Daily Archives: April 22, 2020

My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #14: Q’enco and Maras

I’m still working up to Machu Picchu- leaving it to last.

Quite close to Cusco are the ruins at Q’enco.  It is one of the largest huacas (holy places) in the Cusco region, and like other huacas, it was built amongst naturally occurring rock structures. It is believed that sacrifices and mummification took place there.  ‘Q’enco’ or Q’inqu  is a Quechua word meaning ‘maze’, but it was the Spanish conquistadors who named it that: it is not known what the Inca actually called it. The name refers to the zigzag channels carved into rock where it is thought that the priests poured the sacred chicha, which they drank during the sacrifices.

Close to these ruins are eucalypt forests- yes, eucalypts! Apparently there are very few native trees left in Peru. Eucalypts were brought from Australia especially during the agrarian reform programs of the 1960s and 1970s. They were first promoted as a source for mine supports,  and then as a source for fuel and building materials. They have since discovered that eucalypts dry out the soil and are highly flammable (we could have told them that), and there are now reafforestation projects to replace the eucalypts with Queuña and Chachacomo trees, native to the area.

Well, this is all rather close to Cusco, so let’s venture a little further afield to the Maras Salt Mines, about 40 kms out of Cusco. There are over 5,000 salt ponds, some unused and some owned by families. There is a subterranean spring  which is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels that run down onto the ancient terraced ponds, none of which is more than 30 cm deep. As the sun evaporates the water, the salt precipitates on the walls and floor of the ponds.

The ponds are owned communally, and new families tend to get the outlying, disused ones at first. The size of the pond assigned depends on the size of the family. Last year tourists were banned from walking around the ponds because of people throwing contaminants into them, and now they are restricted to an observation deck.

My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #13: Sacred Valley

The main tourist destination from Cusco is Machu Picchu but I’m going to spend a day or so exploring the Sacred Valley instead.  I would probably go on a one day tour, I guess.

First stop, after about an hour’s travelling is the Mirador de Taray.

From there, we would go to Pisac, which is famous for its markets. For the vegetarian in the family, there is a Potato Park.  Why not? Big banana, big pineapple…although I think this is just a Potato Park. It covers 10,000 hectares, and they have 600 varieties of potatoes, many of which are endemic to the area. It’s a local conservation project, formed by Six Quechua communities joining forces. You can have lunch and guess what’s on the menu? However, I think I’d pay them to stop playing music at us. I confess to only lasting about 2 minutes through this video. It’s like listening to a Grade 3 student learning the recorder.

There are ruins above Pisac, and this young fellow is climbing up to them. He thought that he would avoid the taxi fare.  I would take the taxi, myself.

Yep, that would be me, one of the tourists hopping on and off a bus at the main site.  My, he looks quite peaky by the end.

Then on to Urubamba- and here’s our Aussie narrator again!

Had enough ruins yet?  On we go to Ollantaytambo, which is at a slightly lower altitude. During the Inca empire, it was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, the 9th ruler of the Inca state, who conquered the region and built the town and ceremonial centre. He created the Inti Raymi celebration that we ‘saw’ yesterday. At the time of the Spanish conquest, Ollantaytambo served as a stronghold for the Inca resistance. In 1536 their leader Manco Inka defeated a Spanish expedition, blocking their advance from the high terraces. But knowing that his position was untenable, he withdrew .  There lots of water being piped around the city – generally a sign of wealth and display.

This one is a bit longer, and beautifully photographed.

Back home, I think, going past Chinchero where there are plans to build an international airport to attract visitors direct to Machu Picchu without having to go to Lima first. They are expecting six million people a year to use it by 2023, and there is opposition from historians, anthropologists and scientists who argue that the plateaus and valleys are lined with ritual lines, that the soil is not suitable for an airport, and that it would affect the water supply for Cusco. But contracts have been signed with South Korea, and it seems that it will proceed….well, it would have if not for coronavirus.  There’s a market here  in Chinchero, too. Given that I’m not a great souvenir shopper, I’d probably give this a miss.

Enough ruins for today?  I think so.