Monday, January 14, 2008

Bienvenido a Urubamba

The nineteeth century traveller, E.G. Squier had this to say about Urubamba,

A joy to behold, with its groups of trees and greem, walled gardens... Although only 2500 feet lower than the Cuzco Basin, the Yucay [Urubamba] Valley, protected on all sides, enjoys a much more benign climate, similar to that of Nimes and other parts of the south of France.

Both healthy and fertile, easily accessible from the capital, and with a vegetation unrivalled in the Sierra, this sweet and tranquil valley, surrounded by some of the highest mountains of the Continent, quickly became the favourite place of recreation for the Incas. The soil is rich and the climate, in spite of the fact that the Valley is enclosed by high snow-capped mountains, is soft and agreeable. A more beautiful place than this does not exist in all of the Andes. [Cf. Cochineal Red, Hugh Thompson]

My own first impression of the area, on the drive from Cusco, is one of intense colour. It is wet season here and the predominant colour can best be described as Windermere green. Although people assure me that it hasn´t actually rained today, there are numerous drops in the air that could definitely constitute rain, so I'm left wondering what rain really means here. The contrast with the red mud that seems to be found anywhere that isn't green (including making up the walls of houses) is fantastic.

Yet, these colours, as suggested, can be seen on any drive through a pretty part of England. Colour is the most striking aspect because of the attire of the locals. Their photogenic nature is so apparent it borders on funny. Though it seems there is a well-established school system here, children don't start until 6. Thus, a common sight is a local old lady in vibrant traditional dress, shepherding a small child dressed in similar gear, including very cute hats with ear flaps and tassles.

The drive, and chat with my taxi driver, also highlighted my utter lack of farmyard knowledge. The realisation that you don't know the word for a sheep is crushing. I have yet to see an alpaca, but there are donkeys, sheep, pigs aplenty and I had an in-depth guinea pig chat with Eduardo (the taxi driver) on the way down. I challenged him that there was hardly enough meat on them, but he disagrees.

Breathing is the tiniest bit difficult. For comfort's sake, I had to stop a couple of times whilst carrying my pack through the airport. However, Urubamba is lower than Cusco by 400m or so and it feels fine here.

(The above post was written before being given a rickety bike by my host family and discovering just how unfit I was to do any kind of exercise in this environment.)

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