Day 3 — Market Day in Pisac

Sunday — April 5

This was a day planned specifically for Mui. When my pre-trip research revealed that Pisac has a market on Sundays that includes a procession of the varayocs (mayors of the local villages), he just had to be there to film the festivities. I enjoy the local color of markets, but I’m not big on crowds. However, with the promise of visiting the Pisac ruins as well as the market, I was looking forward to making our first trip into El Valle Sagrado (the Sacred Valley).

Our day started at 7:00a with Vidal picking us up from Los Apus. On our way out of town, we made a detour to see the immense statue that stands high over Cusco — El Cristo Blanco (the White Christ). A gift from grateful Palestinian refugees, the 30-foot (~9 m) tall statue is reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Impressive from a distance, the statue is downright awe-inspiring when you stand at its feet and look up, and up, and up to see the face.

El Cristo Blanco overlooks Cusco.

There was a bit of haze lying over the valley, so I didn’t take any panoramic shots, opting to record the bird’s eye view of the city in my brain cells instead. Though our time was limited here, that did not stop us from wandering over to the far side for a glimpse of Sacsaywaman, one of the holiest of Inca sites. We’ll be stopping there on our way out to Ollantaytambo in a few days.

Vidal catches me off guard after I turn away from taking a photo of Sacsaywaman.

By 8:00a, we were winding our way towards Pisac. Despite the light morning haze, the views of the Sacred Valley were spectacular. We stopped at a couple of overlooks to capture some digital images to add to those we were storing in our minds. The mountains were covered in verdant vegetation through which red soil peeked through. Add to that blue skies and brilliant white clouds; neon blue-green hummingbirds gathering nectar from tiny, yellow flowers — a very colorful scene indeed.

Glimpse of El Valle Sagrado veiled by the morning haze.

We arrived in Pisac as the town was getting into the swing of market day. Just outside the entrance to the “tourist market,” locals were congregated around vehicles from which bundles of produce were being unloaded. Vidal explained that the townspeople lie in wait in order to get the best pick of whatever is available. Nearby, elders from the 13 villages that are a two- to five-hour walk away through the mountains were gathering for the procession to the church. Mui was ready to start filming there and then, but Vidal convinced him that better opportunities were ahead and led us to a communal bakery nearby.

The courtyard we found ourselves in was dominated by a wood-burning oven blackened by soot from years and years of operation. The baker was pulling out roasted cuy and potatoes from the oven. (Remember, that’s guinea pig, a delicacy in Perú.) Thanks, but we’ll pass — just couldn’t see ourselves eating roasted cuy when their live cousins were running around their “cuy houses” just a few feet away.) With the cuy cooling on the table, the baker then slid a paddle-full of empanadas inside the oven. Would have waited to have some of those, but the market was calling our name.

Cuy is considered a delicacy by Peruanos.
(just so you know, what looks like the innards of the guinea pig is actually the herb-stuffing used to flavor the cuy)

Slowly, we made our way through the tourist market where vendors were setting up for the day ahead. Everywhere we looked there were displays of alpaca goods, including sweaters, scarves, and chullos (knit caps indigenous to Perú); carved gourds; pan flutes; necklaces, earrings, and bracelets made of polished stone; handmade tapestries and bags; and just about any kind of trinket one might desire. The colorful displays and the calls of the vendors invited us to dally, but we were here for the local market. That did not stop the shopper in the family from checking things out (if I have to explain who that is, you don’t know us well)!

Colorful display of dolls in the tourist market at Pisac.

Color, color, color! That was my first impression of the local market, which was far more authentic than the touristy stalls we had passed. The locals went about their business with little regard to the presence of the few visitors that had ventured into their domain. Campesinos (farmers) selling fresh produce and flowers; villagers touting everything from bags of salt, quinoa, and rice, to matches, to sweets, to vibrant natural dyes; old women sorting through piles of potatoes and corn; gnarled hands shelling corn kernels the size of almonds; men wheeling in goods on makeshift carts, bicycles, and anything else they could get their hands on; kids playing with makeshift toys; villagers bargaining and bartering; locals standing around chatting; people hurrying home with baked goods fresh from the communal bakery — the chocolate cakes still in the tins they were baked in looked quite good. Mui was in heaven; I was doing my best not to be overwhelmed by immersing myself in the local color and trying to forget the crowds around me, which was not easy to do.

Tubs of natural dyes add to the color at the local market.

One minute Mui was standing next to me, the next he was gone. Vidal and I searched the market, being careful not to lose sight of each other. No sign of Mui. Then, catching a glimpse of the church through an arched gate, I suggested that Vidal check the church while I waited in the market. Two minutes later, Vidal was back with Mui in tow. Having caught the procession of the varayocs and regidores (mayors and deputies), Mui was grinning from ear-to-ear. “This is great; let me show you,” he said as he led the way out of the market.

Mayors from nearby villages pose in front of the church — tips for photos appreciated.

When we arrived at the entrance to San Pedro Apóstol de Pisac, the mayors and their deputies were already in place, posing for the tourists that had congregated around them. It was just as I had read — the men were dressed in knee-length black pants, colorful ponchos, hats that resembled upside down salad bowls, and carried silver-embossed staffs as a symbol of their office. Lined up with the mayors were their young attendants, blowing conch shells with gusto (the conch shells are used to help make way as the mayors walk through the crowds on their way to church). That there was a small plate for tips was a bit disconcerting and detracted from the charm of the scene, but we paid our dues and clicked away nonetheless.

When Vidal said that photography was allowed inside the colonial church before services began, we went in to look around. We didn’t stay long, however …

A peek inside San Pedro Apóstol de Pisac.

Next Up: Day 3 — Uh Oh!

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