21 June 2011

Road trip to Chinchero and Moray

Yesterday – Sunday – Lynn, a volunteer from Scotland, and I caught a local bus to Chinchero, a small Andean village about 30km from Cusco. The bus wound its way up the steep hills of Cusco and onto the Anta Plains, where Chinchero sits at 3762m (12,343 ft). It is ‘big country’ – there are wide-ranging views of the richly cultivated rolling plains, fringed by the distant snow-capped Vilcanota mountains.

I bought a bag from this smiling saleswoman

My Lonely Planet guidebook says Chincero was known as ‘the birthplace of the rainbow’ to the Incas, which is entirely believable if the colourful textiles manufactured by the local women are any indication. Every Sunday the locals hold a market where you can buy examples of these beautiful textiles, produced from sheep and alpaca wool, dyed using traditional natural products, spun and woven using ancient techniques and tools, and made up into wall hangings, table mats and runners, bags, blankets and rugs.

Of course, we shopped! The haggling was good-natured, the prices excellent, and the salesmen and women happy to be photographed.

We then wandered around the village for a time. It seemed relatively unspoilt by the tourists who visit: there are no signs in English and the locals still go about their daily business dressed in their traditional costumes. The houses are mostly made of adobe (mud) bricks, and have the trademark bull-and-cross ornaments on their roof tops. There are also remnants of the village’s Inca and Spanish colonial heritage, including a magnificent series of Inca stone terraces and a picturesque church.

The Inca ruins were very impressive. The agricultural terraces, some of which are still in use by the locals to grow crops, are attributed to the Incan Tupac Yupanqui, who may have used Chincero as a kind of country retreat some time in the 1480s. The colonial church dates from the early seventeenth century and was built on the foundations of an Inca palace or temple. Sunday mass was in progress when we walked past, so we couldn’t enter to view the apparently beautiful floral and religious paintings on the ceiling and walls, but the paintings in the foyer were certainly lovely.

We ate lunch in a café overlooking the market and were surprised to be greeted in perfect English by the Peruvian hostess. Turns out most of her family now live in the States, including her Texan Peruvian niece, who we also chatted with. The family had returned home for the recent funeral of the family’s grandfather and were just helping out those of their family who run the café.

Next, we hired a local cabbie to drive us for about 20 minutes on ‘dancing’ dirt roads to another Inca site, Moray. Here, the Incas created a strange series of concentric circles by excavating down as deep as 150m (490ft) and removing huge amounts of earth and rock. There have been various theories put forward to explain the site; the current favourite speculates that Moray was a kind of agricultural experiment. The depth and orientation of the circles means there is a 15°C fluctuation in temperature from top to bottom, so the Incas may have been studying the effects of the different climatic conditions on the crops they grew. To me, the terraces didn’t seem wide enough to grow crops easily, though there certainly was a big difference in the temperature as we descended. As with other Inca sites, there are ‘siempre muchos gradas’ (always many steps)!

From Moray, and on the return journey to Chinchero, we had a splendid view over the golden pastures – it’s harvest time here – to nearby Mount Chicón. It’s an impressive 5530 metres (18,143ft) high with several glaciers splayed around its two main peaks.

From Chincero, we caught a tourist bus back to Cusco. It was a comfortable end to a magical day. Getting out of the noisy dusty polluted city to the silent wide-open spaces of the high country was so very refreshing, and both Chincero and Moray were fascinating.

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