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Tales of Peru (Part 3)

Day 3 (Saturday, Tour of the sacred valley)

The tour comes to pick us up at 7am. We explain we can't, we have to check in. They leave without us. We check-in. The tour company does not handle this setback well. Luckily Laura does. We can't get a refund, so they pay for a taxi to the first stop. We'll meet the tour in Písac. But first our Trek orientation. Quick presentation. Nothing new. But the reality of what we're about to do sinks in. That's a lot of hiking. Trepidation? Trek-idation? Excitement.

But that's worry for another day. We get in the taxi and start the 1 hour catch-up. All the cars in Peru are old. Or at least, cheap. Cheap and old. But the locals really know how to take care of them. The ease them up the hills. Coaxing them to last to their last dying breathe. Taxis are like bees here. Incessantly swarming. But cheap, safe, and convenient. Just be sure to negotiate price before entering.

The views along the drive are spectacular. Breathtaking valleys that we meander our way towards. Passing trucks and tour buses. Tourists and locals. He's a good driver. Safe. Easy-going. He can't read well though. I catch him sounding out the name of the tour company we're supposed to meet. Struggling with either the letters or the worry that we won't find them. Luckily, they're waiting in town. The group has gone to see the ruins but the guide, Raúl, is there. He's friendly, warm, and inviting. His presence is happiness. An infectious good-nature. We talk about the Inca trail. "What's the most important thing to bring on the trip?" he asks us. "No, no, no, my friends." He says before we can answer. "My friends, the most important thing to bring is a positive mind. A positive attitude." His heavily-accented English only makes him more endearing.

We explore the town for a few minutes while we wait. It's quaint and rustic and sleepy. Well, till we see a marching band winding down the narrow, empty streets. The tourist shops show us how they handcraft jewelry. Molding the wire, cutting and polishing the stones to fit. Intricate and precise. Delicately unbreakable.

The group returns. We board the bus. 45 minute drive to lunch along the Urabamba river. Past endless fields of maize. Raúl tells us that a red flag hung outside a house means you can stop in for chicha.  Lightly fermented purple corn juice. They hang at every house - invitations to visit. Like leaving your dorm room door open. We don't "just stop by" enough in the States.  We arrive at the most picturesque buffet I've ever seen. Sitting in an open air horseshoe looking out onto a manicured pasture, nestled beside a river and cliffs. There's even a llama and alpaca tied up, grazing. Surreal beauty. Staged, like Cusco. But it doesn't seem fake, just condensed. Like caramel is to sugar water. Manufactured, but no less delicious. And so is the food.

Stuffed, we plod forth, to the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo. We're completely unprepared for how awesome they are. Raúl on Incan stonework: "I went to the pyramids and you could stick a finger in-between the stones. The Incas didn't make a great fit. They made a perfect fit. You can't even fit a fingernail." It's still true, even after 500 years. And their only tools were other rocks. The terraces are amazing. We learn about the Incan calendars and astronomy. How the earth, and the river, and the mountains, and the sun, and the stars all aligned to guide every aspect of Incan life. About the Incan reverence for the Pacha Mama (mother earth). About the importance of the solstices in agriculture and religion. And how the mountains are sacred. It made me wistful. Wistful for a culture that no longer seems possible. We've given up that connection with nature - of small village, agrarian lifestyle - in exchange for big cities, and factory farms and cell phones and hot running water and penicillin and drastically less disease and violence. 

Life today is good, but I think we can learn something here. If only to take the time to breathe. To appreciate the beauty of nature. To retreat to a cabin, and grow a garden, and bathe in a stream.

Tired from our long day we head home and eat the best ceviche of the trip - like guacamole of the sea.

Sleep.

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Andrew Carman