The sight was glorious! Everywhere we looked, we saw snow covered mountain peaks. We were at 12,000 feet up in the Andes, but the snow covered peaks were 18-20,000 feet in height. Yes, it was a glorious sight! We were in the high meadows of the Incas most of the day. Corn, potatoes, wheat, barley and various beans are grown at these heights which are remote from the world. We traveled on narrow one lane unpaved roads that switchbacked even in the more level areas. There were times that our small tour bus (large buses are not allowed as the roads cannot accommodate them) was on the very edge of the lane with up to 1,000 feet drops into chasms cut into the mountain. Kathy spent a lot of time praying, while I feigned that the tire was part way over the edge.
We stopped at the salt mine in the Andes. It is unique in that it is not an underground mine, but a glorious invention of the pre-Inca natives in the area. There is a salty spring that flows near the mine, and the natives dug shallow pools and lined them with hardened clay and allowed the spring to fill the pools and then let the sun evaporate the water and the dry salt remained. Today, the same techniques are utilized that were in play 3,000 years ago, but on a larger scale. Over 150 tons of salt are exported each year from this mine.
We next stopped at another pre-Inca/Inca settlement that is an important archeological site. Not as well known as Manchu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is the oldest continually inhabited pre-Inca/Inca community in existence. Ollantaytambo was at the crossroads where two valleys intersected, and thus, it was a trading center as well as a strategic military site. The ancient stones still remain and the site is an adventure that requires some serious climbing.
Our big destination for the day was a remote mountain village where we were greeted by people of the village in native dress. They played and sang for us and then led us into the village where we had a traditional meal in a private home. It was four courses–appetizer of beans and corn with a spicy pepper sauce; potato corn soup; meat balls with a native sauce, and a dried potato dessert. We then were led into the farm lands where we witnessed the spiritual connection of the Incas with the land and observed a demonstration of mountain farming. There are no mechanical tractors or tools here (cattle with wooden plows) and no pesticides of any kind. At the end of our time in the village, the native people grabbed us by the hand and led us in a native dance. It was a heart-warming experience!
Back at our mountain lodge, the staff brought us out onto the green where they prepared our Pachamanca meal before us, a traditional Peruvian way of cooking with hot stones using the land as an oven. In a large hole, they began to place hot stones that had been washed with salt and heated for five hours. On the first layer of stones, the hotel guests placed both white and sweet potatoes, then more stones were placed on top and beef, pork, lamb, and chicken were laced with hot stones. On top of this was placed a soaked reed mat, and on top of that mountain grass, followed by a wet sheet, and on top of that dirt. One hour later we were served an elegant meal on the terrace with a wood burning fireplace and a person in native dress playing native music on a harp. What a treat!
Now it is off to bed because tomorrow, God willing, we go to one of the seven wonders of the modern world–Machu Picchu. WEG