The osmosis between Incan culture and nature is nowhere more visible than in the Sacred Valley. Temples, agricultural sites and towns are devoted to the glory of nature, still unspoiled and still worshipped by its inhabitants.
The former capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco, which means “navel of the world” in quechua, is frequently subjected to torrential rains. Indeed the Peruvians even refer to masculine or feminine rainfall, depending on whether it is a sudden, heavy downfall or a light mist of droplets. The Sacred Valley along the Inca Trail will give you another perspective on the world and nature. Here, the temples are dedicated to nature: rainbow, thunder, star, sun and moon temples… The Incan civilisation revered everything that sprang from the earth or fell from the sky. This rich, complex culture was so intertwined with the natural world that its divinities were depicted as pumas, snakes and condors.
Ollantaytambo, a very windy site and strategically located between the Machu Picchu and the Amazon Forest, seems to rise out of the past and the hands of the men that built it, stone by stone. Limestone on basalt, basalt on porphyry, porphyry on granite…
Today still, the inhabitants of this valley have a special bond with the elements, water, plants and wood. They make offerings to the earth of coca to which they may add a cross, fruit, corn or shells, although the coca leaf is the most important part of the ritual. The ceremony takes place once a year at Salines de Maras to give thanks for a narrow trickle of water that is saltier than the ocean. This source has mysteriously flowed for over a thousand years, generously sharing its rich virtues. As far as the eye can see, hundreds of pools enable the salt to crystallise and then be collected.
How to describe this land? Imagine immense high plateaux and snow-capped peaks, which provide the spectacular backdrop to the circular terraces dug by the Incas, who made the most of the terrain for maximum yield crops. There can be a 5°C temperature difference between the upper and lower terraces, which made it possible to acclimatise a wide variety of species of corn in the same place.
Our current fascination with this civilisation is equalled by the Inca’s worship of nature and preoccupation with beauty. A journey through the Sacred Valley over more than 100 km/60 mi reveals breathtaking views, stretching as far as the horizon to its most famous site, the Machu Picchu. Its inhabitants abandoned the site to save it from the destruction wreaked by the newcomers in the 15th C. Centuries of silence and its mountain location now imbue the site with an enigmatic, almost majestic quality. Beneath the sun, one is first struck by eerie stone silhouettes emerging from the clouds of mist. After climbing a hundred terraces, nodding to the llama gardeners mowing the grass on the way, you will definitely find yourself out of breath. Keep going as far as the Sun Gate that greets the sunrise on the summer solstice (December 21st in the southern hemisphere) and up to the top of the world. Like a balcony in the forest, your efforts will be rewarded by this ancient city, so long forgotten by men and yet so close to paradise on earth.