We had a connecting flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima, Perú at the conclusion of our tour of the Galápagos Islands. Only two other couples continued on with us – Gary & Rebecca (from Alaska) and Rick & Karen (from Southern California). As we arrived late in the evening, International Expeditions (IE) set us up in a hotel directly across from the airport for the night.
We were able to literally walk out the door at customs, cross the street, and enter the door of the hotel. What a convenience!
Relatively early, we woke and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast buffet in the hotel lobby. Thereafter, we joined up with our Galápagos groupies and a IE representative to make our way back to the airport for our flight to Cusco.
A city in southeastern Perú, Cusco is located near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range (affectionately called the Sacred Valley).
The site was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th into the 16th century until the Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It has become a major tourist destination, receiving nearly 2 million visitors a year.
We arrived in Cusco in the late morning and met up with the rest of our party in baggage claim. Our IE tour guide, Harvey, then led us out to bus.
Mate de Coca
While we awaited everyone – some had a little trouble with their baggage – we were given a cup of Coca tea.
Coca tea, also called mate de coca, is an herbal tea (infusion) made using the (typically raw) leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. The tea is most commonly consumed in the Andes mountain range. It is greenish yellow in color and has a mild bitter flavor similar to green tea with a more organic sweetness.
I had looked all over Ecuador for this tea only to discover it is more common in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Perú. This surprised me because the elevation of Quito at 9,350 feet (2,850 m) is nearly as high at around 11,200 ft (3,400 m).
At elevations above 9000 ft, people may begin to experience some altitude sickness symptoms.
Many Andean indigenous peoples use coca tea for medicinal purposes. Coca tea is often recommended for travelers in the Andes to prevent altitude sickness. However, its actual effectiveness has never been systematically studied.
When everyone had boarded the bus, we headed out towards our hotel. As we made our way, we enjoyed a few stops along the way to take in the scenery and experience life in the Sacred Valley.
One of the stops we enjoyed most was the weaving demonstration. Granted, this was a typical tourist trap – but it was fascinating to watch the young women weave the intricate patterns into the textiles.
Though both men and women created textiles, it was a skill at which women of all classes were expected to be accomplished. The principal equipment was the backstrap loom for smaller pieces and either the horizontal single-heddle loom or vertical loom with four poles for larger pieces, such as rugs and blankets.
Spinning was done with a drop spindle, typically in ceramic or wood. Inca textiles were made using cotton (especially on the coast and in the eastern lowlands) or llama, alpaca, and vicuña wool (more common in the highlands) which can be exceptionally fine. Goods made using the super-soft vicuña wool were restricted and only the Inca ruler could own vicuña herds.
I also very much enjoyed learning about the natural dyes they use to create the variety of colors. The principal colors used in Inca textiles were black, white, green, blue, yellow, orange, purple, and red.
These colors came from natural dyes which were extracted from plants, minerals, insects, and molluscs. Colors also had specific associations, for example, red was equated with conquest, rulership, and blood. Green represented rainforests, the peoples who inhabited them as well as rain and its consequent agricultural growth, coca, and tobacco (blue was rarely used).
After the weaving demonstration, we made our way to the Aranwa Hotel in the Sacred Valley. Considering the length of this post already, I will save my review for another time.
Join me later this week as I share our discoveries in:
Machu Picchu (coming Tuesday)
Ollantaytambo Temple & Peruvian Paso (coming Wednesday)
Cusco – The Imperial City (coming Thursday)
Lima – The City of the Kings (coming Friday)
When we travel, I always purchase a DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to familiarize myself with the country and the culture. Updated annually, each book provides a detailed description of popular tourist attractions, restaurants, and lodging options.
Each guide divides the country (or city) into color coded regions enabling quick browsing while on the road. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are comprehensive guides that provide everything to see at a location. While comprehensive, the books give just the right amount of information to spark interest in the particular sights you want to see. They are organized intelligently for the traveler, and they always provide a map.
As a special expression of gratitude to you, I am giving away one DK Eyewitness Travel Guide of choice to a lucky reader. The contest closes on the 20th of September at 12 a.m.