Peru 2008: The Sacred Valley: Cusco to Awanakancha

June 26, 2008

Today we left Lima to fly to Cusco. We had to be up early and our luggage outside our rooms at 7 am.

The flight to Cusco was about an hour long and much smoother than I expected. We also got a more substantial snack than I expected. We flew over the snow-capped mountains of the Andes, and I took some beautiful photos out the window of the plane.

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At Cusco, we were picked up by our new bus driver, Victor. We went by bus north to Yucay, where our hotel was, entering the region known as the Sacred Valley, and stopping at sites along the way.

Cusco from a lookout point on the road

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Small site of Inca ruins along the road above Cusco
Small site of Inca ruins along the road above Cusco
Through the trees you can see a cave and excavation work on the site.
Through the trees you can see a cave and excavation work on the site.
And of course, where there are ruins, there are tourists...and where there are tourists there are vendors with native trinkets for sale! In this picture you can see how close we still were to Cusco.
And of course, where there are ruins, there are tourists…and where there are tourists there are vendors with native trinkets for sale! In this picture you can see how close we still were to Cusco.

Our first major stop was the weaving cooperative of Awana Kancha. At this cooperative, they raise the American camel family, llamas, alpacas and the rare and endangered vicuña. These animals are sheared once a year and their wool used to make wonderful things. The first shearing of an alpaca is used to make garments of this very soft wool, known as baby alpaca. Peruvian hats made from alpaca wool are well-known in the U.S. and throughout the world. They also make sweaters, scarves, jackets, gloves, rugs, and lots of other things. At this place we saw lots of llamas and alpacas and learned to tell the difference. Llamas are the largest. They have a longish snout and long ears. Alpacas are a little shorter, but they are furrier and have fur bunched around their knees, and a blunter snout. Their ears are also shorter. Both llamas and alpacas have long and short haired varieties, although the alpaca wool is a lot thicker in general than llama. Vicuñas are small and graceful looking.

Decorated bulls are placed on top of houses in rural areas as a symbol of good luck.
Decorated bulls are placed on top of houses in rural areas as a symbol of good luck.
These are alpacas.
These are alpacas.
These are llamas.
These are llamas.
A rural town; note the terrace-type agriculture still in use on the hillsides at right.
A rural town; note the terrace-type agriculture still in use on the hillsides at right.

The most coveted wool is baby alpaca, and lots of vendors try to sell you things claiming it is baby alpaca and if it’s really cheap, it probably isn’t. (The English-speaking Peruvians jokingly refer to this cheaper variety as “maybe alpaca”!) Anyway, we also saw the different stages of wool-making, and saw all the dyes they use for the many brilliant colors, which are all derived from natural herbs and vegetables. Native people do their weaving and other work in small tents. They are shy about being photographed.

This is a vicuna.
This is a vicuna.

alpaca huayaco
alpaca huayaco
alpacas huayacos & suris (the "suri" really needs a shave!)
alpacas huayacos & suris (the “suri” really needs a shave!)
These alpacas may be shorn soon! I love their expressive faces!
These alpacas may be shorn soon! I love their expressive faces!
Llamas at Awana Kancha
Llamas at Awana Kancha
baby llama
baby llama

Dyes used are primarily from natural herbs.
Dyes used are primarily from natural herbs.
Dyed skeins of alpaca & llama wool
Dyed skeins of alpaca & llama wool

Alpaca wool in natural colors
Alpaca wool in natural colors

Most people, including us, ended up buying things in this place. We bought a small rug which is really beautiful, most suitable for hanging on a wall, as well as hats, scarves and Jayme and I bought identical alpaca wool jackets.

After a short stint in the bus, we reached a lookout which afforded the most beautiful views of the Sacred Valley – mountains, farmland and terraces climbing the hillsides, and a river winding its way through the valley. Here we stopped to have a picnic lunch, which was quite substantial.

On the road to Pisaq:

Dale was befriended by a local dog who wanted some of his lunch!
Dale was befriended by a local dog who wanted some of his lunch!

I was amazed at how high up on the mountainside these terraces are!
I was amazed at how high up on the mountainside these terraces are!

Next: The ruins of Pisaq

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