Moray Ruins and the Salt Mines [August 29, 2011 – Monday]

The drive towards the salt mines, similar to the landscape I saw on the trek around Saqsaywayman, were dotted with pine trees and eucalyptus —  they always seemed a tad bit out of place against the landscape.  I later on learned that their presence had to do with the shortage of wood that occured when colonists and explorers settled into the area.  Trees like the Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus are able to grow quickly under harsh conditions, and thus, provide more wood resources than the native trees.  However, these newly introduced trees often compromise the growth and germination of native plants, as well as decrease the overall habitat availability for native wildlife adapted to certain plants.

Our first stop was a vantage point of the Urubamba River and Valley.  On the right, stretching in layers horizontally on the hills were Incan terraces, a pretty brilliant Incan agricultural practice.  Through agricultural experiments (at suspected locations like the Moray ruins), Incans were able to find out how microclimate conditions (altitude/elevation, amount of sun, condensation, etc.) contributed to the optimal growing conditions of various crops.  Even different kinds of potatoes would flourished at different altitudes and exposure to different amounts of sunlight (by planting on higher and lower terraces, and different sides of the mountain or hill).  Additionally, these terraces prevented loss of soil nutrients and water runoff, as well as help retain heat as temperatures dropped at night.  They were also able to incorporate raised aqueducts along the terraces to facilitate irrigation.

Our view of the Urubamba Valley and River

Inca terraces, this picture shows much more preserved terraces than the ones we saw at our vantage point -- Photo by other climes (1)

Our next stop was the Moray ruins, an Incan site with stunning deep-cut rounded and curved terraces.  The temperature difference from the top to bottom was measured at something close to 15 °C, and the site may have been used to study different climatic environments on crops.  It is thought to have been one of the places that Incans experimented on agricultural techniques.  It’s pretty neat.

We reunited with Victor again, as he was here to perform an Earth Blessing Ceremony for us.  What interested me the most, was that the offerings he used was a mix of modern symbolism and adaptations (animal cookies to signify livestock, and plastic cars and houses to represent prosperity).  The complexity and deliberate order of the offerings was fascinating, and we even contributed to the Ceremony by each placing two coca leaves on offering pile, which he would later burn.  This Ceremony gave thanks to the Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), and the surrounding Apus (gods/mountains, of which Veronica and Ausangate are the only ones I can remember).

A view of the Moray ruins from the top

Gathering for the Earth Blessing Ceremony -- Photo by Sang C.

Setting coca leaves on the offering... we're gathered close to block the wind -- Photo by Sang C.

Group photo with Victor! -- Photo by Sang C.

Rounded terraces

Moray terraces, and the path we have to trundle up to exit

I kind of love the stair system

View from the bottom (almost) of Moray

Climbing those stairs back up... hooray!

Aerial view of Moray

Same shot, but from a different angle, can you see us up on the ridge? -- Photo by Sang C.

Silly boys, racing to the top -- Photo by Sang C.

After we broke for lunch in the flat area beside our bus (um, quinoa/avoacado/egg, salad, granadillas… so good), we headed for the Salt Mines, a vast covering of geothermal salt pools.

A most scrumptious lunch -- Photo by Mekdes M.

Granadillas (Passion fruit)... I was so addicted to these, I mean sometimes I even had a secret stash -- Photo by Mekdes M.

The Salt Mines were a geological, architectural, and sociological curiosity.  My scientific side was definitely interested in how everything worked, from the hypothesized geothermal activity that salinated the water, to how the irrigation channels allowed for distribution.  However, my anthropological side probed the hierarchal division of salt quality and iodine addition, namely, that Grade A salt (pure stuff) was iodinized and sold at markets for a pretty good profit, while animal grade salt did not have iodine added, and was often the salt that lower income families used.  And the quality of your salt depended on where your salt pool was located and how large it was, something that was only inherited and passed down.  It’s pretty amazing though, considering these salt mines had been in use since the Incan Empire, and possibly before that!

Our bus driver dropped us off at the entrance of the Salt Mines.  We would then walk through the mines, down into the Urubamba Valley (also known as the Sacred Valley), and meet him on the other side, where he would take us to our lodging in town.

The inflorescence (flowering part) of the agave plant. Incredibly high. -- Photo by Sang C.

Salt rocks in one of the stalls near the entrance of the salt mine -- Photo by Mekdes M.

The salt mines... beautiful!

The stream from an unknown geothermal origin. Little runoffs branch from this stream to irrigate/salinate the salt pools. If you touch the water, it is surprisingly warm.

Somebody working on their salt mine.

Little stream that branches off the main river and goes on through the salt pools.

This is how you take pictures with style -- Photo by Marshall B.

A look back at the salt mines -- Photo by Sang C.

Going down into the valley to meet our bus driver on the other side of the river

Photo by Sang C.

Met a bull on our way to the river. He looked friendly enough...

Crossing the river.

The flag of Peru and some cacti greet us on the other side.

The bugs (white-ish structures on the cacti in the background) when crushed, and sometimes dried, make a natural dye (reds-purples).

Getting back to our bus! -- Photo by Mekdes M.

Our hotel in Urubamba, one of the nicest places I've ever stayed in. Spread out groups of "bungalows" that had multiple rooms within, and a great deal of open-air common areas. And a huge (nice) dog that roamed the grounds.

Taylor modeling off our room, loved the huge windows and lofted ceilings.

The common area of our bungalow/compound. -- Photo by Mekdes M.

Victor and Tim catching up, before Victor has to go back to Ausangate -- Photo by Sang C.

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(1) “Inca terraces….” by other climes

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