I woke up, stumbled out the door and into a breakfast place. I had wanted to take a shower but the water main only comes on three times a day for a few hours each time. There is a water shortage. After stuffing myself with eggs and coffee I hopped on the next combi for a town called Mara. Actually I just got dropped off at the junction where Yoyo had told me to negotiate for good prices. “Just act like you don’t want anything.” He advised, “Then other tourists will come and you can negotiate with them for cheaper prices.” I didn’t listen and allowed a self-serving taxi driver to talk me into getting a ride into town. “Lots of tourists go there to eat lunch!” he told me.
As soon as we arrived it became clear that he lied. The town had nothing besides an old woman selling vegetables that looked like they were from her childhood. Especially when he turned to me and said, “I will drive you where you want to go for [outrageous amount]. So I got out and was about to ask the town’s only policeman if many tourists stopped here. Before I could get the words out he said, “You want to walk to Maray? Just go that way, no more than an hour.” “But…” I said. “Oh, afterwards you want to go to the Salineras? Then you just walk back the way you came and it’s an additional hour extra.” I thanked this policeman, who was singlehandedly ruining his town’s taxi business, and walked off in the direction he had told me.
It’s funny that walking is so much more rewarding than just arriving somewhere in a car, as if you were magically placed somewhere you had no business of being. Also you get to meet people along the way. I began walking with a young boy who paints pictures of different sites and tries to sell them to tourists. He walked the road every day. The walk was difficult for me because of the altitude. He told me that the way to breath while walking in the mountains was to take a deep breath, hold it for 10 seconds, release, and take another breath. It isn’t something I could do anyways and I just panted my way up the hill. But I didn’t forget what he told me and later this technique helped me a lot climbing up to Machu Pichu as well as hiking around Lake Titicaca.
Maray is an old Incan agricultural experiment which involves terraces. The best I could understand it is that on different levels they would grow plants that came from different parts of their empire while making good use of the hilly landscape. The result is impressive to look at. So impressive, in fact, that Yoyo told me many new age tourists come there to pray and soak up the power of this farm, mistaking it for a site of some special religious significance. Almost all of this part of Peru is terraced and it was hard for me to tell what was so special about these terraces that loads of workers had “restored” them to their former grandeur.
I explored the ruins a little while and then sat with the same boy who accompanied me up the hill, drawing while he halfheartedly hawked his paintings. While the tourists did a circuit of the ruins, the tour drivers would come and talk to us about cars and look at the pictures. I got to talking to one driver about politics and Fujimori. I asked him why Peruvians would complain that all their politicians were thieves and then vote for a person who left his presidency (and the country) in disgrace because he stole millions of dollars from it. The driver countered, “Sure he was a thief but during his time the roads worked and he built things: now there is nothing! We want him back!” Later I learned from Yoyo that Fujimori legally could not be president because he was not a national, he had forged his citizenship papers. A reporter did an expose on this and was nearly killed as a result.
I negotiated with the pro-Fujimori driver for a ride to the Salineras, my next destination, for 10 sols. Once there he pleaded with me, “Please, 11 sols.” I do not know why I gave him the extra sol. On the one hand he needs it, but on the other, renegotiating the money is something that is demeaning to everyone involved. It’s also something that happens a lot in Peru, not so much because of Peruvians but because of the tourist culture it spawns. This had happened before but in Cusco it would happen constantly.
But it didn’t matter, I was at the the Salineras. I don’t quite know how it works but I assume a salty stream of water comes down the hillside. The Incas pulled out the old terrace idea but compartmentalized the terraces into pools. The water would flow from pool to pool as it made its way down the hill leaving their salty deposits behind. The result is the most amazing salt mines I will probably ever see. White sodium deposits covered the hillside like snow in the middle of summer. Harvesting the salt is very difficult work but completely natural and, presumably, sustainable.
That night all the internet in the town went out. Another example of the danger of monopolies. I later found out that the internet went out for Cusco as well and, for all I know, the whole of the country. No one knew what happened, when it would be fixed, or anything. There wasn’t really anyone to call to tell that there was a problem, they just waited for it to be better.