Sacred Valley & Ollantaytambo (pop. 4,000)
Today was a fantastic day, and the last one before we hit the trail head for our Machu Picchu trek. We bussed into a rural village in Sacred Valley, outside of Cuzco .. and visited 4 different sites where locals showed us projects they were involved in.
The first destination was a pottery ¨home¨, where a woman and her brother (along with an adorable 2 year old son) were responsible for making pottery and supplying it to gift shops and also for resale to local hotels and restaurants. It was absolutely inspiring how much talent exists in the countryside of Peru, and how much time goes into the handy-crafts. At home, one buys clay, uses an electric wheel to make the body (i.e a cup or bowl or vase), fires it in a kiln, and that´s that. Here, the family worked together to sift sand and mud, use a foot propelled pottery wheel, pound out the clay with home-made and ingenious tools, and decorate it with paints made from melted minerals mixed with water. They polished each item with smooth stones found from the river. Each item of pottery took 30 days to complete (including time spent drying in the sun). Essentially, they produce about 80 mugs/bowls/plates per month. I bought alpaca gloves and a little soya sauce holder, and the 2 year old boy carefully packed my items using recycled newspaper.
The second stop was a local chocolate maker. Essentially, it was a one woman show. She lived in a very small hut, with a mud floor .. and made pure chocolate out of cocoa beans. She showed us how she makes chocolate and we had some to sample (and purchase/eat of course!). I can´t believe the amount of work that goes into the process. She first must shell the beans, by hand … then toast them .. and then crush or grind them in a grinder by hand. We saw her add brown sugar, beans, and peanuts .. and tasted the final product. It was like the best dark chocolate reese´s PB cup you could ever envision. Again, the time and energy that goes into the products here – be it pottery or food – is really something to reflect on, when visiting from a culture where everything is manufactured in large quantities.
The third stop was to a bee farmer, to see how the honey was made. Unfortunately with the weather and flooding, he had no honey to offer us for purchase .. but we did get to watch bees hatch (weird!) and taste honey off of bees wax. It was honestly the tastiest stuff i´ve ever had, and my mom likes to buy all varieties of exotic honey (ie lavender infused). It was pure and delicious.
Our fourth ¨cultural interaction¨ experience was a village lunch. We arrived, down a dirt road, to a farm with a table all set up for 15. We were served a juice (purple) made from dark corn, it tasted sweet like mulled wine and sort of grape-like. Delicious! Then we had quinoa soup (Ive decided they really know their soups here) with a spicy chilli garlic sauce to put in. As an appetizer we had Choclo con Queso, which is essentially huge kernels of boiled corn (off the cob) with chunks of cheese (cold). Our main was rice, with shredded potato & beef. The potato was more like radish, and one of the 4,000 types in Peru. They then showed us a guinea pig farm, as guinea pig is commonly eaten here (called Cuyo) .. and I am interesting in trying it though the way it is served kind of bothers me (skinned with legs spread apart on plate … a vegetarian´s nightmare!)
Finally, we stopped at a beer stand, where they made Chicha – an authentic Peruvian beer made from corn and fermented for only 1 day! It tasted like apple cider vinegar, but a bit beer-ish .. there was also a strawberry one. The farmers drink it in huge mugs (i.e 3 would get you where you want to be, if you know what i´m saying) and chew coca leaves. Basically, a nice cocktail of downer + upper = energy for working the field and less need for food (according to our tour guides). Yikes! Haha, no but seriously … it was interesting to see how the fermentation process worked. The beer itself is a little tough to swallow and I prefer the bottled variety 😉 The photos of corn illustrates the many ways it can be eaten. I bought a package of the small kernels, which are amazing and taste like corn nuts + popcorn mixed together. They had at least 10 different varieties of edible (popped or unpopped) corn, different sizes, shapes and colours.
We slept in Ollantaytambo and ate dinner at Heart´s café, which is affiliated with a foundation started by a 70 something year old ex-Nutritionist from the UK. The proceeds go to helping fund meals for children who come down from the highlands for school. Nutritious hot meals are provided to them at school. Education about nutrition is also a primary component of this foundation. The food was absolutely delicious and fresh, and we were all more than happy to support this worthy cause.
On to the Inca Trail Experience! Stay posted .. I have a lot to say, and many pictures..
p.s the picture of the skulls was at the beer fermentation stop .. i thought it was an interesting touch (it has to do with keeping one´s ancestors sacred, etc. Not just for decoration though I think it has become more about the tourists now, given the sunglasses they are donning!)