23.05.2015 - 23.05.2015
Today, we hired a tour guide to take us on a half day tour of Maras and Moray. Saúl, the guide, and Davíd, the driver, picked us up at 8 am and drove us to a small village outside of Cusco. We visited a compound where 12 families live and weave textiles. They gave us a demonstration. First, they wash the sheep or alpaca wool in "Inca shampoo" which is just a local root vegetable they grow that produces soap. Then they spin the wool into yarn and dye it using local flowers, roots, and bugs. She crushed a beetle to show and added lemon to the beetle's blood to create a bright red. She then used the blood lipstick. They dyed some yarn and showed us that they weave the yarn with an llama bone. She first said the bone was from a tourist who didn't buy anything after the demonstration.
After, the demonstration we decided to help the local cottage industry (read as: we just really wanted alpaca blankets as souvenirs).
On our drive to Maras, Saúl pointed out vegetables growing on surrounding farms, including quinoa and potatoes. Maras is a small village with 5,000 salt pools on a steep mountain. In the rainy season (our winter), the village farms. In the dry season (our summer), they mine salt. Each family tends to a handful of salt pools. The pools are fed by a hot spring that has a high salt content. The Andeans believe it is a gift from Mother Earth (Pacha Mama). The geologists say there is a large salt block under the mountains from when the ocean used to cover this portion of the world.
The salt filters through all the pools. Evaporation will leave salt behind for the locals to collect and sell to salt factories. We learned there are 3 classes of salt. Class 1 is table salt. Class 2 is salt for meats and cooking. Class 3 is salt for animals. Silly me, I thought all salt was made by that girl with the umbrella on the Morton's salt box.
We drove through more fields of quinoa to Moray which means May in Quechuan (the local language of Andeans). Moray is the site of ancient Incan ruins. There are 3 circular depressions made of many levels of terraces. The terraces had an irrigation system that provided water to each terrace, allowing the Incas to produce many crops. Upon arrival, Saúl made us turn our backs to the largest depression and guided us backwards. Then he made us turn around to see the site. I mean it was a cool site, but not the type of place where you need a big build up before seeing it. Saúl gave us a brief history of the Incas which was great since I didn't pay any attention to that chapter of World History in high school and was just relying on my memories of Disney's The Emperor's New Groove.
Saúl asked our opinion on what to name the tour company he plans to start with his brother. 98% chance his company will be named YOLO Expeditions thanks to us. We then encouraged him to name it "You Only Live Once Expeditions," as we are not sure the phrase YOLO is internationally known.
We returned to Cusco around 1 pm and ate at Los Toldos Chicken. We had quinoa and chicken soup and pollo a la brasa, a Peruvian rotisserie chicken which was delicious. We walked to the San Blas neighborhood of Cusco. San Blas looks like Oia, Greece as the buildings are white wash with royal blue trim and doors. The neighborhood has narrow cobblestone streets with many cafes, restaurants and shops along them. We decided to follow a sign to el Cristo Blanco which is translated quite literally. It is a white statue of Christ. The sign was misleading. After climbing 200 stairs, we reached a dead end, and Cristo Blanco was nowhere to be seen. However the view of Cusco was worth the climb.
We stopped for coffee at La Paccha, and then stopped into a souvenir store. I am very proud that the store owner thought I was a Spanish speaker. I guess those 4 years of high school Spanish stuck with me a little.
We then went to the museum dedicated to my one and only love, chocolate. When in South America, eat chocolate. After all, this continent is where Christopher Columbus discovered the cacao bean. We bought some chocolate and wandered around La Plaza Espinar. In front of the Minor Basilica of Mercy, there was a group of ethnic dancers. Saúl had informed us the celebration of Pentecost began today which is a four day festival here. The dancers travelled throughout La Plaza de Armas performing traditional dances. They were waving the Cusco flag which is a rainbow flag; however, it has nothing to do with gay pride.
After watching for a while, we ate dinner at Bondiet. By dinner, I mean dinner as defined by me. Think tres leches and a chocolate torte. Earlier in the day, I taught Alyssa how to say "I am hungry" in Spanish. However, she mispronounced "tengo hambre" as "tengo hombre." Her mispronunciation translates to "I have man," and she insists on mispronouncing it on purpose now.
We came back to the hotel to pack our bags. We go on our three day alternative trek to Macchu Picchu tomorrow. Since we will be checking back into this hotel after our trek, we decided store the majority of our belongings here. We both brought foldable tote bags for this purpose of lightening our loads before our trek.
Other things we learned today:
-Alyssa and I keep hearing really loud noises. Saúl said the noises were either fireworks for Pentecost or rocks falling on nearby mountains. We are convinced they are gun shots or cannon blasts. We also decided not to google crime rate in Peru until after our trip to confirm if gun shots are a possibility.
-There are signs throughout Cusco that have an X over a horn. I am convinced it means no bugle playing. Alyssa says it means no honking.
-The largest industry in Peru is mining for gold, silver and other precious metals. Second on the list is the fishing industry.
We have to be ready to go at 6 am, so we are calling it another early night. Hosts luego!