Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Peru's Sacred Valley -Gateway to Machu Picchu

I am currently on a fantastic trip to South America, a place second only to my home continent of North America. I love it here! Great landscapes, colorful cultures, exotic experiences - it has everything. I am serving as the Study Leader for 17 people to Peru and Ecuador with the Smithsonian Institute's travel program, Smithsonian Journey's. You can check out their full listing of trips here.

This blog posting begins in Peru's Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River. I have been here many times before but never in such gorgeous weather - we are just in front of the rainy season.

This was our first view of the Sacred Valley, so named because of the many Inca rulers who lived here in the 14th and 15 centuries. The fertile valley of the Urubamba River stretches downstream to the north in this photograph. The mountains are spectacular and rise as high as 18,000 feet in the far distance, yet the vast Amazon Basin is located just a few miles over the mountain to the east (right). It is an extreme landscape in the best possible way.

Close-in view from the same vantage. The crops are corn, quinoa, potatoes, and vegetables of all kinds.

In this upper stretch of the Urubamba Valley, slightly metamorphosed Paleozoic sediments (seen here) are found alongside Tertiary effusive volcanic rocks. Thus the valley is wide and able to support moderate scale agriculture.

The Urubamba River is calm and placid through the colonial town of Pisac but will become a fierce maelstrom once it slices through the Vilcabamba batholith (next post).

Street scene in Pisac.

Detail of roof line in Pisac neighborhood.

The church in Pisac beneath the towering Andes Mountains.

Plaza from inside the church.

Suddenly a funeral procession appeared with music and about 200 people.

Carrying the casket to the church. People are buried now when dead but this valley and the Inca culture that lived here are renown for the mummification of their rulers, whose corpses were continually pulled out of storage during important celebrations.

Volcanic rocks on the eastern side of the valley,

Next stop down valley was the inca city of Ollantaytambo. Here is an original Inca street with more modern houses built on top of the Inca foundations. The great ruin built by the ruler Pachacuti (1438-72) is visible on the hill in the baqckground.

Granaries at Ollantaytambo. Note the watchtower built on top of the hill.

A reconstructed Inca home with thatched roof.

Pretty much everyone in the Sacred Valley raises guinea pigs Span. "cuy" (ku-ee) in their home for food. I am told we will get to try this delicacy in Cuzco in two nights time.

An old Inca Trail snakes its way south in the Sacred Valley

Detail of an Inca wall in Ollantaytambo.

Same, same.

View south toward Ollantaytambo town and the side canyon of the Patakancha River (left).

Ollantaytambo ruin and town.

This is the ramp upon which the large granite stones were brought to the site of Pachacuti's palace.

Annotated view showing the location of the stone quarry (yellow), the approximate location of the road to the site (red), and the course of the Urubamba River (blue). The distance involved for such large stones is staggering. Add in the elevation (quarry about 11,000 feet asl), terrain, and river crossing and the idea becomes mind numbing. This is truly an advanced civilization.

The town of Urubamba looking east from the road to Chinchero. Note the glaciers on the high Andes in the distance.

Close-up of the Chicon glaciers.

The glaciers have retreated immensely in the last 40 years.

More Andean views form the road to Chincheros

Young girl on the road to Chincheros

Andean road scene.

Spectacular mountains in an active tectonic setting.

Looking downstream along the Sacred Valley toward Machu Picchu, the subject of my next post.

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