The day after we visited Machu Picchu was Sunday, May 1st. Chincheros, a nearby town has a famous Sunday market, so we hired a car and driver and decided to hit the market and see some other nearby sights.
On the drive to Chincheros we enjoyed spectacular scenery. Chincheros is between Ollantaytambo and Cusco, so we passed through the same agricultural highlands that we had seen just a few days before. The rolling fields surrounded by snowcapped mountains were just as beautiful the second time. We didn’t stop for photos, but we snapped a couple shots with our phones and we drove. The roads were fantastic.The paved roads were surfaced well and the dirt roads were smooth with no “washboarding.”
The Chincheros sunday market is not as big as some of the other markets in the region, but is said to be more authentic and less touristy. As far as we’re concerned, that’s a good combination. At the entrance to the market, there were a couple of ladies selling corn on the cob.
I munched on corn as we wandered through the colorful market. There were woven goods, produce, meats, food, chica, and more…
We stopped at a cobbler’s stall to get Jette’s sneakers fixed. Near the ball of her foot the uppers were beginning to separate from the soles. The cobbler first glued, then stitched them. Cost, about a dollar.
With Jette’s shoes fixed, I went back for another corn on the cob while Mila and Jette did some more shopping. At an altitude of more than 12,000 feet the sun was absolutely brutal. I opened my umbrella for some shade and muched on corn and cheese. Before too long, Mila and Jette appeared with their purchases.
From Chincheros, we headed to the salt evaporation ponds near the town of Mara (a.k.a. Salineras de Mara). Once again the views on the way were spectacular.
Near Maras the landscape really began to look like high desert. Reminded me a bit of the landscape near Big Bend, Texas.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the salineras. Here’s how Wikipedia describes the Salineras de Mara:
Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the workers. The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond. The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker. Some salt is sold at a gift store nearby.
The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to propitiate a salt pond get the one farthest from the community. The size of the salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family’s size. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working.
It is amazing to think that locals have been extracting salt from this same underground stream for hundreds, possible thousands of years. The terraced ponds are so simple and yet effective. As with the thousands of agricultural terraces we’ve seen in Peru, it is sobering to think about the amount of hard, physical labor that went into building these massive structures with simple hand tools. That said, they have stood the test of time and still serve people today.
From Mara we jumped back in the car and headed to Moray. Again it was a scenic drive with beautiful views. Our cellphone snapshots just don’t do it justice.
Moray is an interesting place and a bit of an enigma. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:
Moray or Muray (Quechua)is an archaeological site in Peru approximately 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 3,500 m (11,500 ft) and just west of the village of Maras. The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30 m (98 ft) deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system.
The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. Speculation about the site has led to discussion about Moray as an Inca agricultural experiment station. Its microclimatic conditions and other significant characteristics led to the use of the site as a center for the ancient study of domestication, acclimatization, and hybridization of wild vegetable species that were modified or adapted for human consumption.
It is difficult to get a sense of the scale of these structures in our snapshots. Here are a couple of photos I found online that might give a better sense of scale:
Here’s what it looks like from the satellite view in Google Earth. Note the buildings for scale, and imagine creating this with Inca bronze-age technology. No wheels! No wheelbarrows, no carts, no trucks. Just a LOT of hard work:
It was getting late, so from Moray, we drove back to Ollantaytambo.
Back in Ollantaytambo, we had dinner at one of the restaurants on the main square. The menu was a little bit scary…
There was a big mountain bike event in town that evening and there was a big stage set up in the main square.
We wandered back to Casa de Wow through the narrow stone streets of Ollantaytambo and tucked ourselves into bed and dreamt of Incan ingenuity.