The undulant countryside near the small town of Maras covers up two unique samples of terraced pits made jointly by the power of nature and the skill of the Incas. Thus, either by bus or foot or even on a bicycle, any traveler has to wait until being very close to delight in the outstanding scenery of Moray and the Salinas de Maras.
At Moray, the group of french tourists and I stand on an edge while Raul Galiano, our guide, points out downward to show us the layers of concentric terraces carved deep into the earth. I look up towards the clouds to get a glimpse of the mountain Huañuy-Marca that kind of guards this area of terraced depressions, and then I contemplate the snow capped mountains of Chicón, Pumawanka, and Veronica or Waqay Willka rising far beyond the horizon. The view is just breathtaking.
As we go down into these sort of bowls, I watch the french woman in front of me leaning on the retaining wall and struggling to keep her balance as she climbs down each flat stone that sticks out from the terrace. The distance between each step grows broader as I arrive at the bottom. Raul asks us whether or not we feel the change of temperature. I hear some french replying “oui” in a mumbled voice. Je suis en train d´apprende le français de maniére á que je seulement entends un peu. As a matter of fact, I feel very hot down here, but I can not tell whether it becomes warmer or cooler as I go down.
At the very bottom, some people have formed a circle and they sit with their legs crossed in lotus or padmasana posture. Indeed, Moray is nowadays one of the most renowned mystical center since it is said that it has a strong vibe. Many people, especially tourists, come over here for ceremonial and ritualistic purposes. I long for having such experience here too.
The existence of irrigation canals and the discovery of seeds are a proof that Moray was used as a sort of a large scale open-air agricultural laboratory where farmers tested and determined the optimal conditions for their crops. The different levels carved into a huge bowl harbor a cluster of micro climates with differences in temperature from top to bottom. Quechua-speaking people state that Moray comes from the words Muyu which means circle and Uray which means down.
At the dusty town of Maras with its few colonial façades, Freddy Quiñones, the bus driver, and I take advantage of the brief stop to drink chicha de jora at a local chicheria. These shops are easy to spot because they put at the doorway red and sometimes blue plastic bags tied to the end of wooden poles. The flavour of my home-brewed fermented corn-beer is strong, and Freddy tells me that it might have three days of fermentation. Honestly, I am only accustomed to drinking one-day fermented chicha, but it is very unlikely that I would end up with a hangover. Each caporal (the glass where chicha is served) costs S/. 0.20.
After the break, the trek is about to begin. My bottle of water is at hand and I have already protected my skin with sun-blocker. I am not overstating when I say that the climate here is hot and dry. Very dry. We walk through a patchwork of fields filled with cacti and plantings of corn and potatoes.
Raul suggests a french young woman and me to climb a boulder and I can not help holding my breath at the first sight of the Salinas de Maras. Our second view is from a man-made lookout. From here I survey the salt mines cascading down a steep ravine. As we walk along narrow salt-encrusted paths, I see and listen to the salty-laden water being diverted into thousands of small pool-like pans or pocitos. The sun evaporates the water and leaves a coat of crystallized salt. Workers standing ankle-deep in the pans do not lose their attention while we cross the terrace leghtwise.
At the other corner we reach a wide footpath which leads us downhill along an overhanging cliff. About an hour later we all cross the footbridge over the Urubamba or Vilcanota River, and we enter the peaceful and quiet town of Tarabamba where Freddy is awaiting for us. The bus heads for Yanahuara, a village near Tarabamba, where we are going to have our lunch at Aide Alvarez´s house. While we eat our pumpkin soup with cheese and then our rice with chicken and mashed potatoes, our host apprises us of the thrill enjoyed by Yanahuara´s inhabitants by the downhill hold a week ago.
The tour goes on toward Ollantaytambo, but that would be another story soon. Coming back to Qosqo by the Chichero road, i look at the prairie and the mountain range trying to find a landmark which can tell me where those unique samples of terraces are hidden.
So far I have not found any account of Moray and Salinas in the chronicles from the XVI and XVII centuries.
Remembrances of Maras and Salinas:
Many years ago I went to Maras. Now I do not remember how I got there then. Nonetheless, from that town I hiked for about two hours in order to get the terraces of Moray. I did it by myself since the footpath was easy to track and follow. At one tiny shop, I was given directions. On my way, I encountered a few foreign tourists. Running out of time, I just went back without heading for Salinas.
However, last june, Kori a friend of mine from Norway and I got off the Cusco-Chinchero bus at the turnoff to Maras. As I had to get back early again, she preferred to get a ride from one of the taxis parked over there. The taxi driver took us to Moray and waited one hour and then he dropped us just in front of the salt pans. I am not sure enough about how much he charged, but it was either S/. 30 or S/ 40 for all.
To return, we walked down to Tarabamba, got a bus to the bus terminal at Chinchero and then another bus to Qosqo.
By the way, I have heard that the trek from Moray to Salinas is one of the most rewarding in this area, but I was advised to do it with a guide as the route is not easy to track. I wish to do it some day.
Phone number: 0051-84232520
The entrance to Moray is included in the Boleto Turistico or Touristic Ticket. The entrance fee to Salinas is S/. 5 per person charged on the very spot.