The surprise turned out to be a shaman, which we found out when we unexpectedly stopped along the side of the road near a ravine and were told to bring coats. Cari introduced us to Pedro the shaman and said he was going to do a ceremonial ritual for our trip. As Nilda and Santiago collected wood for a fire, Pedro laid out a square cloth and started bringing out and opening many packages of colorful things, which he laid out in some order only he understood. He spent quite a lot of time getting ready, then stood and blew three times on some coca leaves and chanted. We were each given 3 leaves and told to make 3 wishes for our trip, blow on them, then distribute them over the offering he'd prepared. Nilda explained in the Peruvian culture, a incantation is very important and done when needed in families. The shaman had put many sweets in the pile, including sugar and candies, plus other things. He laid them north, east, west, and south and to Mother Earth. He then wrapped everything up and tied it together in a square and Nilda went up to him...and he chanted in Quechua, dragged the cloth over her body in front and back, then tapped her 3 times on the forehead with the cloth, and finally put it in front of her to blow on 3 times. Each of us in turn came up to the front and did the same thing. We then walked over to the wood which had been readied and a fire was set. After sprinkling wine over the offering, it was laid on top and more wood was added to maintain the fire until the offering was burned completely. We were then told to find a largish rock to place on the fire till it was covered, and we were done.
We headed up to Pisac and Nilda and Pedro got off the bus before we ascended up the mountain. When we got to the Pisac ruins, we were told they could hike in to see what was there and back or go the 1.5 k hike back down to the lower parking lot where the bus would meet us. Matthew opted for the 1.5 and everyone else went along with that idea...Sylvai, Susan, and I opted to stay on the bus. We were happy to sit and talk, knit, stretch, and not walk. The group was gone over 2 hours! They had no idea what they were in for, and although they saw something they thought awesome, I think most were very tired and sorry they took that route. We'd had a long day and our hotel was still 45 min away. It's now after 5 and we didn't get to the hotel till 6 or later. We arrived in the dark and all we could see was a dirt road off and a very dark place. We went into the lobby where after giving passports and finding our luggage, two men helped us find our room—in the dark over a lawn, down a dark path, over more lawn and up some steps I could barely see and to the last room in the last building way on the end. We got in and immediately noticed a nasty odor like mold or fungus. We had three low lumpy beds, one of which was under the pole for hanging clothes, which in most rooms would be called a closet, but this was just a horizontal pole. To get to it, you'd have to step on the bed up where the pillows were. No place for clothes other than that—no dresser. Of course, we had 2 extra beds, if we could both fit in one of them, so the other could be for our suitcases. But 2 minutes in that room and I knew I couldn't stay there for 4 nights. We headed out to make a change, and a few of our tour mates saw us and asked how our room was. We explained about the smell, so they came to investigate, and Teresa, the youngest in the group led us back to the office and spoke Spanish to the desk clerk and got us a new room. We were now in room 1, right next to the office. Several people helped us move our stuff into that room and we were down for the night. We did run into Cari at one point, and she was very upset with the situation because several people's rooms weren't what they should have been. She decided to stay there the next day, go to all the rooms with the manager and get everyone in the best rooms possible since this is what she'd/we'd paid for.
Turns out they had some water damage in their better rooms, so they put us in whatever they had rather than informing Cari of the situation and letting her decide what to do. The lighting here has been dim, Internet goes off and on, but even when it's on, it's very low and slow. I've never before seen a wifi connection that said both connected and no signal. Huh? The shower would be okay if it didn't flood the bathroom because of poor design, and like most places in Peru, you don't get extra towels, so we mopped up the floor with the second hand towel.
Cari ended up switching a few of us around the next day, and gave us their room which was above where we were...larger and high ceilings, and she and Greg took room 1. I really appreciated her concern for our comfort, especially after that first night fiasco.
The highlight of that place was the two brothers who worked in the restaurant, Jose and Gonzalo. They spoke English well and were the ones helping carry our bags that first night. We had breakfast there every morning, and they made fresh bread, fruit, and eggs any way we wanted plus a fabulous mixed fruit—papaya, kiwi, peach, etc—juice that I loved. I hate anything cold in the morning and rarely drink juice, but downed theirs daily. Their dinners were just okay, but always served with such smiles. The last night we were there, Matthew and I decided to eat there and Jose made me a special drink instead of the customary pisco sour, which I'd also come to love.... He made this one with fresh fruit, and it was awesome.
Rather than go through each day, since I'm so far behind on my blog, I'm going to combine our 4 days in the Sacred Valley and Chinchero. We were picked up by Flora and a driver the first morning to be taken 45 min away (up and up more to 12,000 ft) for our first weaving session. Flora turned out to be Nilda's sister and the driver was Nilda's husband. The first day we were taught backstrap weaving by several young women and Flora. Nilda showed up later to see how we were doing, which wasn't well. First, they tied us to our weaving around our middles and the other end was tied to a stake. Most of the women chose to sit on the ground, but 2 of us knew we'd blow our backs out if we did that, so we had stools. Those stools helped, but felt like rocks after an hour or two...even when they put some woven blankets under us. All I can say is it was fun to learn, or try to learn, and I hope to try again to see if I can master it better. The youngest of the group, Teresa, picked it up fairly quickly, and the rest of us had a learning curve. I won't say where I landed on the curve. We had lunch there with Nilda, which was really something. They served this fabulous soup—we'd been eating quinoa soup everywhere, which is delicious and so healthy. We thought that was lunch until the main course arrived, which was fava beans, salad with all fresh vegetables, greens, soft doughy tortillas unlike what we call tortillas, two kinds of potatoes, and cuy...guinea pig, which is a specialty reserved for special occasions, but can be found in some restaurants. We all tried some of everything and then were ready for a nap, but Nilda said no...back to work! They had a new pattern for us to try....oh goodie! I'd just barely figured out the first one.
The women from the village come to the center to weave and also sell their work when they have visitors. They set up on the lawn at the adjoining courtyard. I should explain we were working in a courtyard that couldn't be seen from the street. The houses are similar to the Spanish style with the house surrounding the center courtyard. This is Nilda's home, though she lives in Cusco most of the time so her boys can go to school there. The adjoining home belongs to her 82 year old mother who can be seen weaving and selling as well. She's quite beautiful with gray hair and black braids. So I couldn't sit on the ground...but Nilda's mother does it all the time with no problem. It's all what you're used to.
While I was enjoying my day of mind-exploding learning, Matthew was taking a traditional Inka cooking class with 3 others from the group. They were all supposed to take the other class together, but changed their minds when this came up. Too bad, because it turned out to be less than expected. Not so much hands-on, a long day of watching things getting prepared and cooking slowly, and not eating lunch till 4:00. They didn't get back till after 5.
The next day we returned to Chinchero and did natural dyeing. I'd experienced this in Laos, but not on this scale. They dye yarn several times a month for their weaving in hugh vats over open wood fires. Young and old women do the labor—lifting heavy, hot pots off and on the fire, stirring the ingredients for each color, then lifting out the yarn to allow it to drain over the pot using huge wooden poles. We were each assigned a color, so some stirred the pot while the leaves or whatever were cooking, then gathered the 7 skeins of yarn to throw into the pot. When it's dyed, it's held up to drain, then thrown into a plastic bin to cool, then rinsed in cool water, sometimes more than once, then wrung out. Then each skein is sort of whipped in the air to get out the water and the remnants of what was used for the dyeing. Then we hung them over a fence post to dry. A couple of us were bothered by the smoke we inhaled all day. The only break we had from the smoke was another wonderful lunch, this time with chicken instead of cuy. We also had buying time since the next day, the women would be coming to our location to teach us. I bought some smaller woven items and a scarf or table runner. Their work is beautiful and not inexpensive.
We thought the Inkan cooking class would be the highlight of Matthew's time in the Sacred Valley, but the day with the chef from the upscale restaurant turned out to be the best. They did all hands-on after another shopping day at the market, and loved both what they cooked and the chef. It was so inspiring, that 9 of us went there for dinner that night and the 6 friends returned the next night. Matthew and I shared alpaca carpaccio, which was to die for, then he had a curry dish and I had beef medallions with a reduction and a blue cheese sauce. Everything was excellent.
That night, however, I had a bad reaction to something, though I'm sure it wasn't dinner. I spent the night up and down and finally took an Immodium in the morning. The good news is those tight pants I brought to leave here fit much better now.
Another great day for Matthew was that last day because he left it open in case he wanted to visit nearby ruins, and instead, he chose to hang around the area. Our waiter, Gonzalo, offered to join him on an adventure to the local ceramics factory where the owner is relatively well-known. They had a great time together, then Matthew came back and hung around the hotel.
The last day the two young women who'd taught us backstrap the first day came with Flora to teach us their special tubular edged weaving technique. I can honestly say I flunked this class. Okay, I'm not saying I'm proud of this...it's just the facts. At least I'm not the only one who had a hard time. Nilda put me back into backstrap weaving 101, which was fine. The rest carried on and learned how to do the tubular weaving and then how to add it to a piece. I brought back the yarn and directions, but have no one to teach me. I thought maybe we'd have time on the trip, but our one free afternoon here in Machu Picchu, Matthew went up with 2 others, and I was left on my own...and spent the day hiking around the property till I got so lost I was on the outer rim of the resort with no idea how to find my way back in (I finally snuck through some bushes off the path to get to the property), and am now using my time to catch up on the blog. I had hoped to get a massage, but Cari, her husband, and her friends had already signed up for them ahead of time, so there were no times left before dinner. Three of us wanted to have something, including Susan, Cari's friend, and they said they'd call if they could fit us in. I never heard, so rather than sit in my room alone, I chose to walk around the grounds and find the orchid farm they have. I had some help...a guy showed me the way since the grounds are enormous. The gate was locked, but he pointed to go around and I'd find an entrance. First I found an herb garden, which was cool, then I wandered around some more and finally found a way in. I was a little concerned about not finding my way out, but after seeing a few cool orchids, I saw someone up ahead, so I hiked up to where they had been....and that's when I got totally lost after finding my way out of the garden area. I think I felt a little deserted today since no one asked what I was going to do and they all knew Matthew had headed for Machu Picchu with Sylvia and Amy.
That was a digression... I missed our trip to Chinchero as a group yesterday. We left our hotel with hugs from Gonzalo and Jose and headed to the ruins and church and market at Chinchero. Only half of our group had been there since the nonweavers had gone in other directions the past 4 days. We saw the old church after getting the guide's talk on the ruins, etc, then headed for the shopping area. Matthew took off to see the petrogliffs while most of us headed down to the market. We made a few stops along the way to buy some things like a furry alpaca. I don't know how these 3 dimensional things will ever get home...they won't fit in the suitcase easily as of this moment. We shopped for about an hour and a half, then back to the bus for a buffet lunch before our hotel in Ollyantaytambo. We were told we'd have to repack everything in 30 minutes because we could only bring a carry-on onto the train for Machu Picchu. We scrambled to put everything in the suitcase Matthew carries, but after trying to shove everything else into my suitcase and his backpack, we realized we had to totally regroup and unpack the green bag and limit ourselves to what I could carry in my small wheeled carry-on (which already has my netbook and Kindle in it) and Matthew's backpack. We only brought what we absolutely needed, plus medications and important things we couldn't part with for 2 nights. Then the bus took Matthew and 3 others to the ruins and dropped them off and left town with all the rest of our luggage. We'll see it again in Cusco at the same hotel we stayed in before...but not till we arrive at around 7 pm. That's a long time to be without the rest of our stuff.