Day 4 began with a beautiful drive heading southwest, winding up and out of Urubamba toward the towns of Moray and Maras. This special drive certainly did not include the phrase, “Are we there yet?” It was beautiful. At one turn we saw the Andes flexing their adolescent peaks, draped in rich, fluffy clouds. At the next turn there were more of the purple and white blooms from the myriad potato crops and so much yellow from the mustard. We bounced along the dirt road and passed a young shepherd leading his goats, sheep and mules to pasture- hitting the closest animals with a stick for not getting out of our way quickly enough! We also saw farmers tilling the land barefoot, riding behind their oxen. The scenery transported all of us to a time long gone in our own countries. To see these farmers working in the steep Andean slopes was remarkable. (Most people are not aware that only 3% of the Andes has flat land to work) The methods of crop cultivation we witnessed were really old. And hard. And yet so meaningful to the lives of Andean people. We definitely got a feel of authentic Andean culture during that hour drive. Once we arrived, there was a mad dash to the restroom and then it was off to see the sights. Our reason for being in Moray was to see the concentric circles. Really, each site didn’t much resemble circles as much as they did a guitar body in their entirety. But their purpose was to test how certain crops grew at different climates. The Inca brought various types of soil from all over the country and even sand to this laboratory in order to experiment. Clearly they were looking for ways to sufficiently feed future generations of Inca people. Beyond being an amazing feat of construction, these bio labs were also really cool to look at with their curvy, flowing Picasso-esque lines. Each ring or “circle” got smaller as we climbed lower and lower via “flying steps” which protrude outwards from the circles at various locations. Many guests claimed they could feel a variance in temperature as they descended the different levels. I only noticed that it was more windy at the top and therefore obviously warmer at the bottom. But I’m convinced these geniuses knew exactly what they were doing! After an hour hiking around and learning all about Moray, we boarded our vehicles and headed for lunch where we all enjoyed a great meal and traditional dancing from a local troop. Next, we headed to the salineras of Maras.
Getting down to the salineras or salt pans of Maras is an adventure all its own. The pans rest in the side of a small valley cut by a natural salt water spring that feeds them. And the road down to them is narrow and tight and you can see allllll the way down! It’s nearly impossible to keep the thought of going over completely out of your head. We had a few guests who had acrophobic tendencies and control issues and the look on their faces went white as they struggled to “let it go” here. But our drivers were awesome as usual and knew those roads like the back of their hands. Once at the pans we marveled at just how many there were- over 3000 of them! The many families that work theses pans (passed on to them by their ancestors) produce 4 grades of salt. The highest grade is for human consumption and the lowest for chemical or industrial uses. The salt has provided income here for hundreds and hundreds of years. Essentially, the natural salt spring flows out of the mountainside and is then crudely channeled in a straight line made of dirt and salt) just above the pans. Subsequent perpendicular channels are made out of this main channel allowing the saline water to pour down into the various pans. And whenever a miner wants the flow to stop, he or she simply blocks the channel with a rock….brilliant! As the sun evaporates the water in the pans, pure white salt is left which the miners then haul out in sacks on their shoulders. Again…back-breaking toil. There was something quite moving about seeing these farmers with their weathered faces and salty, white feet as they brought the sacks up to the storage houses.
From Maras, we all took a hike down a nearby trail back to Urubamba. Along the way, we picked shells from the hillside- evidence that, like all places on earth, this place too was once under the sea. Along the banks of the Urubamba river, we passed a few houses where children were playing. Several pigs, sheep, dogs and cats laid here and there also enjoying the warmth of the sun. What a day! And we still had another stop to make before dinner!
Our final activity before dinner was a trip to an artists workshop called Seminario. Pablo Seminario and his wife, Marilu have an amazing studio where they produce ceramics in the styles of Pre-Colombian peoples of Peru. Influences from cultures like the Nazca, Moche, Chimu, Paracas and others are used in the iconography of their works. Their ceramics are so unique and interesting, they have been featured at places like the U.N. in New York, the Field Museum in Chicago and they have been studied by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Their works are now all over the world and yet both Pablo and Marilu remain as grounded and kind as ever. Both Pablo and Marilu took our group for a tour of the studio and explained everything we wanted to know about their wonderful operation. Afterwards, Pablo asked me if I wanted to see the projects he was currently working on. What? Of course I accepted this private invitation. WOW! He showed me two figurines that were maybe a foot tall. Based on the eyebrows on one, I knew instantly this was Pablo’s interpretation of Frida Kahlo. And the other of course was Diego Rivera. Pablo was comissioned privately for this project and I opined that I was certain his client would be pleased. What an absolute treat! Thanks Pablo!
When the sun finally said its goodbye, we were were further treated to a cooking demonstration by master-chef Nacho at the Sol y Luna. His Lomo Saltado (a Peruvian/Asain stir-fry dish) is the best on the planet! As I like to quip…he’s Nacho average chef! And for the cherry on top we all got Salsa lessons and danced under the stars until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer! What a great day! But we all realized we needed at least some rest…for the great Machu Picchu loomed on the ‘morrow! Stay tuned for Day 5 and enjoy the pics.