Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Full Immersion into Andean Culture

August 21, 2012

We have 1 day to get used to Cusco's altitude. I haven't felt any of the typical symptoms related to altitude sickness: dizzy, naseau, headache. But, I have been huffing and puffing on the stairs up and down, in the hotel. Lucky me, to be placed on the 4th floor and there does not exist any elevators here. The evening before, we're briefed about the parameters of our hike and the plans of what to expect. First thing: we're only allowed max 6kg in our personal duffels, on the trail. Why? Porters are government regulated to only take 25kg max; and they're already carting our tents and other equipment. We're expected to take a day bag with us and refill water on a daily basis.

We start the morning by departing our Cusco hotel (Prisma Hotel) and getting on a mini-bus and head to the Sacred Valley in the district of Urubamba. Our first stop is one of G-Adventures projects in mountain village of Ccaccaccollo. While the men of the area are tilling their fields or work as porters, the women are making a living while working with various camelid fibres; such as alpaca, llama or Vicuna.

 Feeding alpaca.

Did you know that dark coloured animals are associated with good things? In our society, darkness is typically associated with evil or other sinister things but in Andean culture, the opposite is true. If you look at healthy soil, it is dark--almost black in colour. The dark colour is representative of fertility and thus, life.

We learn about the way in which these women are able to make a living making the traditional blankets and scarves they have always made. Thanks to G-Adventures and their initiatives run by Planeterra.

In addition to their fibre operations, we learn about their their most popular crops: potatoes and corn.

The purple maize is used to make an alcoholic beer called chicha. It's amazing to learn that here, they grow the various strains of potatoes and corn that we have only ever heard about--these are staples in their diets! And so tasty too--I love their potatoes!

Too bad that I'm feeling pretty crappy since we went further up in elevation and at this point, I'm barely standing. I feel pretty bad but look at this view of the Sacred Valley:

Our next stop is an Incan ruin that I'm not sure the name of and here, the group (minus me) learned about the agricultural flats that the Andean people used in the mountains.

I feel as awful as I look... and you can't tell but I'm chewing on a wad of coca leaves like a baseball catcher does tobacco.

Our final stop is Ollantaytambo; this is both an active city as well as an Incan archeological site. The Incans were not a massive group of people to start... they conquered many tribes in the Andes and grew their empire by force too. This is one such group. The Incan conquerer made this site his personal estate and you'll see that the agricultural terraces are numerous:

Ollantaytambo is a place where ancient meets modern; the people who live here use the spring found near the foot of this archeological site. I didn't snap a photo but I found the natural mountain spring where this city is based upon. Literally, there is a rock and it's as if water just springs up out of nowhere! The entire city is served by this water through aquaducts and such.

We had dinner at one of the restaurants that flanked the city center and I had alpaca. One word for the fuzzy little creature: delicious.

Our hotel is the Inca Garden and we notice that the beds are equipped with thick heavy blankets. It's the middle of winter for these people and it can get below freezing temperatures here. Time to prepare for the trail...

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