A lie in today, up and out by 8am! We flag down a taxi to take us to the bus terminal for Urubamba. We were chatting away with our driver and he said that he could take us to Moray and the Salineras for 150 soles (less than £20 each). Moray and Maras are two sites we wanted to visit most besides the Inca Trail, so we decided to treat ourselves to a stress free day in the back of a taxi instead of battling buses and collectivos on a four change odyssey across the sacred valley. With hindsight I have no hesitation in saying that this guy did us a huge favour!
Our driver took us on a direct route to the town of Maras, on gravel roads through the rich farmland for which the Sacred Valley is so renowned.
We arrived at Moray shortly after 9:30am. Moray is an archaeological site made up of three concentric limestone depressions in the hillside. It is believed the Inca used Moray as an agricultural laboratory where they developed the art of growing crops at high altitude. We had seen Moray on TV before our trip and were desperate to see the terraces up close.
The concentric circular design created a crucible effect for growing crops. It is believed that the Inca were able to grow crops such as tobacco here, 3,500m above sea level! The temperature can vary by degrees between the rim and the centre. Something I hadn’t appreciated watching from home is the depth of the depressions. Each terrace was between 1-1.5m in height, with at least 8 or 10 levels in each depression, creating the dramatic bowl-like shape.
The high cliffs surrounding the site make it warm and sheltered. Another thing we noticed to be different from the TV was the location. Moray sits between a rather ordinary range of hills to the west, with undulating potato fields sloping off to the east. To the north the ‘Sacred Valley’ plunges almost canyon-like down to the Urubamba river before rising into the rugged and unique Peruvian Andes.
In reality Moray's location is far more forgiving than I originally though but this does not detract from the rigour and beauty with which the complex was designed. It was sad to see the two smaller depressions on the site looking less preserved, but preservation and restoration are very different practices, and I imagine the archaeological community would frown upon arbitrary reconstruction of these areas.
We shared the site with about eight others and one dog, but as we turned to leave there were no fewer than three hundred people swarming towards us. We were glad to be out amongst the fields on our way to the next stop.
A twenty minute drive north and we began to weave down into the Sacred Valley from the sweeping high plains above. However we stopped short in a steep and deep valley where salty spring water has been emitted for over a thousand years. The site has been used by humans for almost a millennium, with the construction of a huge network of evaporation pools completely covering the western face of the valley.
Visiting as we did in the rainy season the pools were full of a brownish mixture of salt water, rainwater and silt. Come the dry season and the water evaporates to leave the salt pans with a thick crust of pure mountain salt. The harvest is in the dry season so we didn’t see the pans at their most crystallised but they are still awe inspiring (and photogenic). Like the tidal salt pans of Cambridgeshire I find it amazing that humans worked out how to gather minerals with such minimal yet elegant techniques.
No doubt these technologies of cultivation and mineral extraction took many years to develop and we see only the end-product. The reality is that there was a hell of a lot of work and even more failure to reach this point. But humans are notoriously terrible for recording their failures, and as a result we create a feedback loop where young people do not understand how hard they have to work and fail in order to succeed.
We skipped the Chinchero ruins on the way home, afraid that we will burn out. Keeping our 'ruin-spotting' powder dry for the Inca Trail, so to speak. Rose doesn’t like this phrase, but on this day she used it without prompt, a sign perhaps that we are spending too much time together or that I have a point? Probably the former.