Our parents and little brother came to join my brother Nicolas and I on our gap year for Christmas to explore the fascinating Incan heritage.
As we rode our mountain bikes down the Sacred Valley, meandering down single tracks we stoped to check out one of the Inca’s engineering wonders- the Moray. These circular terraces are thought to be an agricultural laboratory for plant breeding.
It is said that the Incas used the terraces to create a change in temperature from top to bottom (27 °F/15°C). This large temperate difference was used to create various microclimates served to domesticate, acclimate and hybridize wild vegetable species adapted for human consumption. By moving the crops up a level (i.e. a terrace) every season the Incas were able to breed plants so that they would grow in altitude. The Inca civilisation thus settled in the high mountains with a variety of crops to eat: tomatoes, maize and thousands of potato types.
The ingenuity and scale of this agricultural system fascinates me, not to mention the irrigation system involved (the little steps you see below)
Nestled inside this canyon lie tiny little terraces developed by pre-Incan people to harvest salt. From one highly salty water spring, the salty water is directed to an intricate system of channels so that the water reaches several hundred little ponds. From this system, the locals are able to shut down the water inflow and let the water evaporate from their terraces to extract salt.
What I find most intriguing about this system is the close cooperation among community members to maintain the Maras. Traditionally, each family in the community receives a pond – its size depends on the size of the family.
The ponds are enclosed in stone walls
During our mountain bike ride down the Sacred Valey we enjoyed endless stunning landscapes: agricultural fields and snow capped mountains.
Because our parents organized a jam-packed 10 day trip, we limited ourselves to the last leg of the Inca trail.
We woke up around 5am in Ollantaytambo, the town you stay in before you head up to Macchu Piccu. After eating a delicious breakfast (quinoa pancakes with golden berry jam!) we took our seats on the Peru Rail. An hour long train ride along the Urubamba river brought us to ‘kilometer 104’ where we began hiking the famous Inca trail, stopping at various pre-Incan ruins along the way. The change in climate and vegetation – from subtropical to mountainous- was fascinating, as I stopped to look at orchids and pick wild strawberries !
Gap year snapshot ! 📸
The rest of the afternoon was spent walking through Machu Picchu learning about the Incas’ amazing stonework and engineering skills. Did you know that the entire village was carved from pre-existing rocks with no metal tools ?! Instead they used wooden wedges and a freezing/thawing technique to blast the rocks open. The entire citadelle was built without mortar and today, Machu Picchu still stands strong !
Stonework up close: the Royal Tomb
We also hiked up the Machu Picchu Mountain – a fun 2 hour ascent of the steepest staircase you’ll ever encounter !
THANKS MAMAN AND DAD, FOR AN AMAZING CHRISTMAS VACATION !