‘Oh I’m sorry, we’ve come on a busy day’ said my guide Carlos cheekily, entering the Pumamarca Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley. Walking amongst the hill top ruins with their tall perfectly formed walls, symmetrical windows and commanding position at the fork of the valley, I noticed one other person.
Having visited the Sacred Valley 10 years ago, the feeling I remember was of being whisked along with other tourists going to all the must-see sites. This time I did things differently, I still went to many of the highlights in the valley but just timed my visits well to avoid the busy times, had a private guide giving the flexibility to stop when wanted and travelled at times on foot and by bike.
We spent three hours walking an Inca trail along terraced farm land, through native forest stunted in growth from the altitude, dripping with lichen and bromeliads and offering jaw dropping views. During this time, the only company, apart from my guide, was a tumbling glacial stream dancing over boulders as the path wove higher up the valley. A curious cow and a fleeting glimpse of a grey tailed Andean deer were seen but we didn’t pass any people for the entire time. It is incredible to think we were less than 20 miles from a more familiar Inca trail that leads to world renowned Inca ruins, where restrictions are in place to limit the number of daily walkers to 500.
My visit to the Inca site of Moray, with its decreasing concentric stone circles carpeted with grass, was by mountain bike, a slow way to travel but giving more time to admire the surroundings. Moray is a sight that is still unclear as to its purpose, the most common theory being it was an Inca cultivation sight with each terrace having its own micro climate. Cycling on a dirt track with no roads, cars or buildings for as far as the eye could see made me feel privileged to have this scenery all to myself. Rural life stretched out around like a tapestry woven with every shade of green. To say it was relaxing would not be completely truthful, every slight incline in the path was a reminder of the altitude as I puffed for much needed oxygen, but with a back-up vehicle on call I could go as little or far as I wanted.
Close to Moray I had the experience to meet with a Shaman and have a traditional ceremony giving offerings to Pachamama – Mother Earth. I was slightly sceptical as to whether it would feel staged and set up for tourists but in fact it was a special moment in a busy trip. I sat in the sun surrounded by 5,000 metre mountains as the Shaman chanted in Quechuan, an indigenous language of the Andes, to all four corners of the earth and gave offerings of coca leaves and flowers. A musician played traditional instruments of bells and various pipes and flutes during the ceremony. Many people in Peru still make regular offerings to Pachamama to ask for blessings for new homes, health for loved ones, or success in business. The experience made me stop, look around and appreciate where I was and to think about family at home.
My new memories of the Sacred Valley and Peru are now about the beauty of the scenery, the space and serenity, the variety and richness of experiences and the warmth of the people, a contrast to my previous trip. By stepping a short distance from the well-worn path it is easy to find your own piece of Andean life. I feel privileged to have had so much of the place to myself.