We have arrived in Peru! There's our tour guide, Ernesto, picking us up from the airport in Cusco.
Jeni loves visiting Europe but let me choose our trip this time. I've wanted to see Machu Picchu for years so here we are!
Daniel our driver, drove us and our tour guide, Ernesto, through Cusco on our way out to the Sacred Valley.
Our first stop was here at this women's weaving cooperative in Chinchero.
We got to feed this little lamb and alpacas out in front before we went inside.
They brought out some of their traditional clothing they make inside for pictures with the animals.
Do we look like Peruvians yet?
When researching our trip we came across this tour company, Valentin's Pachamama Journeys, and loved the tour experiences they offer.
I also wanted to visit these little towns all along the Sacred Valley rather than just a one-day tour of Machu Picchu, like all the other tour companies offer.
So we spent the first 3 days of our trip with Ernesto as our guide and it was fantastic.
Our new little friend followed us inside.
This lady gave us a demonstration of how they make their clothing, from the raw alpaca hair all the way to the final, woven product.
The lamb wanted to come drink out of the wash bowl.
Some grated saqta root makes a natural soap to wash the alpaca hair fibers.
Spinning the fibers into yarn.
She showed us how to spin the yarn and then gave us a chance to try.
Spinning the yarn was tricky; I just couldn't seem to get the hang of it.
And here are the herbs and minerals and things used to dye the yarn.
See the white, cottony stuff on the cactus on the right side? That's where the cochineal insects live.
And here we have the cochineal mashed up and ready to dye the yarn red. Adding things like salt or lemon alters the shade of red pigment.
It can also be used for lipstick, as she demonstrated for us.
Next, it's on to the weaving..
All simple, natural tools are used for the weaving, like this bone.
It was very cool to see how these garments are made.
That was fun, now to browse the shop.
Oh, we've got to get one of these fluffy alpacas. We shall bring him home and call him Floof.
They also had things like chess sets and zampoñas (the pan pipe).
Jeni bought a shirt and a table runner here. I was on the lookout for a poncho but wanted to shop around for something not quite as expensive as what they had.
Oh, they also had guinea pigs (cuy) all over the shop. Peruvians raise them to eat.
Pretty nice place these cuy have.
Thanks so much for showing us around!
The next stop on our tour is a preschool in Pillaray.
Valentin and his workers are all Peruvian locals and he built this school, which opened 2 years ago for the local preschool. On the far left is the teacher, Joni.
A couple of the moms were there helping out in the classroom.
We caught the tail-end of the school day with the kids.
The kids brought out their instruments and performed a song for us.
Ernesto jumped in to talk with the class.
Days of the week and month.
Latin American countries tend to be more religious-oriented than we see in the US.
We brought school supplies for the classroom.
Joni has been teaching here for 7 years: 5 years at her home before the school was built.
Having a group photo with the class before we follow them out to lunch.
The classroom is on the left with the bathrooms straight ahead.
Here is the rest of the schoolyard.
A view of the street the school is on.
Passing the mud brick houses as we walked down the street on our way to lunch.
They had ducks in the backyard of the house.
And tables set up for us and the class, ready for us to come over for lunch.
Homes here are built as you go. As the family gets the time and money to work on the house they'll continue building. Maybe there will be outdoor stairs leading up to that 2nd story door or maybe that door will even lead to a 2nd story balcony.
The school day goes until lunchtime then the kids go home unless there's a tour group like ourselves visiting for lunch. Ernesto says that's been happening a couple times per week.
The fire is heating up those limestone rocks for our pachamanca lunch.
And here is our chef, Roger.
Here was our first introduction to the variety of potatoes they have in Peru (and this is just a small sampling of the 4,000 kinds of potatoes they eat here).
Pachamanca means "oven earth." In other words, lunch is going to be buried and cooked by those heated stones.
Roger began by knocking down the stone oven.
In went the potatoes and the bananas.
Those were buried by the remaining stones.
And the meat was layered on top.
The whole thing was covered in this type of grass.
And then the tarp (to keep the dirt off of the food).
And there we have our pachamanca lunch: buried to cook for about 20-30 minutes.
The kids were having a great time over here in the meantime.
Ah, now we are ready to uncover the food and eat!
Helping to carry the meal.
Mmm, looking good.
Loving the decorative fruit and vegetable displays.
And here it is!
Mmm, we were so hungry.
The kids washed up and got their food.
It was all so good.
We are set to see Roger again 2 days later for a cooking class; looking forward to it!
After lunch I was just watching the kids hang out.
They started up a game of chase and ran amok around the yard.
One last photo before heading out to our next stop on the tour.
A couple of older sisters.
The kids started heading out through the gate on their way home, most of them by themselves. Even the littlest ones. We were told that even the little 2-3 year-olds know their way home and that the neighborhood is safe, so off they go.
Caught this herd of sheep just around the corner.
We saw walls painted like this all over the place as we drove. Turns out this is one of the candidates running for election and their billboards here in Peru are painted on people's walls.
Nice view of the mountains.
Little buildings like these dotted the otherwise empty land as we drove between the little towns in the Sacred Valley.
We have arrived at the Salineras de Maras, the salt mines.
It's amazing that the mountain streams have been carrying salt to these salt flats for hundreds of years, even pre-dating the Incan Empire.
There's just so much salt right here, right now, let alone all the salt that has been coming through for centuries.
There's an intricate network of little diverging waterways that feeds over 3,000 salt flats.
First, the salt stream fills the ponds with water a few centimeters deep. Then, the waterways are blocked off to let the water evaporate over the next few days. This process is repeated over and over until a month's worth of salt is ready to harvest.
There are about 400 or so local families who own the salt flats, passed down from their ancestors.
From the salineras we continued our journey to Moray.
It is thought that the Incas used these circular terraces as a sort of agricultural laboratory.
High up in the Andes mountain range, these terraces allow for a wide range of microclimates perfect for experimentation.
The sun hits these terraces at different angles and intensities, with an astonishing 27 degree Fahrenheit difference from top to bottom.
That, and the ability to control how the terraces are irrigated, would have allowed the Incas to study and develop new ways to grow their crops.
By the end of the tour day we were feeling pretty tired.
Our tour set us up here at Tunupa Lodge in Ollantaytambo.
The front office.
A nice place to relax and gather out front.
That first door on the bottom leads to our room for the next 2 nights.
Some alpacas were eating along this back wall.
So we thought we'd stop by for a visit.
We were pretty exhausted by the end of the day. Exhausted, starting to feel sick, and getting headaches.
The altitude sickness was kicking in. We drank some of their coca tea and went to bed early. We had to be up early the next morning for Machu Picchu and needed all the rest we could get.