Desert Drifting : Northern Peru

I love those fortuitous little meetings that happen every now and then on the road.  We pulled into a random driveway in Zorritos and found Casa de Diego. This chance meeting worked out really well for us. We had only planned to stay a night before moving on… but Diego found plenty of reasons for us to hang around. North Peru 01North Peru 02Casa de Diego. If you are ever in Zorritos, you should try to to stay here. 

We had a great time at his amazing beachfront house/hostel, hanging out in the evenings with music and beers and getting some good tips for our route through Peru.  But the best part was having Diego as our personal tour guide.  He took us to the best surf spots, introduced us to all the locals and took us to the best bakery in town. North Peru 03North Peru 04North Peru 05North Peru 06North Peru 07

He left the best surprise until our last night when he took us to the hot springs on the edge of town. “It will be perfect for your aching muscles after all that surfing” he assured us, as if we needed convincing. “And this hot spring is really special at night time.” We couldn’t help asking why. “You’ll see.”

Four of us jumped in the van and Diego directed us through town and onto a random dirt road that we would never have found on our own. When we got there it was completely dark, not even a moon to light the way. “Should I leave the headlights on?” I asked him. “No we don’t need them. I have a natural light here.” All he was holding was a cigarette lighter and a rolled up piece of paper. I was confused.

He lit the paper and held it over the hot spring which lit up with a huge whoompf.  The hot spring is actually an old drill well for oil and gas exploration.  Now, hot water bubbles up from the earth below bringing a bit of natural gas with it.  And this provided our mood lighting for the evening. We had a good hot soak and I don’t know how many times we looked at each other in amazement and said “This is so cool.” North Peru 08North Peru 09North Peru 10

Next stop was Lobitos.  This is an odd little town with loads of good surf spots. It was first settled by British oil company workers and most of the old townsite was abandoned around the early 1900s. So now it is sort of like a ghost town reborn. There are oil wells everywhere, on and offshore. And much of the area is now a military zone. All of this made for a really interesting place to explore. We free camped at the beach for a few days and tried to make the most of the consistent surf. This section of coast is like a wave machine, they just keep coming all day. North Peru 11North Peru 12North Peru 13North Peru 14North Peru 15North Peru 16North Peru 17North Peru 18North Peru 19North Peru 20North Peru 21North Peru  22North Peru 23North Peru 24North Peru 25

The coastal desert of this region has been a real surprise for us. It just stretches on and on. We were driving through bare rock and sand for days, not a tree or shrub in sight.  But, every now and then we would pass through a town, offering a splash of colour and a chance to people watch as we drove by. North Peru 26North Peru 27North Peru 28North Peru 29North Peru 30Kicking rice.  

We eventually made it to Chicama.  More desert and more surf. No complaints from us, we love this style of van life.  We spent the afternoon cruising the dunes outside of town, watching the waves and checking out the amazing bird colony at an empty beach around the point. North Peru 31North Peru 32North Peru 33North Peru 34North Peru 35Boobies

North Peru 36Blue-footed booby

Later in the day it was time to hit the water.  This place is renowned for having the longest left hand wave in the world. Not sure if this is actually true, but regardless it’s a good spot. The swell wasn’t quite big enough for those famously long rides, but we had a lot of fun trading waves with the local grommets during the sunset session. And in the morning I had the place all to myself. North Peru 37 facebookNorth Peru 38North Peru 39North Peru 40North Peru 41North Peru 42

After an incredible sunset we headed into the dunes to find a camp spot with some protection from the relentless wind.  The ground looks firm and rocky, but venture from the well worn path and the soft sand underneath gives way easily.  We know from experience. After getting bogged good and proper we spent a couple of hours jacking up the car digging out the rear wheels and driving forward a few feet on scraps of carpet and planks of wood. On the third try (our lucky number in stuck van situations) we slowly crept up and out of the hole, eventually finding solid ground again… and had the most peaceful sleep we could have hoped for. North Peru 43North Peru 44Dusty but triumphant

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Driving along the highway we could see what we thought were sand dunes stretching far into the distance. Turns out that they are the crumbled old adobe walls of the ancient city of Chan Chan. We were taken aback by the immensity of it all. It was built around 850 AD and was in use until the 1400s and apparently around 30,000 people lived here at one time. This makes it the largest known city in South America prior to the arrival of the Europeans.

We visited just one small area of the city which has survived the years in pretty good shape. Many of the walls are carved with patterns depicting fish and fishnets which were really important to the survival of the people that lived here.  They also had some form of irrigation and the remnants of an old well are visible still filled with water and full of greenery. North Peru 46North Peru 47North Peru 50North Peru 49North Peru 51North Peru 52North Peru 54The sacred well 

Sechin is another ruin just off the pan-american highway. The old temple found here might be the oldest ruins in South America… maybe more than 3000 years old. The stone walls were covered in carvings and in the museum they had a bunch of artefacts from the area, including a really well preserved mummy, and some mummified tattooed hands. North Peru 56North Peru 55

We had been in the desert for over a week, so as we turned left and headed up the river valley towards the mountains, the green valley filled with fruit trees was a welcomed sight.

As usual, we’re a bit sad to be leaving this area behind. The great surf, the interesting and odd places, the wide open spaces and eating the best ceviche everyday will be missed. But it’s time again for the mountains.

Posted from: Huaraz, Peru