When I woke up, it was Tuesday, and after spending two and a half days already in Cusco, I still woke up with a headache. Somehow, though, I didn’t mind too much as my body was getting acclimated to the high altitude, which meant that I should be in fine shape and form by Thursday, the day that I would be going to Machu Picchu. Also, I was somewhat used to the cold by now. I woke up in a happy mood as our given itinerary showed that we wouldn’t be doing any manual labor that day. Instead, the volunteer coordinator scheduled some fun time for the volunteers. She hired a brand new Mercedes van to take us to the Sacred Valley. I thought it was somewhat strange that we didn’t even have hot water to wash our hands in the albergue, but yet we had a brand new Mercedes van to sight see with. Anyway, I was ecstatic to feel luxury again! My discomfort of the cold as well as my displeasure of the volunteer chores were quickly forgotten.
The Sacred Valley is a valley in the Andes of Peru with such gorgeous sights that I did not expect to see. Our first stop was at Cristo Blanco (White Christ) where you could see the whole city of Cusco as it was on top of a hill. Here, the statue of the White Christ is reminiscent of the Christ the Redeemer in Rio. We were lucky because we had Rocio, our volunteer coordinator, as our tour guide. As we were looking down on the amazing view of Cusco from above, we could see the outline of a puma (a sacred animal to the Incas) as many believe that the city was planned as an effigy in the shape of the animal.
After taking some great pictures, including some with the Travelocity Gnome (one of the volunteers worked for Travelocity), we briefly walked over to a spot overlooking Saksaywaman (pronounced like “sexy woman”) which is a walled complex made with large stones but without any mortar used. I really wanted to get closer, to touch the walls and see how it was possible that no mortar was used (like Machu Picchu), but we would run out of time that day. So we got back in our luxury van to go experience our next adventure.
We ended up at a zoo for rescued animals. Although the zoo was somewhat small, it was nice to be out in the sunshine. We were greeted by some llamas, a sheep or two, and a few exotic birds with vivid colors, but the most noteworthy of them all were the condors. With an average wingspan of about 9 ft, they were gorgeous to see in flight, although under the zoo’s limited quarters. They flew toward us as the zoo keepers put out some food near us so we could see their magnificent wing spans, and we all laughed because when the condors decided to go back to the place they flew from, one of them, instead of flying back like the others, wobbled across the bridge over the creek. A large bird, instead of acting on its natural instinct to fly, wobbled across a man made bridge and entertained us by making us laugh.
Next, we were off again! How exciting it was as we didn’t quite know what the day would bring. I loved not knowing what we would see next. As I am used to being a leader, it was so heavenly to sit back, relax, and allow someone else to do all the planning, resulting in happy pleasures of the eyes and senses. The unexpected miles and miles of unpaved dirt roads were so beautiful and spectacular that it didn’t matter anymore that I was miserable for two days prior to that day. I was beginning to feel like I made the right decision in my volunteer vacation to Peru. Besides, I would have done it sooner or later, but I was glad that it was sooner.
The weather was absolutely beautiful and much warmer than the days before. The sun was a welcome sight as we were taken to the Pisac Market, an outdoor market in the Sacred Valley. The white awnings were gently billowing in the wind, and I was eager to take pictures, especially of the Peruvian women and their babies with their colorful garments. It turns out that these women and children work for tips for photos taken so I had the opportunity to take a gorgeous shot (if I say so myself). After my first photo the woman just handed me the little baby animal without asking, so I got a chance to hold the soft baby (it was a goat or a lamb) and so I had another picture taken! After some souvenir shopping in the warm sun, we were off again.
We were driven through more dirt roads with the spectacular Andes mountain as the backdrop. The Andes range is the longest continental mountain range in the world and extends through 7 countries. I never really imagined seeing it as the only thought I had in mind before my trip was seeing Machu Picchu. But when you travel, you run into unexpected beauties and events that stay in your mind forever, and this was one of those moments. All of us, the volunteers, were glued to the views outside our windows. The jaw-dropping views we witnessed cannot be described in words nor captured in a photograph. We were mesmerized with the beauty as the sun was shining so brightly against the landscape. The snow-capped vistas were so beautiful that I forgot I was in Peru to see Machu Picchu. The only word that I kept uttering was, “WOW!!!” Speechless beauty, for sure. It was hard to utter another word besides this, really. As I took multiple videos and pictures, nothing, absolutely nothing, conveys the spectacular awe of what we saw that day.
As the sun was beginning to set, we were driven to Maras, a town in Cusco known for the salt ponds that have existed since pre-Inca times. Again, I had no idea that this beauty existed. As our van stopped atop of the hills to view the salt mines, the white beauty blew me away. Upon entering the salt ponds, again…WOW! The running stream of salt water made a gorgeous sound, and Rocio insisted we put our hand in it to taste. When I did, it was so warm! Amazing. Gorgeous. White. But we had to continue to see and witness the next beautiful adventure.
After driving through more dirt roads we stopped at Moray, an unusual Inca ruin with enormous terraced circular depressions on the ground. There is still uncertainty as to what these terraces were for, but it might have been used for agricultural experiments since the temperature range between the bottom and top terraces vary by up to 27 degrees Fahrenheit. They reminded me of crop circles that exist without clarity on how they got there. What was beautiful was the peacefulness there as there were no tourists at all. We had the entire experience to ourselves, and I knew that without my volunteer trip I would not have experienced these amazing wonders. I felt truly grateful.
We were well on our way home after a very full day of many gorgeous sights. We saw so much! The sun was close to setting, and I was glad to enjoy the view of the Andes again. The scale of the mountains along with the open expanse of the land are too amazing to describe in words. We saw some farmers with their herds of animals, and each time I was too damn late in getting a good shot of the animal crossings. Then when the sun went down, still light enough to see easily, the van stopped. The door on my side opened to welcome an older Peruvian woman who was walking home. Without our car ride she would have walked what seemed like forever as we were in dirt roads without any buildings or homes to see for miles. I thought this simple act of kindness was so damn amazing and cool! As it turned out during the length of our many long drives during my volunteer trip, the van stopped often to give rides to the townspeople who were on foot. No questions were asked other than where they were headed toward, and we just picked them up in the dirt roads we were on and just gave them rides. I was so in awe of this simple act of kindness that I LOVED my day, especially that Tuesday, and I was so glad and thankful that I was in Peru. Life is so amazing, but the most amazing things I experience ALWAYS happen during my travels. No matter what happens during my journeys, WanderLust always prevails, and I never have a choice in my heart feeling the warmth of life and all its wonders.
At the Pisac Market
Posing at the Salineras with the Travelocity Gnome.
Moray with the Andes in the background.