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Tim Foolery

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Yearly Archives: 2016

Maras Salt Mines (Ponds)

After our visit to the agricultural ruins near Moray, our driver brought us to a place he called (as did the concierge at our hotel) the Maras Salt Mines.  These aren’t mines, per se. They are more akin to salt ponds.

Salt has been harvested here since the time of Incan Empire. The principal is simple: water flows naturally through underground streams picking up salt in the process. The highly salted water emerges and is diverted into one of the dozens of ponds in the complex. Once the pond is sufficiently full, the water is redirected into a different pool.  The water then slowly evaporates over a series of days leaving behind only the salt, which is then scraped up, packaged and sold.

I had never visited a site like this and while I find the whole process interesting, I find the beauty of the landscape to be the real draw here.

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This definitely isn’t a draw in and of itself, but coupled with the visit to Moray it makes for a nice and relaxing side trip during your visit to Machu Picchu. Our excursion to both sites took about 3.5 hours and allowed get off hotel property for a bit.

When you visited Machu Picchu did you take some time to explore these sites? What other sites did you visit to the Sacred Valley? Have you seen Salt Ponds like this elsewhere in the world?

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Moray – Inca Ruins

After Cusco we headed down to Urubamba, a city 53 km (34 miles) from Cusco.  This city would be our base for our next few days while we explored Machu Piccu and the surrounding areas. We hadn’t booked any additional tours until we actually arrived at the hotel.  We sat with the concierge and he suggest we visit two nearby sites. We could hire a driver (who wasn’t a guide) and explore the ruins at Moray and some nearby salt mines.  While it would have been nice to have a guide to fully explain the area and the history, but we were able to learn a lot from the online resources at each location and from the brochures / signs we found.  It was also nice just to get out and walk in the fresh air.

The beauty of the grass, the starkness of the mountains and the ominous clouds are a perfect backdrop for these small buildings.

The beauty of the grass, the starkness of the mountains and the ominous clouds are a perfect backdrop for these small buildings.

Our first place we visited were ruins near the town of Moray. This site was at about 3,500 meter (11,0000 feet) and consisted of several sites, but the most  impressive / important (to us) was an enormous terraced circles.

Agricultural ruins near Moray

Agricultural ruins near Moray

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While it isn’t perfectly clear what these circles were for, the consensus is that it served an agricultural purpose.  From the top to the bottom of the terraced area there is an elevation drop of more than 30 meters (100 feet).  The directional layout, coupled with the elevation change allows for the temperature to vary from top to bottom by 15C (28F). The layout also maximizes sun and wind variations.  It is believed that the Incas would use this site to study different growing conditions and help them  further domesticate certain wild vegetables.  I imagined this site filled with various potatoes, corn and the like.

We spent about an hour at the site, hiking around the perimeter and walking down into the crater, but ensuring we stayed on the proper path – unlike so many of the folks we saw there that day.  We crossed paths with only a few people while we were visiting this location, but there were still a couple dozen people walking around. The enormity of the sight really can’t be shown in pictures.

These people are the tiny specks on the next picture (circled). Hopefully this helps put everything into perspective.

These people are the tiny specks on the next picture (circled). Hopefully this helps put everything into perspective.

This place was HUGE. The people relaxing in the previous picture are in the red circle.

This place was HUGE. The people relaxing in the previous picture are in the red circle.

I'm posing in front of these amazing ruins. My rule is to never wear sunglasses in a photo - it hides your soul. So does squinting because of the glare.

I’m posing in front of these amazing ruins. My rule is to never wear sunglasses in a photo – it hides your soul. So does squinting because of the glare.

While we didn’t have a guide, we gleaned a good amount of info from online resources and eavesdropping on organized tours that we weren’t officially a part of.  I wouldn’t make a trip to Peru just to see this site, but if you are in the area, you should definitely stop by and have a gander.  It’s a great little walk and it is so peaceful.

Thoughts on Cusco

Cusco was the first real city we visited in Peru.  We spend a quick night in Lima allowing us enough time to deal with airport traffic, twice, grab some great ceviche and sleep for a few hours.  We explored Cusco much more than Lima and were pretty impressed with this little city.  Cusco, also known as the Imperial City, is home to about 430,000 people.  The City was founded around 1100 and if you look at the map of the city just right, it looks like a puma – one of the three most important animals to the Incan people.

Cusco is a small City, but I had a hell of time getting my bearings. I’ll blame the low oxygen levels at that altitude or the altitude sickness drugs.  It was like any other old City I’ve visited – narrow, winding streets – but for some reason, I was always turned around.  Bring a map or activate the data service on your phone.

The first day in town we grabbed lunch and just explored on our own. We got caught in the rain a couple times and eventually made it to Mercado Central de San Pedro – a wonderful market where you can get anything your heart desires from fresh juices, delicious pastries, hundreds of varieties of potatoes or even a cow nose (to accompany the hooves).  We stuck with the juices.

Cow Snouts...yum.

Cow Snouts…yum

Hooves, Snouts and Tripe....oh my!

Hooves, Snouts and Tripe….oh my!

The next day we decided to take an organized tour of the City. We wanted to learn about the history, the people and see some near by ruins.  After a quick chat with the tourist office representative, we booked our tour, which started about 3 hours later.  We left (had a massage), then returned about 3 minutes after our tour was scheduled to leave.  This was the only thing in Peru that left on time.  Luckily the tourism office representative was able to contact the bus and have them come back and get us.  Our English language tour was conducted exclusively in Spanish.  Mike was fine and my 3 years of High School Spanish did me pretty well.  The Peruvians speak slowly and clearly.  I probably picked up about 50% of the words and about 70% of the context.

Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin - a/k/a Cusco Cathedral

Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin – a/k/a Cusco Cathedral

Plaza de Armas - Cusco

Plaza de Armas – Cusco

Two women relaxing on the steps. I love a fancy hat.

Two women relaxing on the steps. I love a fancy hat.

Manicured gardens outside the Cathedral

Manicured gardens outside the Cathedral

Tourist haven - above Cusco

Tourist haven – above Cusco

Incan ruins above the old city of Cusco

Incan ruins above the old city of Cusco

Beautiful Rainbow over the City

Beautiful Rainbow over the City

Twilight view of the Andes

Twilight view of the Andes

Twilight over the Incan landscape

Twilight over the Incan landscape

Plaza de Armas at night

Plaza de Armas at night

I had a constant headache in Cusco, which I chocked up to being at altitude.  Come to find out, I think it actually was the altitude sickness medicine.  Once I quit the medicine the headache went away, even while at altitude.  I would have liked to had another day or day and a half to explore more neighborhoods in Cusco.  As we left the town, there looked to be some interesting (non-tourist) areas, but we sure didn’t have enough time to explore.

The main draw of Cusco, for me at least, was the Incan ruins.  While it is a lovely City with wonderfully nice people, good (unique) food and amazing history (both pre-Spanish and post-conquest), I fear I may not return.  There are so many places I want to see and so many things I want to experience, the likelihood of me returning to Cusco is slim.  That being said, the City and the surrounding area, must be on your short list of places to visit.

Have you been to Cusco?  Did you have any problems finding your way around – or was it just me?  How did the altitude impact you?  Has Cusco made your short list of cities to revisit?

Wine Stories: Pleasure

I’ve written a bit about our recent trip to Oregon for IPNC and I want to tell one more tale.  On our first day, at Coeur de Terre, the five winemakers talking about Earth, Wind and Sky: Ingredients of a Great Site for Pinot Noir, were asked several questions from the audience.  The final question, came from a woman who had attended every single IPNC since inception – a feat matched only by one other — her husband.

Earth, Wind and Sky: Ingredients of a Great Site for Pinot Noir

Earth, Wind and Sky: Ingredients of a Great Site for Pinot Noir

Her question was technical, but not too technical for this crowd of connoisseurs.  She wanted to know which Pinot clones were used in each of the wines we tasted.  Each panelist answered with 777, Pommard, 115, 114, etc.  There was a Frenchman on the panel who begrudgingly answered the question.  He wasn’t rude, but he was a bit miffed.  He answered, but then asked if the wine gave her pleasure.

It did.

He continued his answer by saying so much happens between the time the grapes are harvested, blended (blending various clones, estates, etc), aged, bottled then consumed.  His belief was that people were putting to much stock into an individual clone.  Again, he was gracious and accommodating.

We had dinner with this panelist our first night at the Grand Dinner and I asked him about the clone question.  He was very excited to continue the conversation, starting off by saying he hates questions like that.  He believed they are stupid questions where one asks the question just so they look like they are very knowledgeable about the subject.  How is she going to use this information ever again in the future?

He reiterated that he wants to make wine that gives the drinkers pleasure.  He continued with an analogy, which while I find very amusing, I disagree with.  The following paragraph is a bit off color, so if you are easily offended, you probably shouldn’t read further, or read anything else I write.  The analogy goes:

Imagine the pleasure you get from drinking a great wine. You don’t need to know what grape clone is in that wine for you to get pleasure from drinking that wine.  Now imagine you are getting a blow job in a dark room.  The blow job is amazing – you are really digging it. It’s the best blow job you’ve gotten in years.  After you finish, you turn the lights on and you find out it was a goat blowing you.  Does the fact that it was a goat giving you head diminish the pleasure?  Does the fact that I used mostly 777 Pinot change how much you enjoy the wine?  NO!

Does knowing it was a goat provide you less pleasure? Does knowing the clone provide you more pleasure?

Does knowing it was a goat provide you less pleasure? Does knowing the clone provide you more pleasure?

Like I said, I don’t actually agree with the goat analogy, but I do agree with the clone comments.

I’ve always said that IPNC isn’t a snobby event.  It is full of down to Earth people who aren’t trying to show off.  That being said, you do get the people who ask a question solely designed to show how smart they are, but then you get other side of the coin – an approachable Frenchman who will tell a goat blow job story at dinner.

Who do you agree with in regards to the goat blow job?  Me or our French friend?  What about wine – does the clone impact the pleasure you get from the wine itself?

 

IPNC Day 2

Our second day at IPNC started off with some more bacon and pain au chocolat (again) along with some fruit.  We decided to skip the Grand Seminar, which everyone said was a mistake.  It turned out to be a great discussion on Australian wines.  We’ve had one or two snoozer events in the past, so we decided to head off campus by ourselves and do some tastings on our own.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a place to taste at 09h00?

After leaving campus we found a place that was open and had a great view – Durant Vineyards and worked our way through the six wines they were tasting.  We even ended up buying a few bottles and some olive oil.  The views from Durant / Red Ridge Farm are breathtaking – it is a perfect view of the Willamette Valley.

Perfect spot to enjoy a picnic and a glass of wine - Durant Vineyard

Perfect spot to enjoy a picnic and a glass of wine – Durant Vineyard

View from the yard at Durant - I love the Willamette Valley Views

View from the yard at Durant – I love the Willamette Valley Views

After a quick morning tasting, we headed back to campus to enjoy the al fresco lunch.  We sat with some Canadian friends we met at a prior IPNC – our table selection was completely random and honestly, we didn’t realize we knew them until we chatted for a few minutes.

At each meal you are seated with a wine maker.  For lunch we sat with Jef from Dutton Goldfield located in Sebastopol.   He told some great stories, not only about wine, but about his attempts to be a professional mogul skier, life with a toddler and surviving the recent Napa quake.

Lunch on the Lawn Menu - Featuring work by amazing local Chefs

Lunch on the Lawn Menu – Featuring work by amazing local Chefs

Stone Fruit Salad - Perfectly ripened Oregon stone fruit makes me very happy.

Stone Fruit Salad – Perfectly ripened Oregon stone fruit makes me very happy.

A take on a Salade Niçoise with seared Oregon Albacore.

A take on a Salade Niçoise with seared Oregon Albacore.

Chocolate Tamale - not your typical dessert, but a great blend of flavors nonetheless.

Chocolate Tamale – not your typical dessert, but a great blend of flavors nonetheless.

After lunch, we headed to the old Library on Campus where we attended a University of Pinot session titled Mindful Appreciation of Pinot Noir lead by Håkon Skurtveit, Head of Sensory Testing, Vinmonopolet from Oslo Norway. The wines we had were very good and a nice mix of both old and new world and the presentation was quite enthralling.

Following the University of Pinot, we headed back out to the Academic Quad where we tasted some rosé and rillettes.  The pork rillette was created by the good people from Olympia Provisions and I ate more than my fair share.  We also watched the Sparkling Wine Sabering demonstration where IPNC guests could try their hand at opening a bottle of bubbles in a non-traditional way.  Some people used a saber, while others opted to use a more unique instrument, including: screw driver, a wrench, a shoe or even a three-hole-punch.

Our friend Penny from Arizona successfully "sabering" a bottle with a wrench.

Our friend Penny from Arizona successfully “sabering” a bottle with a wrench.

We planned on taking a nap, but that didn’t pan out as we ran into Scott and Lisa from Coeur de Terre during the Sabering demonstration and decided that we’d hang out the rest of the day tasting together.  Great decision — naps are overrated.

Salmon baking over open flames. The final meal of IPNC.

Salmon baking over open flames. The final meal of IPNC.

The final meal at IPNC is a casual Salmon Bake Buffet with amazing food prepared by local chefs showcasing local ingredients – all designed to go with Pinot Noir, of course.

The end of the night, after the wine service is done, the late night folks crowd around the still burning coals from the Salmon Bake to tell stories, finish a glass of wine and reminisce of the wonderful weekend they’ve had.

Final moments of the Salmon Bake end around the embers of the cooking fire.

Final moments of the Salmon Bake end around the embers of the cooking fire.

Luckily our flight home was about 45 minutes later than prior years, so we could enjoy the Sparkling Brunch Finale which had a great mix of items including breakfast pastries, fruit, oysters, sushi and of course a ton of sparkling wines.

We always have so much fun at IPNC.  Going just as a couple or with a group of friends brings different experiences, but no matter how you slice it, it is a great weekend and always a sad time when you drive off campus the final time.  Until next time IPNC!  Keep up the great work.