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John and Mandi

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The Once Sacred Valley, Peru

Sep 10, 2018
by John
in: Peru

Sometimes we ask ourselves why we are visiting a particular place. Everything is recommended and the guidebooks either market every place as exponentially better than the last or the most dangerous on earth. There are those that are magical, practically mythical within our minds, extra special to our souls. Are we victims of advertising, the manipulation of our desires, of course.

While the Sacred Valley formed what is referred to as the heart of the Incan empire, that empire was decimated long ago. 500 years later it has become a hyped up smartly marketed tourist trap. Any descendants from those sacred times are now reduced to dressing in traditional clothing and carrying around baby animals, photo props for the tourists. A fraction of its former importance, a remnant of a dream, better imagined than fully explored.

What We Did

Cusco

Our jumping off point for the Sacred Valley and where we returned to regroup before leaving the area. Quinta Lala, 12S per person and 12S per rig (36S per day or $11.01), became our base camp. It is situated just outside the city, a 20 minute walk to the main plaza, and is popular with overlanders. When we arrived the large parking area was almost completely full, leaving the best option up the hill past the bathroom with the only shower. Okan, Donna & Indigo were there, a nice reunion with great friends. Our first few days were spent working on the van. We reinstalled our damaged fender flare, chased down a couple chafed wires, rewired an essential outlet, tightened everything we could, and swapped in a spare set of air filters while we cleaned our reusable pair. We spent 8 nights at Quinta Lala during our first visit and 3 on our return.

The city of Cusco is quite touristy but we enjoyed wandering down to eat breakfast at Jack's Cafe, perusing and replacing a couple essential pieces of technical gear from the high end stores, hanging with friends, and treating ourselves to some wonderful Indian food at The Curry House - Korma Sutra. During our stays we met the Foley family (Clunk Monkey), Justin, April & Greyson (The Journey Itself is Home), and reunited with Sandra & Thomas and Chris & Nicole. Cusco is where we purchased our Machu Picchu tickets and where we completed our Bolivian visas, we will write about the visa process in our first Bolivian post. The city is situated at 3,300 meters, Quinta Lala at 3,560, making for a decent hike back up to camp...we grabbed taxis for 8-10S instead.

Cusco, Peru

Looks small

Cusco, Peru

It's for nighttime selfies

Sacsayhuaman (Boleto Turistico)

A 10 minute walk from Quinta Lala, my favorite ruins in the Sacred Valley, and the first we visited of the sites included in the 10 day Boleto Turistico del Cusco. While a bit pricey at 130S each ($39.26), the 10 day tickets grant access to 16 locations including 10 sets of ruins. We only cared about the ruins and visited 8 of the 10, making the ticket a reasonable deal averaging close to $5 per person per ruin. The sacred valley is expensive, $10 per site for the two of us was relatively cheap.

Sacsayhuaman might not appear very impressive at first glance, the sheer size and weight of the stones are the real mystery. Some of the stones weigh up to 200 tons, the walls are stacked with perfect precision and are mortarless. The day we visited was mostly clear, meaning the site was full of tourists.

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

Only in Trump's dreams

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

Yes, the locals are that small

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

She's a block, house

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

Would make a great game but everyone would lose

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

If only it was only filled with soup

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

Meaning of hard ass

Sacsayhuaman, Cusco, Peru

Much more beautiful than modern art

Q'enqo (Boleto Turistico)

After visiting Sacsayhuaman we decided to walk the 20 minutes to Q'enqo. Visitors can no longer climb on the massive carved rock so we followed the path around it trying to figure out where the carving of the jaguar could be. We also wandered to the neighboring section of the site, Q'enqo Chico, before heading back down the mountain to town. Since it was part of the ticket and close to Sacsayhuaman, it was worth visiting.

Q'enqo, Cusco, Peru

Somebody got a little carried away

Q'enqo, Cusco, Peru

No peeking

Q'enqo, Cusco, Peru

Oooo, media room

Puka Pukara (Boleto Turistico)

Leaving Cusco, on our way into the sacred valley, we stopped at Puka Pukara. There isn't much to the ruins so it's a toss up on whether it's worth visiting.

Puka Pukara, Cusco, Peru

Tires are just stacked near the trail here too

Puka Pukara, Cusco, Peru

That's not where the slide is supposed to be

Puka Pukara, Cusco, Peru

Room with a view

Tambo Machay (Boleto Turistico)

Tambo Machay is located about a mile from Puka Pukara. The main attraction is a functioning fountain. Probably not worth it, but it was a nice stroll on a beautiful day.

Tambo Machay, Cusco, Peru

It has it all

Tambo Machay, Cusco, Peru

Would be more impressive if it was blood

Pisac (Boleto Turistico)

A much larger set of ruins that also has funerary tombs along an adjacent hillside. The ruins weren't in the best of shape, the terracing being more of the attraction. Pisac was the first set of ruins where the floating Inca stairs built into the terracing became apparent to us, very neat! We decided to just visit the ruins and continue out of town.

On our way back from Machu Picchu we spent three days and nights in Pisac hanging with Sandra & Thomas, exclusively dining at Ulrike's ($13-20 per visit), camping in a gated parking lot. The lot was cheap at 10S per day, 30S or $9.17 for our entire stay, but not the most convenient since it is locked up by 7PM. The 24 hour sign still meant the attendant was on Latin time, having us climbing and shimmying through the fence our first night there. Each night around 9 several locals arrived to park or retrieve their vehicles, we timed our return to coincide...never having to scale the fence again.

Pisac, Cusco, Peru

Somebody had flare

Pisac, Cusco, Peru

Those steps are mesmerizing

Pisac, Cusco, Peru

It just feels like the walls are closing in

Pisac, Cusco, Peru

Mork wants his shoes back

Pisac, Cusco, Peru

Of course they have been robbed

Pisac, Cusco, Peru

Did they get skin cancer?

Pisac, Cusco, Peru

Very bad practical joke

Chinchero (Boleto Turistico)

Another example of Incan terracing and carved benches, it's also famous for the textile market at the entrance to the park. We enjoyed walking deep into the grounds and perusing the handmade alpaca blankets. I have been wanting a nice alpaca blanket but didn't find what I'm looking for. To our surprise the sweet Peruvian ladies accept Visa, just in case us gringos didn't have enough money. Our 1S parking fee allowed us to camp in the lot, we visited the onsite bathrooms as well for 1S a piece, $0.92 in total for a reasonably peaceful night.

Chinchero, Cusco, Peru

That umbrella is hand made?

Chinchero, Cusco, Peru

No llamas, we want our money back

Chinchero, Cusco, Peru

Perfect spot to chop off heads

Chinchero, Cusco, Peru

Always finish what you start

Chinchero, Cusco, Peru

Practice makes perfect

Chinchero, Cusco, Peru

It is pleasing to the eyes

Moray (Boleto Turistico)

Only terracing, which we had seen a lot of, but Moray is definitely unique in how it is arranged. We walked around, down into the site, then climbed back out to the top. The best photos are taken from close to the parking area. We were surprised by how much we enjoyed the site, we almost skipped it. Others have stated in iOverlander that camping was allowed in the parking lot, it might be a better choice than Chinchero.

Moray, Cusco, Peru

Someone was thinking outside the box

Moray, Cusco, Peru

She just had to do it

Ollantaytambo (Boleto Turistico)

One of the biggest and best ruins of the 10 day ticket. It was great exercise walking up and down the hillside while exploring the site. We parked in the big lot used by the tourist buses, 2S or $0.61 for our couple hour stay. Instead of spending the night, we decided to push further towards Machu Picchu, feeling the need to be closer since we had already purchased our tickets.

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

Game doesn't start until next equinox

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

Not bad for a pile of rubble

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

The mastery was strong with this one

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

Looks like all the tellers are closed for lunch

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

It contained the meaning of life

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

One door lies, one tells the truth, two are full of themselves

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

Mixing it up, nice

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

Get out of my photo you selfish bastards

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

Taking it to new heights

Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru

Tasted like chicken

Machu Picchu

Having decided to drive the back way to Hydroelectrica and hike in to Machu Picchu, we first stopped at a little roadside restaurant listed in iOverlander for a night. Little did we know, Tambo de Veronica was to become one of the highlights of our Sacred Valley excursion. We chose the little restaurant/hospedaje due to its location and altitude. We wanted to complete the Abra Malaga pass, offload the images from our cameras, and run all of our backups before reaching the proclaimed crown jewel of the Sacred Valley. The pass was completely socked in, it was snowing, and the Peruvians made no change to their driving habits...why it is one of the most dangerous in all of Peru (two cars flew off the mountain during the time we were visiting the ruins). We spent the evening completing our tasks then the following morning with our hostess, Leo, getting a tour of her property and having a nice tipico breakfast. We noticed she had a fresh batch of Kombucha, we had a couple glasses, and grabbed a few snacks for the road. It all totaled to 16S, $4.89, the camping was free.

We left Tambo de Veronica and finished the drive to Hydroelectrica. We got settled in the back lot and popped up to pack for Machu Picchu, sleeping in the van that night (15S or $4.59 per night). Instead of hammering it out, like so many do, we planned a leisurely visit to the world famous Machu Picchu. In short: we hiked the 10km along the tracks, spent the rest of the day eating and wandering the little town, enjoyed our overly priced plush ass hotel complete with private terrace and jetted bathtub, slept in, drank lots of coffee with breakfast, ate french pastries, caught the bus up, visited Machu Picchu in the afternoon, caught the bus back down, savored filet mignon for dinner, soaked more in our jetted tub, slept in, another big breakfast, hiked the tracks out stopping for lunch on the way, drove back to Tambo de Veronica for another night and a really sweet birthday surprise. Mandi's birthday being the reason for our hotel splurge, which incidentally saved the day...literally.

The truth is, our meals at Mapacho, treats at La Boulangerie, our sweet ass room, and Tambo de Veronica were the highlights. The drive to Hydroelectrica, the hike along the tracks, and the ruins themselves were nothing really worth doing. We have driven, hiked, and explored better already...much more and much better. The location of Machu Picchu is quite beautiful, that's all it has going for it. When Peru decided to limit the impact to the site by dividing the tourists into morning and afternoon visits, instead of the 2,500 daily, they instead doubled the number of visitors to 5,000 (2,500 for each slot). Zero regulation means morning visitors are staying into the afternoon, overcrowding an already overcrowded place. The 30 buses that can take 30 people on the 1 hour round trip run prove basic math was never in the equation. Even assuming all the buses start at the same time, which they don't, a maximum of 900 people can reach the park per hour. Yup, at least three hours to get the first 2,500 people up. The reason the line starts to form at 5AM! It's a huge cluster. We stood in line for over an hour and a half to ride up and two hours to catch the bus down.

With all of the crowds and logistical problems we still could have enjoyed the site. Our reason for saying it isn't worth doing? The tourists. The abuse, disregard, molestation of the animals...all almost entirely for the sake of effing photos. It was disgusting, horrifying, and enough to send even the most docile person into a rage of violence. The epitome of humanity, the cusp of our time, another example of why the world is going to shit. The selfish destruction for immediate satiation, superficial narcissistic acts precipitated from economic gain. It's bullshit that is unnecessary, easily remediated by simple individual actions. Sure, Peru effed up. The damage, we the people are to blame.

Why didn't we wait to the last minute and skulk in behind the crowds? Because sanitizing ourselves from what is really happening doesn't benefit anyone but ourselves. Purposely turning a blind eye is an act of weakness and is not much different than the atrocious behavior the site just experienced. Think about it. We go in to have our sanitized selfish experience after those who just happened to engage in different, but equally as selfish, behavior. Sure, we wouldn't molest any animals or damage the site, but the cycle would remain. We are glad we witnessed the true Machu Picchu, not just the physical remnants of the Incan realm.

Our opinion, skip Machu Picchu and save your money for the lesser sites that have just as much of an archeological significance. The $71 per person ($47 for entrance, $24 bus ticket) it cost, not including lodging or food, is ridiculous. Drive to Tambo de Veronica and meet a wonderful family instead. Leave Machu Picchu to the selfie freaks who only care about their appearance, trampling the ruins for a better backdrop, abusing the animals for a forced interaction, arguing with the site attendants while still behaving just the way their pompous asses want. Machu Picchu isn't even a wonder, nothing contributed by humans is a mystery, there are much more beautiful natural places in the world and Sacsayhuaman just outside Cusco cannot be explained (an actual wonder of the world). When a place has become just something to do, long ago, it was time to move on.

Here are some obscure sanitized photos.

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

We could have bought a poster

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

Better be fake or Doc Marten is in for an ass kickin

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

We like how you worked with the environment

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

The back way, for the Incas

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

Seriously

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

Be a tree, be a tree

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

We can see where our money isn't going

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

That, we can still do

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

We're friends, not foes

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

Just imagine

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

It wasn't a complete waste of time

Pinkuylluna

After a wonderful dinner, cake, peaceful night, and breakfast at Tambo de Veronica, totaling 27.5S or $8.41, we drove back to Ollantaytambo to explore the free ruins of Pinkuylluna. While nothing spectacular, they are fun to explore and provide a great view of Ollantaytambo, the ruins and the town. The parking lot charges 10S to park overnight ($3.06), making for a cheap camping spot with easy access to restaurants, Sunrise Cafe became our haunt.

Pinkuylluna, Cusco, Peru

Walking to school had to suck

Pinkuylluna, Cusco, Peru

Ancient suburb

Pinkuylluna, Cusco, Peru

The projects

Salinas de Maras

A favorite amongst overlanders, our last stop before hanging with Sandra & Thomas in Pisac and returning to Cusco. We arrived a couple hours before dark, paid the 10S per person ($6.12 for the two of us), negotiated to visit the salt pools the following morning instead of that day, and parked for the night. Wandering the path above the pools was neat but salt pools don't really interest us. The sun was hitting the pools around 9, we snapped a few photos, then drove to Pisac for breakfast and friends.

Salinas de Maras, Cusco, Peru

Don't get it in your eyes

Salinas de Maras, Cusco, Peru

Are they good for your skin?

Salinas de Maras, Cusco, Peru

Looks great in photos

Salinas de Maras, Cusco, Peru

Cropped just right, it would look like a mountain range

Salinas de Maras, Cusco, Peru

Tiny little crystals

Salinas de Maras, Cusco, Peru

Says it all


Say what? (2)
Sep 10, 2018 at 01:22 PM
Love this post. I will say.. people are assholes...but then, we knew that didn't we? So sad the bad that tourism can bring. I'm sorry the "big event" didn't live up to the hype, but WOW some of those other ruins are spectacular! Can't wait until we're down there ourselves one of these years.
Exciting you met up with the Foley's! We tried to connect with them at one point back in Mexico but it never worked out. Hugs to you both.
Sep 10, 2018 at 01:36 PM
Thanks Rhonda!

People suck in so many ways, but at least they look good on instagram. It is so sad what we have reduced ourselves to, humanity that is. The other sites still have some of the selfie freaks, not nearly as bad.

SA is completely different than CA, we like both...we are starting to miss the warmer temperatures and humidity though. You guys are going to like it down here.

XOXO
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