Although we liked the contrast Cusco provided compared to our time in La Paz, we were intrigued by a few attractions outside the city. We decided to book a half-day tour for Sunday (3/12) which included visits to two Inca sites, Moray and the Salinas de Maras, as well as a stopover in the small town of Chinchero.
While in Chinchero we visited a small group of women who provided a demonstration of the processes involved in making textiles. The centerpiece of the presentation was a table topped with bowls of various spices, plants, etc which they used to dye the wool. The woman taking the lead role showed how intensely and quickly the wool will take up the colors, and how adding even a small amount of a different ingredient can drastically change the end result. She appeared to have a good sense of humor as the rest of the group frequently laughed, but ninety percent of the presentation was in Spanish and about sixty percent of what she said was lost on me.
After buying a beautifully made textile from the women of Chinchero, we headed to the complex of Moray. I had seen pictures and models of this archaeological site before but did not at all appreciate its scale. It consists of a series of amazingly symmetrical circular terraces which are not seen until you walk right up to the edges of the surrounding hillsides. Although there is uncertainty about the original purpose of these terraces, one belief is that the Incas used them to experiment with growing different varieties of crops. Because of the way the sun and wind interact with the shape of the land, temperatures can vary by nearly 30° F from the top terrace to the bottom terrace, allowing for a wider variety of growing conditions to simulate other areas of the Andes where crops could be grown. Regardless of its intended purpose, I was amazed at the symmetry, design and scale of the landscape.
We were allowed a little time to wander through the terraces, then were back on the bus for a short drive to the Salinas de Maras. This was another experience in underestimating the scale of a landmark. Salinas de Maras is a steep hillside with more than three thousand terraced pools of salt water. A subterranean saltwater stream feeds the pools and salt is harvested once the water has evaporated. All of the pools date back to Inca (possibly pre-Inca) times and are currently owned by residents of the community.
The bus ride back to Cusco felt a bit long but was uneventful. We made it back to our hostel by mid-afternoon, giving us plenty of time for an early dinner and to ensure our bags were prepped for the next day. We had an early morning ahead of us; Machu Picchu was calling.