During a trip to Cusco in Peru, I was lucky enough to take an Urban Adventure Tour with Intrepid Travel. Their Sacred Valley Tour takes you to the famous area and allows you to have a very local experience – visiting a market, tasting Chicha beer, trying local village activities, and eating typical foods. In fact, Chocla con Queso – a corn on the cob with enormous kernals and topped with cheese and chili sauce – is my new favorite food.
Sacred Valley, or Wilma Mayu as the Incas called it in catchua, is named after its Sacred Valley River. Driving through, you’ll see beautiful mountain landscapes with colorful crops and terrace farming, which the Incas invented due to their high elevation. Because of this, the major crops are corn, potatoes, and quinoa, which come in many varieties and can be sampled on the tour in many ways.
The first stop of the tour was the Pisaq Market, the biggest market in Cusco. People come from hours away on Sundays to attend church and buy and sell goods. Our guide, Hermando, led us around and showed us the different handicrafts, foods, herbs, and spices. We got to sample mana, a local corn-based cereal, and see a demonstration of mineralized colors being used to paint and dye wool. You can also see locals dressed in authentic dress for the Sunday church procession.
We learned about giving offerings of spices, and burnings of the Justice Tree (shown above). Interestingly, when couples experience instances of infidelity, the cheater is brought to the Justice Tree in the Amazon, to be bitten by the red ants that inhabit it. My favorite part of the visit was purchasing unique fruits I’d never seen, like a prickly pair, custard apple, a local variety of passion fruit, and cucumber fruit.
Next we visited the Village of Chichubamba, where 14 families live, each performing a special activity. We first went to see Celia, a woman who owns a local Inca bar and makes Chicha, a beer made from corn. The village is the only place where Chicha is made, as the necessary ingredients need to grow at high elevation. The beer tastes like bitter lemons and contains 2% alcohol.
To help drinkers get drunk quicker, enormous glasses are sold at 50 cents and locals play a drinking game where heavy coins are tossed into the mouth of a metal frog. Moreover, to properly drink like a local, make sure to “cheers” and then pour some on the ground for Mother Earth, or Pacha Mama.
Once our beers were consumed, we visited a family of ceramic makers. Here we not only learned the process of making high-quality pottery, which uses simple tools and takes 30 days total to complete, but also got to help make and paint some pieces.
My favorite part was making the “churro”, a process that involves putting wet clay into a tube and then pressing it out to be like a long snake. The churro is what makes the body of the pottery.
This is also where we ate a typical Peruvian lunch. There were three courses. The first was a piece of potato with avocado and salsa. Next we had a big bowl of creamy potato sound. And for the main course, chicken Milanese with another variety of local potato was served. To drink, the group had a corn-based beverage called “Chicha Morada”, which tasted like blueberries.
Our final stop was the Ollantaytambo archeological site and astronomical observatory. The whole site is in the shape of a llama, and when the sun shines in the llama’s eye, this means the changing of the seasons.
The name of the site means “resting place of Ollantay”, who was a warrior. Here are buildings from Inca and pre-inca times, dating 200 years before Christ. When the conquistadors arrived, the Incas were still working on the temples. Stones that were being transported from the quarries were left unfinished, although you can see how they began to carve concave shapes with soft metal chisels. Terraces, along with being used for crops, are also symbols of religion, which can be seen. While it may sound like the Incas should have hated the conquistadores, many believed they were the gods they had been waiting for. However, it didn’t take long for them to realize they were being conquered. You can even see evidence of the Spanish trying to cover up the temples.
What’s really amazing is how the stones were transported in tact, using many ropes and rolling wood and pulling. Moreover, it’s interesting how elements of pre-inca times are still prevalent today, like mud-brick houses, thatched rooves, and narrow streets with stones laid thousands of years ago. There’s also evidence, such as the cuts in the rock, that show the Inca people had more advanced technologies that we even have today.
Overall, it was an excellent day learning about Cusco’s history and getting to interact with locals and see the way they really live. If you’d like more information on Intrepid’s Sacred Valley Tour, click here.
This post was made possible by Urban Adventures