**** Doug is writing this entry for Tauna since she was not able to go on this day’s outing to the Sacred Valley with our guide. She stayed back at the hotel because she was not feeling well due to altitude sickness.****
The Sacred Valley is named for the “Sacred River” which flows through the valley leading to and past Machu Picchu, Peru. The river has many tributaries and at the time of our visit had just experienced significant rains which made it full and included many rapids. We followed it down the valley from Cusco on a return trip to see several sights of interest which gave meaning and color to the trip to Machu Picchu the day before.
In addition to a stop for shopping at a local open market for souvenirs, there were three significant stops to this day trip including a visit to a real Inca Indian house, climbing the stairs to view the Temple of the Sun, and a visit to a local ranch to see a demonstration of Peruvian Paso horsemanship (and have a great meal).
The local house visit was very interesting with its dirt floor, simple rectangle single room (sleeping at one end and food preparation/fireplace at the other). Although there were several items decorating the walls, the two most memorable features were the two skulls resting in a niche in the wall above the cooking area. It turned out that these were the skulls of forefathers/relatives who were placed there to protect the household from bad luck going forward. The culture gave reverence to elders and this was a way of demonstrating that. The second most notable feature of the house was the fact that a dozen or so guinea pigs were running around in the middle of the room as they ate straw and grew fatter. They were being raised for their meat and although they were cute (in a Peruvian sort of way), at the end of the day, they were considered to be food (much like we might raise rabbits). The fact that they were running loose and underfoot within the house was a surprise. An interesting accommodation to the old (traditional Inca) and the new (Catholic) religion was seen on the roof which included a Christian cross with two bottles hanging from the cross piece plus two pigs/oxen figures at its base. One of the bottles contained Holy Water and the other contained traditional Inca liquor – this combination symbolizing the duality of the beliefs of the household. The oxen at the base symbolized an appreciation of the advance in technology that these work animals made to the livelihood of the farmer—far greater productivity than possible using human effort only.
At the location of the Temple of the Sun, there were a significant number of steps and mortar-less structures for which stones had to be brought from a distance to construct the temple. It faced a mountain peak with a rock outcropping that resembled the face of a man—different from those of typical Incas. This face was described in legend as that of Tunupa who had helped the Incas in the past and had promised to return in the future to help them when they, as a people, needed him. He had a full beard (as per the relief on the stone mountain) and a longer face than that of typical Incas. As luck would have it (for the Spanish), when Pizarro came to the new world, he arrived at the precise moment when the Inca society was experiencing great internal stress through a power struggle between factions in the empire. They were close to a civil war when the Spaniards arrived in armor, with guns, riding horses (lamas were not capable of carrying an adult rider), and showing a full beard. The Incas believed that these new visitors were a return of the promised Tunupa, so they were inclined to obey the commands/wishes of the Spaniards. The Incas assumed that the Spanish were there to help them in their time of need. In actuality, the Spanish were just there to plunder the gold and silver available from the temples and Inca peoples. Had the Spanish arrived a decade either before or after this date, the Incas with overwhelming force (there were at least a million of them at the time) would have been able to repel them. As it turned out, Pizarro killed the king and assumed control of the empire within a short time. It’s interesting how timing makes so much difference in many historical events.
Following this stop, a visit to a local horse breeding ranch was next. At the ranch, an outstanding lunch was served including Inca trout, nine varieties of potato (Peru has over 3,000 varieties of potatoes), gaucho style beef, unique appetizers, and good tasting lemonade (more on the lemonade later). During the meal, a show of horsemanship and dancing was held for the guests. As it turned out, the horses actually mimicked the moves of the human dancers. The show was quite good at displaying the very smooth gait of the horses and the riding skills of their riders.
Following this exceptional meal, I was very satisfied that I had tasted many of the excellent regional specialties. The lemonade was especially tasty (fresh lemon with a noticeable taste of lime included). However, I later realized that it was made from local water (my mistake to not order bottled water)—I had a serious case of indigestion about three hours later. It took a day and a half to fully recover (after our return to the ship in Lima). However, even with my ingestion issue, I would happily have done the trip again and repeated absolutely everything—except to select bottled water rather than the lemonade.