Category: Chinchero

Salt mines and ancient nurseries

After leaving Machu Picchu, we headed back to Cuzco to spend a few more days with our dear friends Yuri, Roxi, and little Matthew.  It feels kind of strange calling them “dear friends” when I’ve only known them for a week or so now, but I really do think of them as such. They’re the type of people whom I fully expect to stay in touch with, and when they invited me to come back to visit with my husband after I get married, I actually think that that may realistically happen one day.  Bonus points for the fact that they had me pray my first ever prayer in Spanish! (a skill that, as it turns out, I would need to have when I translated for the medical missions trip a few weeks later ^_^.  But that was still in the unknown future at this point…)

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Anyway, back to the story. The first day back in Cuzco was pretty chill – we got back from Aguascalientes around noon, had lunch with the family, and then spent the afternoon doing laundry, writing, and just relaxing. Yuri and Roxi are so nice and friendly…every time they’re home, we have such nice conversations about anything and everything, and they’re always willing to explain unknown Spanish words or specific Peruvian slang to us :).

A view of the entire city center from the top of a giant statue:

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Cuzco is one of the only cities in Latin America to have TWO cathedrals in its main square

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The next day, Wednesday, Roxi drove us into town and dropped us off at the handicraft market in downtown Cuzco. We had heard that they have very fair prices for their wares, and indeed they did – some of the cheapest I’ve seen in all of Peru. While there, we both made friends with some of the vendors – Caro had one guy give her a little magnet as a gift, and I met a man named Cristian who offered to walk with us and show us the city later in the week. I ended up not calling him, because we left earlier than we thought we were going to, but I was fully planning on contacting him. He was a very nice guy; I really enjoyed talking to him. Particularly since, even though I knew he was a vendor, I didn’t get the feeling that he only wanted to talk to me to sell me something. He actually wanted to talk to ME. That’s rare in Peru.

In the afternoon, Caro and I split up. I decided to walk around and explore the city center and visit the museums and such. During my wanderings, I struck up conversations with a few other people…most notably Hector, an employee at one of the museums I went to. He told me lots of history about the city, and then we moved on to more important topics like his family, friends, and faith.  That is what I love so much about traveling.  It’s not the cool sights or exotic foods or amazing pictures.  It’s meeting people with vastly different backgrounds from my own and seeing what makes them tick.  Hearing about their lives.  Learning about their passions and preoccupations.  That’s what makes life rewarding – it’s not just investing in yourself so that you have a bunch of cool stories, but rather investing in other and hearing their stories.

The day after, we went to see the Andean village of Chinchero, the salt mines of Maras and the experimental agricultural fields of Moray. Even though the day was grey and drizzly, that was still one of my favorite days of the trip so far.

We were supposed to take a tour with a big tour bus. But they overbooked the trip, and so we ended up on basically a private tour – just us, two Australian siblings who are traveling the word together for an entire year, and our fascinating driver, Rolando Santos. That was a wayyyy better deal than the big tour bus. The Australians, Matt and Emily, didn’t speak any Spanish, so I got to play translator for them, while also just getting to know them better throughout the course of the day. I really enjoyed that. They’re fascinating people, and I really admired their willingness to uproot their lives for an entire year. I don’t think I could do it, though. This trip of five weeks is about as long as I can go of continuous travel.

So anyway, on to Chichero.  Peru is known for their artisan handicrafts that are extremely popular purchases among tourists.  But one thing that I hadn’t realized is that each individual village that sells such handicrafts has slightly different patterns and slightly different methods employed to make the brightly colored and intricately designed fabrics.  Chinchero is one such village.  When we got there it was cold and rainy, but they took us to covered awnings and gave us hot tea, so it was all good.  We got to watch a few demonstrations of how they make the fabric – how they clean the wool, dye the yarn, and weave the designs.  It was very interesting.  Definitely not something that you get to see in the States!

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Nothing particularly symbolic about this plant. I just thought it was cool 🙂

When we were planning this trip (I use the term “plan” quite loosely, as in reality very little of it was actually planned), I had originally wanted to go to the famous salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia.  The largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni is (I’m told) one of the strangest places you’ll ever see.  However, in the end we decided that there wasn’t really time for that on this trip (although they’re definitely still on the list!!), so the salt mines of Maras was kind of a compromise. Although actually quite different from Salar de Uyuni, they were still fascinating, nonetheless.

The salt mines are fed by a subterranean mountain stream that is comprised of over 50% salt. That in itself makes it very unique, as almost all other salt water comes from the ocean. The salt water is fed into thousands of different pools; the pools are then left so that the water can evaporate, and the salt is then harvested. There are 3 different types of salt harvested in Maras – white table salt, pink salt, and then salt used for industrial or medicinal purposes. The different kinds of salt all have to do with different levels of evaporation that the pools have undergone before being harvested. It was really a fascinating, truly unique place.

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They stretched on forever!!

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This is an example of how the mines were fed with salt water – water ran continuously through the troughs on the right. When the mines needed to be filled with water, the little gullies were cleared, and when enough water had filled into the pool, the gully was blocked with rocks, as it is now. They then allowed the water to evaporate from the pool so that they could harvest the salt.

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Another fascinating place, albeit completely different from Maras, was Moray. Thousands of years old, Moray is comprised of a series of terraced levels of earth. Somehow, each level has it’s own unique temperature – there is a temperature span of over 20 degrees between the top and bottom layers. The Incans used this area as an experimental agricultural field, to see which seeds grew the best in which climates (in the video below I said I didn’t know what it was for, but afterwards I went and found out). They also used it as a sort of nursery – plants of different ages were put in different levels, and grown there until they were mature enough to be moved and put into a regular field.

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It’s amazing to me how much diversity there is in and around Cuzco.  In a single day, we saw salt mines, traditional weaving, and ancient agricultural fields.  And we weren’t even starting to scratch the surface of what is in and around the city.  However, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to move on from Cuzco.  Yuri and Roxi had actually invited us to stay the weekend so that they could take us to see the ruins and Sacred Valley in the outskirts of Cuzco, but at the end of the day we decided that if we stayed there any longer, we wouldn’t be able to go everywhere in the north that we wanted to go.  And so, onward we went…and then the REAL adventure began!