Moray and Maras, Cusco, Peru, Day 5 of Our Trip

One of the recommendations for people who are hiking into Machu Picchu is that they acclimate in Cusco for 2 to 3 days first. All of the preparation just to walk 37 miles over several days might seem overkill. It isn’t. Those of us that fared best out of the group we hiked with were the ones who wore the most comfortable hiking boots, trained with an intense hiking regimen before going, and were the most comfortable hiking at altitude. We had yet to meet our group. Some of the people from the group finished the trek, and others didn’t. There was illness, there were injuries, and there were adult meltdowns. It really is an intense 37-mile hike. I don’t want to make it too daunting in case it’s something you’re interested in doing, but you should be forewarned that it’s not a casual stroll in the park. IMG_0445 This was our last full day in Cusco, and we decided to go off the beaten path and visit some of the less touristy sites. Have you been wondering where the llama photos are? We had two llamas at home, so the llamas didn’t make a big impression on us. Here is one I found while going through the photo album as I was writing this post. IMG_0462 This is the side of a native house of the type you see once you get out of the city. Even today most Peruvians live a rural life. They make these bricks from the clay soil near where they live and mix it with water and hay. The bricks do not dissolve in the rain as you would think they would. Peru mudbrick day five village day five Peru   This is a typical looking rural village. They are not very big. These photos show typical dress in the country. Peru women walking day fiveIMG_0480 IMG_0481 The life expectancy in the country is mid-40s. Why? The people chew coca leaves, which inhibit their appetite. Plus they eat a meal of mostly meat and potatoes. The life expectancy in Lima and the cities is the mid-70s. Peru donkey guinea pig food day five The donkey in the back is carrying food for guinea pigs. I’m not kidding. The first stop today was at Moray. “Moray or Muray (Quechua)[1] is an archaeological site in Peru approximately 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 3,500 m (11,500 ft) and just west of the village of Maras. The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30 m (98 ft) deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. Speculation about the site has led to discussion about Moray as an Inca agricultural experiment station. Its microclimatic conditions and other significant characteristics led to the use of the site as a center for the ancient study of domestication, acclimatization, and hybridization of wild vegetable species that were modified or adapted for human consumption.” IMG_0483 moray Peru day five This is huge there are four of them. The terracing and depth creates different micro climates, with different temperature, water, and wind zones. The difference in the humidity and temperature from top to bottom is surprising. You start out chilly and dry at the top and end up warm and damp from humidity at the bottom. As much as a 59 degree Fahrenheit temperature difference has been measured from the top to the bottom.

This is another smaller area showing a similar structure.
This is another smaller area showing a similar structure.

This is a different ring, one that has not been fully excavated yet. It was much windier at this ring. This is important because some plants need wind to pollinate. The piles of stones came from the walls and are being put back into them as this site is restored. stairs Moray Peru Day 5 This is a staircase going from one level to the next. stairs Mare Peru Blair day 5 Sean is at the top, and missed the cool stairs. There was no way to get down to the bottom with crutches. more stairs Moray Peru day 5 These steps are at least 600 years old. Can you imagine? IMG_0504 Each of the levels have many of these irrigation channels around the circles. To this day they do not know how they did it, but the bottom levels do not pool water. The water drains perfectly. Moray Peru from the bottom up day 5 This is a major site for New Agers. It is supposedly one of the most important energy centers on earth. The group in the center at the bottom are communing. All I really know as a chemist is, energy is damn interesting, and just how life comes out of it, I am speaking on the atomic level here, is fascinating. Not that I am a New Ager. It is just something to think about. Moray Peru new age day 5 The Andes: Even if you are from the mountains, the Andes are spectacular. Andes Peru day five Facts I learned today about the Andes” It is 13 degrees south of the equator. It is the longest Mountain range in the world. The mountains are 300 million years old. 7500 = the length the range grows in millimeters every year. The first snow we have seen was up on high in the Andes today. maras peru day 5Our next stop was Maras. This is from the top on the way in. The small white squares are individual salt flats. The salt mines have been in continuous operation for more than 1000 years. They’re pre-Incan. IMG_0538 IMG_0549 The photo below shows how the water gets to the pans. Are you wondering why there would be an archaeological site for salt? And even if there was why would someone visit it? Well, in the millennium before everything could be bought anywhere at any time, some commodities shaped history. People (and lots of other animals as well) need salt, but salt is not available everywhere. Salt used to be worth its weight in gold. A very interesting book on this subject is called Salt. It is nonfiction and tells the history of salt. This author also wrote a book called Cod, which is a fish that changed history. Both of these foods changed history more than many documents and most historical figures did. IMG_0550 IMG_0553 “Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the workers. The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond. The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker. Some salt is sold at a gift store nearby. The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to propitiate a salt pond get the one farthest from the community. The size of the salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family’s size. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working.”,_Peru Urubamba River Peru day five That is the Urubamba River that flows through Sacred Valley. The Maras salt mines are on a slope of the Qaqawinay Mountain that goes down into Sacred Valley. The Urubamba is a major tributary of the Amazon River. The Amazon River has so much of its water flow into the Atlantic Ocean every year, that it has a major effect on the Atlantic Ocean’s chemistry. The little creek shown below is the source of all the salt pans, and it is not bigger than it looks. It actually made me think of some of the pools we have around Bridgeport. This little stream does NOT have a major effect on the chemistry of the Atlantic Ocean 😉 River maras Peru day five The stones along this stream were put there to line it more than 1,000 years ago. This is pre-Incan and still here. The stone work around the natural settings is incredible. These stones highlight the reason for hiring a guide. Without a guide you would walk by and not realize how spectacular something this simple is. How many structures near where we live will still be there more than 1,000 years from now? thousand year old stonework Peru day 5 We have to get back to meet our guide for the trek and our group and to have dinner. By the time we got back, it was just starting to rain but people were lining the streets waiting for the parade on Good Friday. We were told more than once that Cuzco is a muy Catolico City. Cuzco Peru day 5 stilts Cuzco Peru day five evening IMG_0584 The ashtray? I have no idea why. No one smokes here. And you would know why if you walked through this area for even an hour. ashtray Peru day fiveIMG_0287 IMG_0294 IMG_0281 These steps lead to our hotel. Here are some foods that are native to this area. IMG_0599 IMG_0591 IMG_0588 IMG_0597

Check out day four here.

Cusco, Peru, Day 4 of our trip to Machu Picchu


Cusco, Peru, Day 4 of our trip to Machu Picchu

When my husband Jim told me he had booked a trip for us where we would hike into Machu Picchu over several days, I was not pleased. In fact, I was irritated about it. It is embarrassing to admit now, but I had no desire to go on vacation and hike and stay in remote lodges along the way. He was surprised. He had booked the trip as a surprise for me and thought I was going to be delighted when I found out. It turns out he was right. It was one of the most fantastic trips I have ever been on.

Once I wrapped my head around the fact that this was going to be a great trip, and we were going on it, I began training for it. The plan was to hike our way with a guided tour in to Machu Picchu along the Santa Teresa Trail. It is remote, and other than guides who have some first aid training there are no medical facilities. You are at a high altitude for the entire hike, and even if you are fit the altitude can become a factor. My goal with my training regimen was that I never wanted to have to think about putting 1 foot in front of the other. I wanted to be able to focus exclusively on the sites and the people around me. I was successful. At the time we were living at 6000 feet in the mountains in California. I began hiking in the mountains 4 to 6 miles a day, six days a week. By the end of it I was in great shape and so were my dogs. Our pug looked like the fittest, sleekest potato you have ever seen.

We hiked with a group of people, most of who did not train for this trip. One of the people who began the trip was even afraid of heights. If you are afraid of heights, you do not want to hike into Machu Picchu. If you do not train for this trip, or take comfortable waterproof or Gore-Tex hiking boots you are definitely going to spend a lot of the hike thinking about placing 1 foot in front of the other. It doesn’t sound too demanding sitting in a chair in Southern California thinking about hiking 37 miles over several days. It’s a different story when you’re actually doing that hiking in an unfamiliar country at altitude.

turn right at Machu Picchu

Before leaving I read the book Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams. It just occurred to me that was the last book I read aloud to Sean, sniff…sniff… It wasn’t about Sean’s reading level, but I don’t think he would have finished the book without me reading it to him. The book takes turns staggering chapters. It staggers one chapter telling the story of Mark Adams’ journey hiking over Hiram Bingham’s path with another chapter telling Hiram Bingham’s story. Hiram Bingham has been credited with “discovering” Machu Picchu.

coca leaves

That is what coca tea looks like. These are the leaves cocaine is made from, but chemically they are no more like the cocaine people abuse than ephedrine is to crystal meth. The leaves have to be processed to become the drug. The tea is very mild and quite yummy. It tastes sort of like hay smells when it is freshly cut. It is recommended that low-landers drink it when visiting because it helps you to deal with the altitude. Which luckily we have not yet felt any ill effects from except being more out of breath than normal when we climb steps. Supposedly the tea is a mild stimulant, similar in strength to coffee. I am drinking it this morning because I don’t want to wake the boys up, and until they wake up coffee is not available. Our doctor suggested we drink the tea while here. She said, “The people in that area have been drinking it for thousands and thousands of years. They know what they are doing.”

The next few photos are a series showing a traffic jam in Cusco. The streets are so narrow my jeep would BARELY fit down the streets. The cars are driving fast, too. You have to hop out of the street when one is coming. The streets are two-way even though they are barely wide enough for one car. This jam had cars going in all directions.

traffic jam one traffic jam 2 traffic jam 3 traffic jam 4

sauxhuawamen 1

These ruins are in the hills above Cusco. The name is Sacsayhuaman, which is pronounced sexy woman. It was spectacular. The Incans have been dubbed the Romans of the Americas, and when you visit a site like this you know why. This is also the site of one of the most bitter indigenous rebellions against the Spanish conquerors.


I have taken the following text directly from the site,

“Sacsayhuamán (also known as Sacsahuaman) is a walled complex near the old city of Cusco, at an altitude of 3,701 m. or 12,000 feet. The site is part of the City of Cuzco, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983.

When the Spanish conquerors arrived first to these lands; they could not explain themselves how Peruvian “Indians” (ignorant, wild, without any ability of logical reasoning, one more animal species according to conquerors) could have built such a greatness. Their religious fanaticism led them to believe that all that was simply work of demons or malign spirits. Still today, many people believe in the inability of ancient Quechuas to create such a wonder, so they suggest that they were made by beings of some other worlds, extraterrestrial beings with superior technology that made all that possible. However, our history and archaeology demonstrate that those objects of admiration are an undeniable work of the Incas, Quechuas, Andean people or however pre-Hispanic inhabitants of this corner of the world would be named.

The imperial city Cusco, meaning ‘navel of the earth,’ was laid out in the form of a puma, the animal that symbolized the Inca dynasty. The belly of the puma was the main plaza, the river Tullumayo formed its spine, and the hill of Sacsayhuaman its head.

One of the most imposing architectonic complexes inherited from the Incan Society is Sacsayhuaman, which because of several of its qualities is considered as one of the best monuments that mankind built on the earth’s surface.

The wall or rampart is the most impressive section, built with enormous carved limestone boulders, this construction has a broken line that faces to the main plaza called Chuquipampa which is a slope with 25 angles and 60 walls.The biggest carved boulder of the first wall weighs about 70 tons and like all of the other rocks was brought from a quarry called Sisicancha, three kilometers away and where there are still rocks that were transported part of the way. Each wall is made up of 10 fronts with the most important ones known as Rumipunco, tiupunku, Achuanpunku and Viracocha punku.”


There are caves throughout these hills. Just like California, what is now Peru was once the seabed of an ancient ocean. These hills are made from limestone in many places. In others they are basalt.

our guide Hector

When we arrived at Sacsayhuaman there were guides hocking their services at the front gate. We had never hired a guy before, and didn’t really feel the need, but we felt sorry for the guides because there were a lot of them and they were not asking for very much money. We learned something from this. Guides when you are at locations that you don’t know very much about are a good thing. Since then when we have visited sites where there are guides available, we always hire one. We have very seldom been disappointed that we did.

Shawn in the throne

Do you see the face on the left side of the throne?

family photo cave

We are in a cave in a tunnel. There is a cave system all the way to Cusco from here, which would be a long way to dig a cave.

for funneling water

How the Incan funneled water into areas.

burial Lake

This is a burial site. Along the outer ring there were tombs. The inside was a lake. The Incans revered water so they had the mummified remains of some emperors looking out on this man-made lake.

for sizing

That is not a throne; it was used as a model for stone size and shape. So the architect could say, “I want 100 of that size.”


Can you believe the guys almost didn’t slide down this?!? I have a saying when we travel, “We have to do this. We might never get this way again.” At least the boys are pretty good sports about it. One of my stepsons told me once that I had a reputation for talking to random-assed people all over the world. I don’t usually cuss on my blog but I am proud to say that he’s right. I do. I often have friends tell me that I would be the perfect person to travel with. I am not sure that everyone would actually like to travel with me. I am not the sit on a beach and read a good book on a vacation type. I am the let’s see every single thing that there is to see and meet as many people who live here as possible type. We usually come home from our vacations exhausted.

sauxhuawamen 2

There are 4 theories about the shape of this wall 1. Puma teeth 2. Snake 3. Lightening 4. To prevent it from falling when earthquakes occur. Cusco is on a fault line. There have been three major earthquakes since it was constructed, and it has withstood them all.

family 2

Look how little he is. Now Sean is the tallest of the three of us. If you’re wondering what the deal is with his foot, I will tell you in a day or so in a shorter post.

family photo at sauxhuawemen

The Incan’s had no heavy machinery and no draft animals. It is still just a matter of theory as to how these were built.

puma foot

Do you see the puma foot?

guinea pig

What about the guinea pig? These rocks are absolutely huge by the way.

stone doorway

These are Incan doorways. They reminded me of Ireland. Lots of piles of stones always remind me of Ireland.


This is a llama. A piece of paper could not fit between any of the rocks, and all the angles and offsets from one rock to another are on purpose. It is an ancient form of earthquake proofing.


We are standing at 12,352.4 feet in altitude.

Incan baths to Incan baths 1

The next site we went to was called Tambomchay. Tambomachay is an example of Incan baths, aqueducts, and temples. The volume of water is always the same coming through the holes.

stones lining the Creek
This creek is lined for 2 km up with stones that were put there during Incan times. This is just the beginning of our trip; by the end we were convinced that Roman masons had nothing on the Incan’s.

red Fort

The next stop was Pukapukara, the red fortress, named that because of the red rocks used. It was a military garrison built to protect the valley, because it is at a high point.

looking back at the Incan baths
The Incan baths where we just were.

root veggies

At 11,000+ feet altitude they grow mainly root vegetables. Peru is on the equator so even at 12,000 feet it never snows.


These are representative of the local houses around Cusco.


More earthquake-safe building. Think of a doorway shaped this way as the difference in stability when you plant your feet shoulder width apart and when you stand with them together tightly. If someone tried to knock you over, which would be more stable, your feet shoulder width apart or tightly together?


Jim ate guinea pig drumsticks. He says Jojo and PJ, our guinea pigs, have nothing to worry about.

Check out my post about days one through three here and day five here.

Cusco, Peru: Days 1 through 3


Before traveling to India in December of 2013, I wrote my travel blogs on Facebook. I have been meaning to transfer the photos and information to my WordPress blog for a while. When the daily photo journal of our trip began posting to the section of Facebook that shows what I was doing on this date in the past I decided there was no time like the present to transfer the trip we took to Peru three years ago. It was a trip to remember. One of best trips I have ever been on in my life. If you have visiting Machu Picchu on your bucket list, do it! Do not mess around, do it!

On the road, day 1: 1st we took a car then a plane then another plane then another plane. Life’s a journey. And this one only has plastic forks!! Waiting to go to Houston

Day 2: In Houston. I just spent 1 hour and 603 calories on that. Setting 16: hill: Whew. I am so ready for Machu Picchu.

I am already having a great time. I am such a vagabond. Funny how I am. I love my posse of friends so much, and their husbands and kids. And then there are all of my own kids. But wow do I love to see the world. Good thing I was born in this time so I can always have both. What I figured out in the last hour: 1. Skrillex sounds like Mickey Mouse on roids. Thank you Sean for adding that to my playlist, and 2. I wonder if I should go native and speak with my Texas accent for the rest of the day? Even after all these years it still sounds authentic.

Just waiting now to take the red eye to Lima. We will be in the air when it goes from today to tomorrow. After tonight 2 weeks of photos from Peru! Talk to you then.

Day 3: We did not leave the airport when we got to Lima. We sat around for a couple of hours and then caught the plane to Cusco. We will stop and spend some time in Lima at the end of our trip. At this point we just want to get to Cusco so that we can begin acclimating to the altitude.

These are two way streets on the way to our hotel.

When we travel I like to find places off the beaten path. I spend a lot of time looking for really cool eclectic places especially at the start of the trip. Often when we travel we only book rooms for the beginning of the trip. It is important to book those rooms though, because when you land you will be exhausted, and you don’t want to be looking for a place to stay then. Upstairs at our suite/ apartment. All the rooms are decorated to theme. This is the imperial Inca suite.

Our room has cases of potsherds from ancient Inca times found when they renovated this hotel.

The view from our room at the Quinoa Boutique Hotel. Both Jim and Sean told me I did a great job choosing hotels:) Cusco is pretty amazing already. Flying from Lima to Cusco you fly over mountain tops peaking through the clouds. Cusco is at 11,000 feet. The descent reminded me a little of flying into Aspen with all the banking and mountains. We are staying in the San Blas area of Cusco. It is the historic district. It is COOL!

The courtyard where we are staying.

Cusco is built on steep hills. We got in and slept a couple of hours. Now I just need to get Jim moving so we can explore.


If they could only see how our guinea pigs live! Ha ha. Jim tried the alpaca. He said it was pretty good.

Cusco is one of the few colonially conquered towns that did not demolish the native masonry. The walls here at the bottom were built by the Incas. The Incas were excellent masons.

There are lots of Incan women walking around with these types of clothes on.

The main square in San Blas

Cusco has the largest population of any high altitude city in the world. Which makes sense when you think of how few cities there probably are at this altitude. Our cameras just do not capture the beauty of the rolling green hills/mountains/peaks with a city sprawling over them, with roosters and dogs crowing and barking in the background.

They made chocolate here. Peruvian chocolate does not taste like European or American chocolate. It is less sweet and less creamy. They make a drink called Mayan hot chocolate that uses chili pepper and very little sugar.

From our hotel balcony at night.

It was Ash Wednesday in Cusco

Check out day four here.