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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Partridge City

Graduating upwards from the frothy Urubamba River, the Urubamba Valley is more commonly termed the Sacred Valley for its wealth of Inca sites and ruins. While we're usually not the type to go for group tours, we caved in when offered the quick and easy way to visit a few sites in a day with buffet lunch, English-speaking guide and transport all thrown in. At US$15 per person, the tour is pretty affordable but you need to buy an entrance ticket into the sites, which brings the total cost to about US$40 for a full day's outing.

The first proper stop for the day (not counting the toilet/shopping/coca-tea morning break) was the town of Pisac, or Pisaq if spelt in Quechua. We were given half an hour to shop at the artisan market, which we weren't too pleased about, given that we were truly sick and tired of being asked buy all the touristy bargains offered throughout Cusco. That said, we have to praise that ONE stall in the whole of Cusco and the Sacred Valley for stocking an embroidered pouch that was of a different size from what the other vendors offered - and just big enough for Dan's camera to fit snugly inside.

That is one thirsty snake

I quite fancied having one of those slouchy sack-bags that sling across your body. But they aren't exactly slash-proof - not very practical for traveling.

Set on the hills of the Urubamba Valley, the ruins of Pisac are perfect for those seeking a scenic uphill morning hike. The Incas loved fashioning their cities after animals. Just like how Cusco is shaped like a puma, Pisac takes on the form of a partridge, after which it was named.

Spectacular view en route to the ruins

I can't remember whether these terrace walls were pre-Incan or built by the Incas. In any case, the indigenous women sitting picturesquely below the walls truly believe themselves to be models - they demand payment of as least 1 sole (US$0.30) for a photo.

Walking amongst age-old ruins is a daily affair for some. I wonder where she's headed.

As with all Incan ruins, we have to pass through a stone gate or punku (portal) to enter.

Halt! I need to check your I/C please...

It was pretty nice to have a good guide on hand to explain the history of each site and the significance behind the design and use of the various areas. The ruins that we visited were literally just ruins. Signage is limited to a few directional arrows clearly planted on the ground. There are no information boards offering explanations nor any maps enlightening lost tourists on their locations with a big red dot labeled "You Are Here". Unless you are a die-hard historian who insists on matching lumps of nameless rocks to diagrams in a guide book, everyone is better off having a guide to bring you through the Sacred Valley.

The high-quality handiwork of the Incas is quite a marvel, really. First, they had to hew large stone pieces from nearby quarries, which were usually located on another mountain altogether. Then, they had to cut each rocky mound into smaller pieces and fit them nicely to form building walls. Oh, make that anti-seismic building walls, given that Peru sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

More effort is put into constructing the holy bits, namely the temples. Each stony piece is chiseled to perfection using bronze alloy tools, resulting in impossibly straight edges and snug-fitting blocks, which still stand strong to this very day. What went on inside these temples was wholly pagan in nature - sun worship (to Inti, the Sun God), virgin sacrifices to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and other sacred ceremonies - some of which still continue today, in conjunction with Catholic beliefs, but with llamas replacing the human sacrifices (thank goodness!)

The temple vs the kitchen wall (really!)

Peeping over into a kitchen/bedroom/toilet

The Pisac citadel from above, semi-circular in shape

How about some shopping after that strenuous climb back to the main road?

My first taste of Inca ruins went pretty well. I was intrigued to find out more.

Next stop: Ollantaytambo... (stay tuned!)


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