From Chinchero we head to the Moray archeological site, with several brief stops for photographs of the gorgeous spring countryside. Fields down by the river are fully green, with the corn in tassels and fat ears, and the potatos in flower. Up here they're just planting, and two things are striking. One is that the women really do wear the traditional dresses out here in the country, even to sow corn. Another is that a great many fields are turned over using oxen and simple plows. Here and there a tractor makes its way across a field, but the usual is a pair of bovines. The people here are proud of their oxen, too. On the rooflines of houses in the countryside and smaller town, they put a pair of terra cotta oxen, to symbolize the family within and bring luck.
School lets out at 1pm, and for a while the paths and the roadside are covered with blue-jacketed children making their way home for lunch or even directly to their elders in the fields where they join in the work. Things are pretty spread out here – a lot of these kids must have a few miles ahead of them, every day.
The Moray site consists of three stepped circles dug into the ground. Seven steps each, both of these special numbers for the Inca. The main one has two additional 7-step constructions to the side. Though bare now, the terraces apparently used to be planted, like a sort of botanical nursery before distribution of new domesticated strains to outlying farms. In the main structure, on the wide terrace between the stepped circle and the second arc of steps, are the remains of a building. Not a word about this ruin, is if it were not there at all. When I ask our guide about it, he says it was a colonial construction; the Spaniards taking over the Inca site for their own use, and part of their effort to erase the native culture.
Once we finish wandering about the enigmatic terraces and their steps made for giants, we are very eager for lunch (it being well after 3). There is nothing between Moray and our next stop, the salt mine, however, and when we get there we throw ourselves upon the corn snacks to be had at the gift shops. We are told our guinea pig is on the other side of Cusco, more than an hour away. (« More than an hour », it must be noted, does not mean « less than 2 hours », as one might commonly assume. There's time before an hour, and then there's The Rest of Time after that.)
The salt mine is not a mine at all. It's more of a salt farm. Water from a salty spring is directed by a series of narrow channels to fill hundreds of shallow pools built into the hillside. When a pool is full, they block off the channel with stones and let the water evaporate. Several grades of salt are then harvested with rakes and shovels. Today we are just at the beginning of the rainy season, so the mounds remaining next to some pools will be packaged up yet, but salt production is at a halt for several months to come.
We've spent the day thus far on the high brown plateau, with wide views in every direction. We've been watching the dance of the clouds as they hang onto and then detatch themselves from the mountain peaks to rain on Cusco or perhaps the village we just left. Now it's time to descend to the river valley where all is lushly green and the shadows of evening come early. It's 4:30 and we're told that it's more than an hour to our guinea pig restaurant. Very special restaurant – noplace else is as good. In the back, we look at each other with alarm. As intrigued as we are by this Peruvian delicacy, we have dinner plans at 8, and we don't want a meal just before! We try to politely decline our GP adventure, but our host Lucio has his heart set on taking us to this one place. No substitutes, no cancellations. As a compromise, we let him take us there on the condition that we will not have a whole meal, just a snack. One GP for the four of us. And beer: we would like some beer with that.