The Inca's Sacred Valley: Pisac and Ollantaytambo
Cusco, from the hills above it
Tues, July 13:
Our brief layover in Lima left one impression: some of the craziest traffic we've seen anywhere in the world. Merging in the immense traffic circles near the airport is a full-contact sport. Our brief flight to Cusco seemed to bring us a world away from all of that. The hills around the city are higher than the flight paths which really messes with your mind. It's a beautiful backdrop, though. Jenn had washed her debit card the night before (there's a travel tip for you!) and today it worked for the first time on the trip. We now had our Peruvian "nuevo soles" and hopped in the car that the "Pisac Inn" had sent. It's so nice to see someone holding up a sign with your name on it!
We took pictures even on the drive from Cusco to Pisac (of the view from above the city, of the "Cristo Blanco" figure, of llamas, etc).
Roadside Alpacas, on the way to Pisac
The Pisac Inn is right on the main plaza of Pisac at one end of what's known as the Inca's "sacred valley." Pisac is nestled into where several mountain valleys converge. Many Incan towns were located this way. High above the bustling market town (and it was a full market day when we arrived) were the Incan ruins. We walked through the market and then had dinner at the Inn. I had "trucha" (trout), Jenn had alpaca steak and Anica and I tried an Inca Cola (favourite Peruvian soft drink since 1935!). The owner/manager explained that in the morning we would have a choice of American breakfast or healthy breakfast!
Ancient tree at the centre of Pisac's market square
Traditional Quechua women in Pisac market
Wed, July 14:
Talk about not sticking to the game plan! In this case, the game plan of altitude acclimatization. We got tempted by the mountain right in front of us and decided to walk up to Pisac's Incan citadel. That was a mistake! It's our first full day at altitude and from the very start we felt the difference in our legs and lungs. A few above the market square, we'd crossed the 3, 000 metre mark. But, we bought the ten-day "Tourist Boleto" and walked up the stone steps, criss-crossing agricultural terraces and dirt trails. Casually, we hooked up with a guide (he was playing pan pipes as he walked ahead of us...). He "helped" us avoid the steep steps right under the citadel by having us go around the mountain and come in front the back side. Unfortunately, that seemed to about double the time and distance. We ran out of water and started thinking about how long it would take to get back. The sun was very hot.
Climbing the steep terraces to the Pisac ruins
Nonetheless, we saw an Incan "cross" carved into stone, old houses, granaries, the temple ruins, etc. Beautiful views of the town and valley below. Views of the other side of the mountain and the valley that unfolds in that direction. We took one more path of about a kilometre in total where the guide literally "called" a taxi by yelling up the hillside. We came back - after four hours - in time for a late lunch at "Ulricke's Cafe" (adobe oven pizza served to us on the second floor). After this more strenuous than anticipated hike, we promised Anica she could do "nothing" for the rest of the day. We did enjoy talking to a family from Connecticut staying at The Pisac Inn (Rich & Bridget, and their three children).
From part-way up, we look back, down to Pisac's market
Inca Temple ruins above Pisac
A well-earned Inca Kola for Anica!
Thurs, July 15:
5 AM is the perfect time for a brass marching band, don't you think? A festival started here in Pisac today. Very early today. By the time we were dressed and breakfasted the festivities were nowhere to be found - the procession was on its way to another time. Today, however, did give us a chance to see the plaza completely emptied of all the marketplace stalls, quite a transformation.
On to Ollantaytambo. There was evidence of the landslides earlier in the year as we drove down the valley road along the river. The taxi only got us part way through Ollantaytambo; much of it is pedestrian-only cobblestone streets as it has been from the time of the Incans. In fact, the whole town is still the same layout that the Incans made, and in some cases, the same stone walls and doorways are still in use. The temple/fortress, though similiar to Pisac, is only a few metres above the rest of the town. It functions like a skyline or backdrop for the whole town, and, to our delight, was the view from our room at Apu Lodge.
Great view of Ollantaytambo from Apu Lodge
Water rushes past from the mountain sides, in irrigation channels planned by the Incans. The water being channelled is loud, fast, and an impressive piece of continuity between today and the pre-European past of this town at the far end of the Sacred Valley of the Incans (actually there's only one "Inca," the emperor; a more correct term would be "Quechua" after the people/language who still live here in the 21st century).
Apu Lodge was being looked after for a couple of months by Francis and Barry, a South African couple who will soon be emigrating to Canada. We couldn't have asked for a warmer welcome, and we loved talking with them at length about their travelling adventures (and ours).
We walked all over town, after lunch at Hearts Cafe, and ran into Rich and Bridget and their kids, and walked to the train station area of town with them.
Get Your Chicha Here!
Following a "siesta" back at Apu Lodge, we walked the cobblestones again, past houses with red plastic bags tied on the end of tall sticks (a signal that there's homemade "chicha" corn beer for sale) to a restaurant called Pukarumi. I had the chicken saltado (a diced meat dish very common in Peru). We almost needed our headlamps on the night-time walk to and from the restaurant.
Fri, July 16:
We walked across town after breakfast to the ruins, deciding to explore without a guide. After a few minutes, we saw Rich & Bridget's family (four days in a row we've run into them!). This time we exchanged email and addresses, etc. before saying goodbye.
Such niche children, don't you think?
What's neat about the Incan ruins in "Olly" is that they were never quite finished. They successfully defended it against the first Spanish attack, but not the second. So there's stone still lying around from 500 years ago. Anica and the other kids actually played hide and seek in the section of the ruins that was the old baths. Very much like the Roman baths at Carthage.
Ollantaytambo from the Inca ruins
In the afternoon, we climbed up to some other ruins located directly "over" the Apu Lodge. It's like a local hangout and romantic spot in the afternoon. There was actually rain later tonight, the first we've seen since that storm in Quito.