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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Schilaty

Ollantaytambo (Say That Five Times Fast)

These last few days have been spectacular.  Two summers ago my mom and I traveled around Spain together for 10 days and we got really stressed trying organize train schedules, hotels, what sites to see, and meals.  We decided that this time we would just get a tour and pay someone to plan the trip for us.  I am now completely sold on travel tours.  I haven't been stressed for a second (once I got to Peru), I've seen tons of cool things that I'd never heard, and our traveling companions are just delightful.  It's been awesome.

Yesterday we went to a number of places including Ollantaytambo (which my mom will never be able to pronounce).  Ollantaytambo was an Inca agricultural site with terraced farming and lots of cool buildings.  Besides the incredible views, the way they built things is fascinating.  They used small rocks to shape bigger rocks until that they fit perfectly with each other.  The rocks fit together so well that there isn't enough room between the stones to even slide a knife between them.  And 500 years later they're still there.  Well done, Incas!

Despite being 64 and at an altitude of over 9,000 feet, my mom climbed to the top with me.  She's a pretty spry.  

Today we went to a place I'd never heard of called Moray (rhymes with deny).  They used to think it was an ancient sports arena, but recent excavations have revealed that it was actually an agricultural research center (probably the first one ever!).  The depths of the pits as well as differing levels of irrigation created a number of microclimates.  The Incas would plant crops at different levels, see where they grew the best, and then plant them at that altitude.  They also crossbred potatoes and there are now more than 5,000 varieties (Idaho's got nothin' on Peru.).  I'm sure that once the research was completed some Inca grad student wrote a dissertation about it that no one read, much like today.  

While we were walking around an elderly lady in our group named Marg saw me standing in the grass and said, "I can tell that you're outstanding in your field."  Like I said, the people in my group are delightful and I chuckled at her well-played pun.

We then went to the salt mines which weren't mines at all.  There's a very rare phenomenon in the Urubamba valley where there is a spring that releases hot, salty water.  It's very strange and what's stranger is that it's been doing it for more than 2,000 years so there's a lot of salt in them thar hills.  Our guide had us dip our fingers in the water and then lick them to taste the salt and it was so incredibly salty that I made face similar to the one I make when I drink NyQuil.  The way they get the salt out of the water is by diverting it into thousands of pools.  The water then sinks into the ground and/or evaporates leaving the salt which is then harvested.  Some of the salt is pink (I forgot to ask why) and they use that salt at the most expensive restaurant in Paris (and other places too).  

We were allowed to explore the salt pools on our own.  As I ventured out among the pools some random woman expressed concern that I'd fall in.  I said, "If I fall in then I can tell everyone that I was assaulted in Peru."  That garnered some laughs and even earned me a high five from the woman.  I'm sure that if she had known me and how often I make puns that instead of a high five I would have gotten some rolled eyes. 

The adventure has been awesome so far and tomorrow we're off to Machu Picchu.  I excited, but not thrilled.  Mostly because we're leaving at 5:00 am.  But I'm sure I'll be plenty giddy by the time we get there.

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