If you’ve been paying attention, avid readers, you’ll remember a hint I dropped about a day trip we planned a couple weeks ago. Well, it happened, and it was so flippin’ awesome I had to write a separate post about it! I humbly present: our afternoon with Cuscozipline. This was a company I stumbled across completely by accident whilst surfing TripAdvisor for fun and non-traditional day trips to take while in Cusco, and this certainly ticked every single box we could have hoped for.
Our morning began at 7:00, when our guide showed up at our hostel and walked us to our private car that transported us to the town of Racchi. We learned on the ride out that we were the only people who had signed up for the tour that day: it was just going to be the four of us (Abi got e-coli and unfortunately had to spend the morning in the hospital, but don’t worry, she’s looking to do a quadbike tour on her next trip) and our guide, William. William looked like a dude who spent most of his life on a quadbike. He was funny, relaxed, and totally chill with none of us having any experience whatsoever with ATVs before.
His tutorial went something like this: “This is the gas, this is the brake, that’s the front brake - don’t use it or you’ll flip over, these are the gears, and don’t touch that red button or you’ll kill everything. Ready to go?” And then we were on the bikes and motoring around a field. They let us practice a couple laps before we were off to the Salt Mines!
The Salt Mines of Maras are a naturally occurring phenomenon that the people of Maras have been cultivating since 700BC. Warm salt water wells up from deep within the mountain and then spills down into shallow pools, where the water evaporates in the sun (interesting side note: the valley is always several degrees warmer than the surrounding landscape no matter what time of year it is). The people of Maras collect the salt left behind and sell it (fun fact: you are not allowed to work in the salt mine if you weren’t born in Maras). Each pool yields about 60 kilos of salt every three to five days, depending on the weather.
The top layer of salt is so fine it looks like a powder, and it’s great for day-to-day cooking. The middle layer of salt is more coarse and has more mineral deposits, and William swears it makes the best barbecue rub. The last layer is the coarsest and isn’t for cooking; they sell it as a healing bath salt. And they sell 250g bags of the salt for 2 sol a bag (that’s .60 cents in America and .47p in England. This is my way of saying we bought a lot of salt). After the Salt Mines it was time to zip our way over to the archaeological site of Moray. You’ve probably seen a picture of it: it’s the massive set of circular terraces seemingly dropped in the middle of nowhere. It took about 45 minutes on the quadbikes to get to Moray, and we felt like every action movie hero ever on the way.
It’s a very interesting sensation, being on a quadbike. You kind of feel like you’re in a car and on a bicycle at the same time. You’re going fast (our first trip averaged about 32kph/20mph) and the wind is in your face and rustling your clothes, so you know you’re not on a bike, but there’s this feeling of being exposed that you don’t get in a car. You’re completely out in the open; there’s no glass or seatbelt between you and the outside world (there was a helmet though, no worries). It’s exhilarating and we were all grinning like happy idiots when we got off at Moray (this is also where we learned that India, being at the back of the line, had gotten up to 55kph and was absolutely thrilled with herself).
Moray itself is breathtaking in a different way than the Salt Mines. Mostly because Moray is enormous. The terraces are each about two meters tall, and maybe three meters wide. The central circle isn’t too big, but about halfway up the terraces suddenly swoop up and out into an avocado shape. It took us twenty minutes to walk around the main site, and we took some fabulous panoramic pictures (and Emma sang a song about an avocado for us). There are two other smaller sets of circle terraces which Davina ran around to see, while the three of us hiked back up to the top viewpoint to take it in for a moment. Then it was back on the quadbikes for our return trip.
For the trip back, William took us along a dirt track full of holes, ridges, bumps, sharp curves, and a big puddle. We flew along the track, the entire countryside open to us for miles until the mountains rose up in the far distance. We (as children given new toys want to do) begged William to let us go faster, and finally he let us open up the throttle and fly down this straightaway. Davina and I both hit 55kph, Emma reached 61kph, and India, ever an overachiever, managed to supersede the max speed of the bike with a top speed of 64kph (the bike isn’t supposed to go past 63). And let me just mention that we did all of this before lunch.
After lunch was the actual zipline part of the adventure. There are four cables that crisscross the Sacred Valley, each one a little higher off the ground than the last. On the first cable, we practiced braking, because the way they have you stop is to literally place a leather-clad hand on the cable behind you so friction slows you down. On the second cable, we were getting used to being higher and faster, and Emma got stuck. The guide had to climb hand-over-hand out to her, grab her with his feet, and then climb hand-over-hand back. On the third line, things got interesting. This cable was so long that they let you flip upside-down (like Spiderman hanging from a web) for fifteen seconds before you flip back upright and brake. Emma got to go first on that one, and handled it like she’d been doing it her whole life. Me? Me, I screamed profanities for at least seven of the fifteen seconds. Davina and India also handled it with much less screaming. But the last line was our absolute favorite. On this one, they put your harness on backwards and clip you to the cable so you’re lying face-down in the Superwoman position. We soared over the Sacred Valley, one arm outstretched and one leg tucked up, the iconic theme song playing in our heads (and yes, the harness goes right up places you wished it didn’t and it stays there).
And so the day drew to a close at 1:00 in the afternoon. We got to watch an amazing thunderstorm over the mountains on our way back to Cusco, and we found out later that afternoon that the pictures the photographer had taken were included in the price of the trip. Abi got back from the hospital pumped full of antibiotics and feeling much better, and we settled in to sleep like the dead. All in all, we were beyond happy that we’d signed up to do this trip. It was such a unique way to tour the Sacred Valley, and we got to do it privately and for a grand total of $65. I’d say it’s pretty hard to beat that!