Stacks of tomatoes fill multi-colored baskets, an elderly woman peels a craggy potato and rows and rows of patrons line up to fill their bags with the day’s essentials: it’s early morning at Mercado Central, Pisac’s proverbial market hub. Sensory speaking, Pisac is a delight. Every exotic vegetable in the entire country of Peru is up for sale, and the tempo flows at a steady mountain pace. There’s a quicker step here, but locals still stop to greet their elders with a polite hola abuelita (hello grandma), showing great endearment to all that call this valley outpost home.
Wandering through the market, we find Jardín Botanico, home to an enclosed garden oasis, where a fluffy white cat plays amidst the flowers. Mariano is the resident gardener, and he’s been running the plant-filled halls since he was eight years old. We continue to walk the quaint Pisac streets until we reach the town’s largest and oldest oven. Spanning an entire façade, the grill is over 130 years old and is tasked with serving local empanadas, thick with pillows of cheese and meat. For an oven this size, it takes a village to use the wooden spatula, extending nearly 8 meters long. Clay bulls line the top of the oven, symbolizing prosperity and fertility for all families who dine here.
While food is sold inside Pisac’s town, the outdoor market is used to showcase traditional textiles and clothing of the region. After we browse through rows of handwoven rugs, we leave to reach the town of Viacha, nestled quietly atop the valley. Here we see the market’s produce put to use during the preparation of our traditional pachamanca meal. Made with potatoes, meat and vegetables from the region, the pachamanca meal is loaded into a pot and laid within a pocket of the earth. It’s covered with hot stones, left to bake until the flavors of the dish fuse together. Inclusive of guinea pig, plantains, potatoes and fava beans, pachamanca is a realization of the earth’s bounty, blending nature and sustenance for the vitality of the Andean people.
Following our hearty meal, we descend to the Pisac ruins, and as we leave our mountainside encampment, a shroud of ethereal mist fills the air, blanketing us with a fresh cover of cool rain. The mountains are barely visible, blending behind the white showers like silhouettes looming in the distance. But the rain is a gift, and we all welcome it. Of course, it’s beautiful to see this natural landscape on a sunny day, but there’s something soulfully cleansing about a light rain in the mountains.