The next day after breakfast, we took the 8.30 am train back to the Ollantaytambo station for our private Sacred Valley tour. Our tour duration was for 4 hr and included an English-speaking guide. The same driver Roland picked us up in an SUV with our guide Jose ( Joseph ) . Our tour cost us USD 198 covering Pisac , Ollantaytambo, Maras and Moray.
When we reached Ollantaytambo station, there was a medium shower and the road were pretty muddy and slippery. After further discussion with our guide, we decided to skip the ruins at Ollantaytambo and Pisac as it involves further hiking in the rain on slippery roads and we are still recuperating from our Machu Picchu hike. ( the conclusion : I am just being lazy )
We started the tour towards Moray ruins. The ruins were discovered in an area west to the village of Maras. As it was raining, the ticket office was closed and we could see the ruins for free. However, due to the rain, it was very slippery climbing the slight slope to each of the different ruin and our shoes were filled with mud when we were done.
The Moray ruins are various circular structures differing in sizes. There are 3 of such circular sites. The top photo being the smallest. The largest one in the photo below is approximately 30m deep. For the bigger circles, there are vertical steps built into the sides for farmers to access each different level.
Researchers has complied studies to indicate that these ruins are used for agricultural research during the Inca times. The temperature for the levels of the circles actually differs by 10 – 15 degrees so researchers used these rings to experiment wild crops to see which conditions are suitable for the crops. Some of the known crops experimented are quinoa, potatoes and corn.
Not far from the Moray ruins is the Maras salt ponds. This is still an operational salt pond area and today salt farmers are still working on these ponds for a living. You can see from the aerial view of the salt ponds just how huge these are and it is known as the biggest salt ponds in the Andes.
The salt ponds are allocated to the local community according to the size of the family. The bigger your family size, the bigger the pond. The newer you are to the community, the further away your pond. The ponds seen here are of a brownish colour as it is the rainy season from Jan – April and rain water is mixed with mud and there is not enough heat for the water to evaporate. The farmers start work from mid April and the first batch of salt farmed after the rainy season is not used. They are either disposed of or used for farming or animal consumption.
The salty water flows to the pond from the mountain spring. One of the guess why the spring water is salty could be these area used to be part of the sea millions of years before and after the earth plates shifted, the mountains developed and the salt water remained. ( a bit of geography here as explained by the guide ) I tasted some of the spring water flowing down and before touching the ponds, they are really clean and really salty. You can just reach out and touch some of the salt crystals formed at the side of the rocks.
The water flows into the ponds through a small opening before each plot. During the non- harvesting seasons, farmers close these opening with rocks covering the openings to prevent over flowing of their ponds.
We are allowed to freely roam the ponds as long as we keep within the walking areas. Out of courtesy for the owners, do not step into any of the ponds as you might contaminate the pond with your footwear. Some of the areas can be slippery so take care in not falling into the ponds.
After you are done viewing the ponds, there are plenty of stores at the entrance selling salt harvested from these ponds. They have brown salt which are for animals, normal white salt which can be used for cooking and special Rose salt which is slightly pink in hue but still white in colour. It is said that once you tried using the rose salt to cook, you will not use normal salt again as it adds so much more flavour. I bought some home but have not tried cooking with it yet. The store also sells various kinds of chocolates, especially some special ones like salt chocolates and coca leaf chocolates.
We took our time for the tour and it was 4.00 pm by the time we finished our tour at the salt ponds. We made our way back to Cusco and stayed another night at Aguas Casona San Blas. As we had an extremely early flight tomorrow to La Paz, Bolivia, we decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant.
Hearing about different species of potatoes in our time in Peru, we ordered fried chunky potatoes in 3 species, quinoa soup , grilled squid with risotto and fried mushroom with black quinoa. The meal was fabulous and by now we are so addicted to quinoa we have it almost every meal. The potatoes were more like wedges and a particular local potato really left an impression with it’s fluffy and creamy texture unlike the ones we have at home. The squid was lightly grilled and still juicy. We ordered too much since everything looks great on the menu and could not finish our food in the end.
Our time in Peru will end tomorrow morning and while we are excited to explore Bolivia; our next destination, we wished we had more time to see the other parts of Peru.