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Sacred Valley of the Incas

Sunday, December 04, 2011 – Day 14 – Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour, Peru

I am up ahead of our wakeup call at 6AM, and go down to the buffet breakfast included with the hotel rate. It is wonderful to have some Peruvian coffee and a nicely prepared omelette before our day begins. Felix is our driver and Boris is our guide for the day. They pick us up at 8AM for our full day tour of the Sacred Valley. Grain and corn were cultivated for the Inka, his family and the upper class in this valley. Original Inca agricultural terraces are still being used today, and are visible everywhere we drive through this valley.

Wendy mentions to Boris she is interested in textiles, so he decides to reverse the order of the tour, taking us to Chinchero for our first stop this morning. The Peruvian women at Expo Andina serve us cocoa tea and then put on a very amusing and informative textile demonstration. Afterward, they have their wares for sale. We end up buying quite a few items, since they are original and locally made.

The local Sunday market in Chinchero is also close by. It’s a very interesting market, where some people are trading produce rather than paying cash. There is a lunch area, fresh spices, produce of all kinds, flowers, a shoe repair, including sandals for sale made from recycled tires, and cooking pottery is also being sold. The varieties of corn and potatoes available in this market are nothing short of amazing. There is also a large area dedicated to souvenirs made for tourists. I think we are their only tourists this morning, because we were pestered pretty well.

Next stop is Urubamba, the community where the Peru Rail train joins the Urubamba River and the Sacred Valley on its way to Machu Picchu. We get a super workout at our next stop at Ollantaytambo, an Incan town and temple fortress – we climb to the top! The granite stone used for this fortress were moved by human muscle from a quarry on the side of a mountain, located across the river . Boris offers to take us into an Incan house, but we decline since we are so exhausted after scaling the fortress.

We drive to our lunch stop at the Sonesta Posada Yucay, a resort and a hotel. They offer a very a nice buffet of traditional Peruvian food. I really appreciate having some coffee to start with. After savouring the coffee, I go back to tackle the buffet, which consists of virtually all Peruvian food. Yucay is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which is a fertile and verdant valley, and still produces maize as it did for the Incas so many centuries ago. We drive by a soccer game being played with sheep on the field, which nobody seems to notice or care about.

Pisac Market is our last stop before returning to Cusco. We all assure Boris we can do without visiting this market, and would appreciate an early return to the hotel so we can rest. However, he talks us into a quick visit, since it is on our way back to Cusco. The market is huge, and there are many interesting things for sale, but we buy nothing and leave after 15 minutes. We see more Inca terraces on the hills above the Rio Pahuaycoc valley, as we return to Cusco.

We go to La Pizza Carlo again for dinner this evening and order the loaded pizza. Perhaps we are not very adventurous, but we are exhausted from the day’s activities and just want to go to bed to get lots of rest for tomorrow – the big day when we go to Machu Picchu.

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San Blas Islands

Saturday, November 26, 2011 – Day 6 – San Blas Islands, Panama

JoeTourist: San Blas Islands &emdash; Cuna woman in traditional dress with Molas and young girlIt is 10:30AM and there is great excitement aboard. Everyone is milling about waiting for tenders to go ashore to what must be the tiniest island destination for a cruise ship: Carti Tupili Island, which is one of the San Blas Islands. There are Cuna Indians in canoes circling the ship as we anchor, waiting for all those US$ to flow into their eager hands…or in this case diving for coins being thrown down by the passengers. I stay on the ship this morning since I want to avoid the madness of jostling for the first few tenders. I use this time to catch up on my travel journal and blog, and take some photos of our approach to the islands. I partake of the delicious BBQ lunch served on the Lido pool deck, and then decide it is time to get a tender ticket and go ashore. I only have to wait a couple of minutes before my tender leaves.

There are hundreds of Cuna Indian women and children selling stuff. The women are mainly selling Molas, handmade delicately sewn artwork made by arranging brightly coloured fabric into layers and patterns. Others, especially children are offering themselves for photo ops at $1 a shot, with some just looking incredibly cute, while others offer puppies, kittens, rabbits, birds and even a monkey as additional props for the tourists to photograph. Some men are also selling wares: mainly carvings from coconut wood or husks, or artwork. I find this all rather sad to see, and since the whole scene mainly turns me off, I catch a tender back to the ship after about 15 minutes of walking around.

Of the 378 islands and cays in the archipelago, 49 are inhabited. As you can see by my photos, the inhabited islands are densely populated – every bit of each island’s land mass is used. There is no electricity from the grid available on these islands; only power from generators is used for a few hours each day as households determine their needs and what they can afford in fuel costs. Transportation to the islands is poor to non-existent unless you own your own seaworthy boat. There is no fresh water available on these islands. Water must be brought in by boat. These islands consist of sand, and are essentially at sea level – there is no elevation to speak of.