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The Best Shop In Cusco

The Best Shop In Cusco

Hello and good day!

The black condor flies in place, pushing against the heavy mountain wind, until it gives up, turns back around, and floats away on the strong gust into the blue sky.

The farmers keep multitudinous herds of sheep instead of dairy cows.

Up on the shallow slant of the plain, you can see the sheep grazing, with their dirty brown wool matted up into balls that hang from the side of their bodies.

An old woman, with wrinkled brown skin, wearing a shawl on her back and a tattered Humphrey Bogart hat on her head, stands still, leaning on a walking stick, and staring out into the enormity of the countryside.

Out past the sheep and the woman, in every direction, vast fields of golden barley and orange and red quinoa stocks stretch out until the high mountain pampa breaks sharply down into the Sacred Valley.

On the far side of the Sacred Valley, there is a gigantic, sheer black mountain face that drops straight down.

The black mountain face is buttressed on either side by green mountain faces, covered in light green grass. The green ridges are as tall, and sometimes taller, than those of the black giant.

Behind the green and black ridges, triangular snowcapped peaks shoot out and their snow sparkles white in the sun.

Late in the afternoon the sun descended behind the mountain range and shined up from below, painting the sky orange and the thin clouds just above the ridges pink.

We drove through the pampa, hustling to see the spectacular Incan archeological site, Moray. We were the last group of the day, and I had the great pleasure of walking down into the ringed pit of stone walls all by myself.

Some say that Moray was a farming site because the stepped walls look just like the traditional Incan step farming system, whereby the Incas carved flat steps into steep mountains so that rain wouldn't wash away seeds.

But that theory didn't make sense to me.

With all the farmland in the surrounding country, why would the Incas have hidden their steps in a pit?

I asked a guide about this, and he told me that most archeologists now consider Moray to have been an amphitheater for observing religious ceremonies.

This makes a lot more sense.

When you climb out of the pit on the far side, the path becomes flat and the view looks straight across at the imposing black, green, and white mountain range.

I looked across the valley and tried to imagine what people who had just witnessed a religious ceremony, 600 years ago, must have thought when they climbed out of the pit and saw that exact same view.

If I was them, I would have been absolutely convinced that our tribe was highly favored by the Gods and destined to rule the world.

I bet that is why Incan leaders chose such magnificent spots for their religious shrines.

When the ceremony is over and you look around, the land is fertile all around you and the biggest, strongest mountains in the world are eye to eye with you, and you feel like they are strong enough to protect you from anything that is outside of them.

If you control those mountains, you control the world.

Here is another thought that is highly applicable to the times that we live in.

Down in the valley, at the foot of those mountains, there are charming little cities inhabited by friendly people, and you could escape to one of those towns tomorrow.

The mountains would protect you the same way they did the Incas.

Your only problems would be valley problems and those problems seem quite simple and quaint compared to global problems.

Quaint is always an option.

Pampas and sheep and quinoa are an option.

If you choose to stay plugged into the big problems of the world, problems that are stressful and violent and that most of us have no control over, that is your choice.

But that is not the only path. You can unplug too, geographically or emotionally.

On the way to Moray, you drive through a very lovely little town called Maras, which is famous for its mountain salt plates.

The town of Maras is built almost entirely using mud and stone construction.

It has thin cobblestone roads with irrigation grooves running down the middle. Adobe and stone walls line the street and behind those walls are humble homes.

I took a spin around their town square on Friday night, and it was dead quiet.

The only people out there were the police squad.

The captain had the whole team lined up, a team of six, and was lecturing them about not looking at their phones while they are on shift.

In the middle of their Plaza there is a fountain with a statue on top.

The statue is of a country woman walking behind a donkey who is carrying salt rocks in a harness draped over its back.

One block off the Maras town square is a little shop called Sal De Maras.

This is a play on the expression Sal De Mar, which means sea salt, sal being the Spanish word for salt, and mar meaning the sea.

I walked up to the shop with my family and the doors were flung wide open.

The light was turned on. But nobody was there.

The entire shop is dedicated to products made with salt from Maras and the owner had samples of every single product in little white plates on the shelves in front of the products.

It was a mystery as to why the owner wasn't there, and we didn't know how to proceed.

We figured it wouldn't hurt to do some sampling, plus we were hungry from a long day of hiking.

My friends, I am here to tell you that these were some of the best products I've ever tasted.

They had a long shelf of chocolate made with local cacao using Maras salt as an inclusion.

It was very, very good, legit, world class chocolate, out in the middle of the mountains in this tiny little town.

Heirloom Andean potato chips with Maras salt. The chips had natural red swirls running through them because that is the real color of the potatoes.

A neighbor poked her head in and asked where the owner was.

She was a garrulous, thin woman, carrying two dogs under either arm.

"What are you doing here! Where is the owner!" she barked.

I acted as spokesman.

"Do you know the owner? We want to buy a lot! Can you get her?"

"She is a good friend of mine. Don't eat anymore samples until she comes!" said the woman.

We waited in front of the shop.

A new moon was shining white and because we were at such a high altitude the moon illuminated the little town like a streetlamp.

The owner came and she was the sweetest person ever.

She told us to have as many samples as we wanted.

She explained how much her shop meant to her.

She told us that she had to take her daughter to dance class and that the town is so safe that she just leaves the doors open when she has to step away for a few.

I had spent the previous two days in Cusco proper.

There is no shop in the big city that holds a candle to Sal De Maras.

Great products at fair prices in this wonderful little shop.

If you are ever in Cusco and going out to Moray, stop in the lovely little town of Maras and you will see what I am talking about.

I am running long now and need to sign off.

Here are my two take aways from this very interesting day.

First, whoever cares the most will make the best products and price is not an indicator of quality.

In Cusco, there are expensive shops selling crap to take money off of tourists.

You can tell if somebody really cares or not and the people who really care are the best people to spend money with.

Second, you can retreat.

There are places in this world that are so far off the beaten path that the only thing you can care about is what is right in front of you.

It doesn't make sense to care about anything else in those places.

If you are overwhelmed by stressful events, or the news cycle, these are good places to search out.

And if you can't make it out to a place like that for physical or financial reasons, you can try to simulate it by unplugging for a while and trying to live in the moment.

The world is for the most part quite miraculous and the people in it quite wonderful.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day.


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