Monday, May 10, 2010

Pisac, Peru

     The town of Pisac is approximately 30km from Cusco and lies at the head of the sacred valley. The town is primarily known for Inca ruins located above the town, and a lively market held every Sunday. We were fortunate to see both during our stay there.
     Luckily, on the way our driver suggested we stop at a place to see Alpacas and Llamas, as it was “very interesting.” Indeed it was, as the site was run as a cooperative of local villages striving to maintain their textile heritage (starting with the animals to provide the wool) without help from any governmental or aid agencies. Our guide was ably assisted by her two year old son. All was in Spanish but we actually understood a fair bit of it. We visited and fed Alpacas and Llamas (some only a few days old), saw how the wool was spun and colored using natural dyes, and saw weavers from various villages performing their craft. The shop was filled with incredible craftwork – we were overwhelmed and vowed to return.
    Once in Pisac, we hiked up from the town, through the agricultural terraces the Incas built in the side of the mountans, to visit the ruins. Starting from approximately 2750 meters (9000 feet) we followed the Inca stairways straight up the mountain. After about an hour of huffing and puffing, we came across a local woman, her young daughter, and nursing infant selling some simple crafts while sitting in an Inca terrace. Tana could not help but reward this effort at sales location by buying a woven hatband from her. The woman threw in a couple pinches of coca leaves to help us on our way. We continued higher until the terraces gave way to defensive fortifications, and finally a set of magnificently constructed temples with a grand view of the sacred valley, now far below. We continued on towards the parking lot along a cliffside trail, through a tunnel, and along more terraces before hailing a taxi for a terrifying 10km ride back down to our hotel.  Drivers in mountainous Peru seem to have an aversion to using the brakes.
     On Sunday we got to the town center where the market is held around 8AM and watched as more and more vendors, locals, and tourists arrived. Many of the local women were dressed in their traditional clothes – the men, as elsewhere in the world, were more casual in their dress. Many booths were selling souveniers and locally produced crafts. There was also plenty of produce. The textile crafts and local costumes provided a plethora of festive colors, and the people watching was excellent.
     It also happened to be 1) Mother's Day and 2) The first annual City Of Pisac Cuy (Guinea Pig) festival. All of the mothers seemed to be rewarded with a sprinkle of confetti in their hair, so we got some for Tana as well. We found the Cuy Festival, which featured contests for roasted cuy and live Guinea Pigs (kind of a combination of livestock fair and BBQ cook-off), plenty of local costumes, and some live music.

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