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Amazon Adventures, Day 3 – Peruvian Highlands and Carnival
by -- March 6th, 2011

Today we hiked to see the gypsum salt mines at Las Salinas. During the hike we had to scamper along certain stretched of path to be avoid active landslides and falling rocks.

Brown during the rainy season, these mines dry to reveal bright white salt deposits during the dry season months of April and May.

Brown during the rainy season, these mines dry to reveal bright white salt deposits during the dry season months of April and May.

The salt mines were constructed by the Incas and community owned, capturing groundwater rich with dissolved salts from the mountain’s unique geologic properties. The mines employ an irrigation system that allows the water to flow between mines, and during summer months, when the water evaporates, the water leaves large salt deposits, which are mined and sold. In the wet season, the area is flooded, but during April and May, one can see miners extracting salts from their respective mines.

Dr. Baker also collected the shells of gastropods, which were surprising to see at such high elevations. They are adapted to the ecosystem’s unique properties, thriving by living on plants during the wet season.

Dr. Baker's collection of high-elevation gastropods.

Dr. Baker's collection of high-elevation gastropods.

Afterwards, we drove to the town of Moray, and spotted our first exotic bird, the Mountain Caracara. A full list of all the species of birds we saw and recorded is listed at the end of this blog. At Moray, we made a quick sight-seeing stop for more ruins. This site descended into what was most likely a natural sinkhole, and was shaped as large, circular terraces in perfect geometric forms and at regular intervals. The use of this site remains a mystery, but it was probably ceremonial.

Our next stop was Ollantaytambo. We learned that the suffix “Tambo” is Quechua for “resting point”, which explained why many towns included this in their names. On the way to Ollantaytambo, we passed through stretches of agriculture in the highlands. We saw fields of corn and other crops, as well as shepherds with flocks of sheep, donkey, pigs, cows, and bulls. The automobiles, animals, shepherds, and people all share the same narrow road, and drivers are very liberal with the use of their horns.

Ruins at Moray

Ruins at Moray

Once in Ollantaytambo, we were informed that today was Carnival, a celebration of indulgence before the Lent period of sacrifice. Children celebrate by spraying hoses and throwing buckets of water and water balloons at each other in the streets. One child threw a bucket of water at our bus! We saw several celebrations and parades occurring in the streets, celebrating the upcoming harvest and Easter festival. We took the opportunity to get off the bus and watch the people pass in festive colors and costumes.

Carnival Festival and Parade

Carnival Festival and Parade

In Ollantaytambo, the group split up to see the ruins and explore the town at our own pace. The town is built on the walls of Incan ruins; one can see the boundary of older stones and newer construction in the alleyways.

Modern Ollantaytambo built on Incan walls.

Modern Ollantaytambo built on Incan walls.

While on the ruins, we met another group from Duke who informed us the Duke had lost to UNC in basketball. This has lead to a heated debate about the destiny of Duke Basketball in the tournament this year.

After leaving Ollantaytambo, we ate dinner at the hostel and utilized the fireplaces in our rooms to the best of our abilities. Tomorrow we wake up at 5 AM, so it is an early night for the Amazon crew.

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