Coordinates: 13°20′S 72°05′O
After visiting the most important point of the Inca's Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, another life experience awaited us; this time with vicugnas, peasants, hats, and a little bit of salt. In two days we visited: the town of Chinchero, the salt flats of Maras, the Moray Archeological Complex, the Pisac Valley, and Ollantaytambo City.
Through the northeast of Cusco you can get to the Vilcarota Valley, which is also known as the Inca's Sacred Valley. In this district of the Urubamba province I learned about the traditional Andian life; most of the population in this place are Quechuas. Also known as "Rainbow City", the residents of this place live in almost intact Inca constructions. The conquerors wanted to “civilize” and implant their culture in Chinchero, but they never managed to achieve it.
braids and hats
Women wear long braids under the hats, as their ancestors did. In the next towns we visited I noticed the repeated use of the hats, but differently. I later learned why. They wear mid-calf skirts so that the work on the land is easier. In this town, the crops are planted and harvested by hand; in the Inca period it was an agricultural production center.
In the town of Chincheros the syncretism is easily perceived: the combination of Spaniard catholic beliefs and the spiritual vision of the Andean world. The conquerors built churches, like Our Lady of Monserrate, over the sacred Inca spaces, like the Tupac Yupanqui Palace. The Incas of this place thought this was highly relevant because the Spaniards were reconfirming the sacred Andean space. They linked Virgin Mary with Pachamama, Mother Earth; they made a re-coding of the catholic saints with their deities.
The past prevails adamant in the wardrobe, traditions, and historic monuments of Chincheros. The town’s clothing is characterized by their unique coloring, just like the people in the island of Taquile, the attire has its meaning. In this case, the colors define the significance: black represents purity and protection; red represents wisdom; green is related with nature; blue is tranquility and freedom; and orange symbolizes knowledge.
a sunday in the townsquare
Every Sunday, with their traditional costumes, the residents gather in the public square to exchange goods. It marveled me seeing how they still preserve the handmade textiles and also the way in which the town has gathered to create a social network of community support; all this away from any hint of modernity. The eldest people in Chincheros only speak Quechua.
AYNI and MINKA
Similar to the codes of Taquile, in this province the labor system is defined be two words: ayni, which means reciprocity, and minka, which means collectivity. Every citizen works for the benefit of the community; this can be observed in the construction, the confection of textiles, and the maintenance of buildings, churches, and agricultural terraces. The values of this town are clear and the locals respect them.
SALt FLATS of MARAS
After learning about the traditional town of Chincheros we headed towards the little villa of Maras to the west of Cusco. Once there, we visited the Salt flats and the Moray Archeological Center. The view of more than three hundred salt pools that the Incas worked in the Salt flats of Maras, which to this day the extraction of salt is continued, it is simply dazzling. The effect of water coming down from the valley until reaching the stream and evaporating, to then become salt is completely surreal. The view from the top is impressive. The pink, purple, and gray tones shine before the sunlight.
Moray Archaeological complex
In past times, it was a laboratory for the Incas. The Moray Archaeological Zone can be a sample of the agricultural knowledge of this culture, since it is thought that the place was used with this purpose. By giving a particular form to the terraces, the Incas noticed they could harvest the farming terraces better because of the higher fertility; the rainwater was harnessed with more efficiency. It is thought that in the highest part they harvested legumes, the plants that demand less nitrogen, and in the low parts they harvested corn, because of the high demand for nitrogen.
Our next destiny was Pisac, before arriving, we stopped at the Mirador Taray; about 3,200 meters above sea level. From there you can observe with great clarity the beautiful Sacred Valley; the riverbed of the Vilcanota river, the mountains that embrace the valley, the farmlands like a colorful patchwork quilt, and colorful villages.
The first stop in Pisac was a colorful artisan market, where they almost never sell anything at a set price. Peruvians, as excellent merchants, to make the sale, will negotiate with you the price just so you buy them something. They also sell silver jewelry and colorful textiles, and for a few soles they allowed us to photograph them. They convince me with only one word, said twice: "Picture, picture..."
The Awana Kancha Center was our next stop. This private initiative project, associated to fourteen rural communities, has made out of the Andean ancestral weave its principal activity and livelihood. There, they showed us how they color wool with natural dyes. The blue, green, and yellow colors respectively come from the indigo, chilca, and yanali shrubs. Red is achieved with the cochineal, an insect from which they extract the carmine acid. To seal the colors to the fiber they use lemon, salt and child urine.
Across the mountains that border the Awana Kancha Center various types of Andean camelidae stroll by. There we saw vicugnas, alpacas, and llamas. One fact that caught my attention: Peru counts with 90% of the world's alpaca population and 82% of the vicugna population.
CHAKO and VICUGnA
On the route I learned about the chako practice; it is the process of shearing the vicugna’s wool without hunting it. The vicugna’s wool is considered the finest in the world for its quality and weaves. Because this Andean camelidae can't be raised in captivity, for they do not reproduce, this ritual is practiced to simply extract the thread without killing the animal.
Before the vicugna, the llama was the patriotic symbol of Perú. The llama has been a source of inspiration for artisans and artists. Additionally, this camelidae represents the spirit of the Andes in its legends, myths, and traditions.
This village caused in me the same impression as Chinchero; its like traveling in time. Irrigation canals, stone buildings, and narrow cobbled streets are part of the place's ancestral landscape. The type of organization in this urban nucleus, even though it wasn't finished when the Spaniards arrived, is the best example of urban planning from the Incas. The streets organization, the watering system, the stronghold, and the hillside terraces make of this place an almost perfect one.
the hats and the shape of the head
It came to my attention that in each place I visited, the residents used different types of hats. According to what our guide told us, the Spaniards forced the natives to cover their heads because of the cranial deformities they presented. Because the cranial alteration was different on every group, so were the hats. Currently, the residents keep using mushroom-like or cowboy-like hats, in accordance to the region.
conscious travel practices:
1. Learning about the Andean camelidae and the preservation of the vicugna.
2. Honor the Andean culture and their traditions.
3. Grasping the chako ritual as a safe process of extracting wool.
4. Getting to know about ancestral Andean practices.
Salt fields of Maras
Moray Archeological Complex