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The Agriculture lab, Salt Ponds and Ribs: Moray, Maras and Chicharron

The charm of Peru does not end in Machu Picchu or Sacred Valley, I learned more about how a Peruvian spend her daily life the longer I stay in the country. The countryside of Cusco reminded me a lot of Philippines, from the people down to the sceneries. I met friends that even though we had some language barrier, never hesitated to befriend me and help me around as I explore Peru. One of those memorable times happened when I visited Moray and Maras.

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 I was accompanied by a group of Chileans and locals when I went to the two places. As these towns were considered as agricultural towns, our group was quite interested in visiting especially since most of us study agriculture or work in agricultural sector. Only one knew how to speak English so I had practice on my Spanish “listening” and “speaking” skills. Truth to be told, I had fun but those hours were harder than my last exam. My friend who can speak English translated words that are a bit advanced. I was happy that they treated me as a friend not as a tourist. The visit was already enjoyable and was made amusing with good conversations and my company’s humorous jokes.

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The beautiful mountains and farmlands made us smile as we travel to our destinations.

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We went first to the archaeological site in Moray then we headed to the salt ponds in Maras. Moray is known for its circular, terraced depressions, deemed to what used to be the “agricultural laboratory” of the Incans. The moniker was derived to the theory that Incans planted different crops for each level, where they test which crop grows best at a specific height and temperature. They rotated the crops planted in each level and studied them as the plants get acclimatize in various conditions.

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The terrace levels each have their microclimates which allow plants from the low areas, such as ones near the coast, adapt and grow at the cooler temperatures of higher altitudes. The Incans planted a diversity of crops in the site, with corn and potatoes as crops having the most varieties. As you walked around the area, there are also several wild plants growing that are collected and used in treating ailments.

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Similar to Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo, the site had an efficient irrigation system built where the bottom terraces drained water and also acted as a reservoir. The Incans are impressive on how they have deduce how climactic factors such as temperature, wind and sun exposure can affect the growth of the crops.

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Not far from Moray was the salt pond in Maras. The salineras was formed from a subterranean stream where in its deep depths of water, a vast amount of salt can be found, claimed to be remains of a prehistoric ocean. The salt is harvested by evaporating salty water from the underground spring. The water is directed into an intricate system of channels where it runs down and flows over the terraced ponds, a system that remains as an essential method to control the water supply.

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In a gist, the process of salt creation and harvest start when the sun evaporates the water from the ponds.  As water evaporates from the ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as the walls and floor of the ponds become covered with salt crystals. The water-feeder notch is closed to allow the pond to go dry. After few days, dry salt is collected from the sides and bottom then the water-supply is reopened, starting the process again. The color of the salt varies from white in the ponds in upper area, to pink or even light tan in lower ponds, due to the sediment.

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The salt ponds play an important role in the community here. Not only are these ponds  integral part of their livelihoods but these ponds also represent their heritage, one can see the hard work the ancestors have done to build miles of these ponds. In addition, the time and effort they spent creating an ingenious system of salt collection that are still used today.

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Beyond admiring the finished products which are sold as souvenirs, the sights I saw deepened my admiration to the Incans, a glorious civilization which created various innovations solely out from ideas and perseverance. It may not be revolutionary as the technologies we have today but can you imagine how they created these sights without the help of modern machines?

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The salineras was our last stop before heading back to Cusco. I separated from my friends upon our arrival at noon and had a short nap before strolling the city. I looked for a good place to have my fix of pollo ala brasa, which I’m seriously getting addicted to. For half an hour, I was walking in circles and had no idea where I was going. Frustrated, I asked an old lady for directions, turns out she couldn’t speak much English and I braved in trying to converse in Spanish. I dreaded that my language skills would just annoy her but luckily she was so sweet and understood the difficulties in language barrier.

She and her husband then invited me to tag along with them in a nearby restaurant.  The old lady and I both ordered chicharron while the gentleman ordered adobo.  Both food items share names with two of the most popular dishes in the Philippines. I was even surprised when I heard they served adobo in Peru! When they served the food, then I saw it was hardly similar to the Filipino dishes I thought about, maybe the use of pork was the only thing they shared.

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The adobo had a sauce made from tomatoes and red pepper as opposed to the Filipino one that had soy sauce and vinegar. The taste of the adobo was just ok for me and I still prefer the flavor of Filipino adobo. What got me raving was the taste of chicharron as it was so delicious and not to mention, the price that came with that huge portion. Imagine, two huge chunks of pork with sides of salad and potatoes at 12 soles (5 AUD), a price less for what it’s worth.

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During our meal, the couple shared hilarious stories of their travels, families and their younger years. The best was their embarrassing stories about their sons and awkward meetings with their in-laws. Talk about relationship goals. After three, wonderful hours we parted our ways and I realized something. I committed the same mistake as I did with previous companions I travelled with randomly, I forgot to get their names!

The day was memorable for as I learned lessons in Maras and Moray, an agricultural visit which also became a four hour practice in Spanish plus having a taste of chicharron which added three hours of practice in Spanish. I’m really happy that I met people, shared stories, talked about life experiences and formed friendships although I was not confident in my ability to talk in their language.

It was good how a random day can be brightened by quirks that pass by randomly.

🙂

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