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Three Weeks in PeruAuthor: Mike6725
Date of Trip: February 2006
Ollantaytambo is one of the towns in the Sacred Valley and site of another major Inca ruin. It is a small town, but has the distinction of having been continuously occupied since before the arrival of the Spanish (i.e., since 1300). The town was laid out by the Inca planners, has narrow streets and Inca walls, and still has an operating water system built by the Incas. We stayed in the Hostal Sauce, a very nice hotel near the center of town. We had a corner room on the second floor, with a view of the ruins in two directions.
As elsewhere, we enjoyed seeing the colorful costumes, which are the everyday clothing for the local populace, not something worn for the tourists. In the celebrations we observed, the tourists seemed to be welcome to join the festivities, but only because they happened to be there anyway.
We could also look down the main street to the town square, which was the center of festivities during our evening visit. Just below our hotel window was a water channel, which was put to use by a group of young boys. It is a common practice to throw water-filled balloons in Peru. These kids took it a step farther and used plastic buckets to drench passers by. They left the tourists alone (mostly), although Peruvian tourists seemed to be fair game. Everyone seemed to take it with good humor, though we saw more than a few people take a detour around the block to avoid the threat of an impromptu shower.
We had arrived early in the day, so we walked up to the ruins in the afternoon. We hired a young guide (from the many who offered their services) and for a few dollars received an excellent tour of this amazing site. The Inca stonework is incredible. We saw one granite block weighing probably 30 tons or more, which was moved from the quarries we could see half-way up the mountain across the valley. This was just one of many such stones that were moved more than seven kilometers: down the mountain, across a river, and half-way up another mountain to the site of the temple.
That evening we joined the party in the town square. They had erected a 30-foot tree in the center of the square, all decorated with odds and ends of colorful plastic and paper. The band played (the same music we had listened to for hours in Puno) and everyone danced in a circle around the tree. Every few minutes someone would hack at the tree a couple of times with an axe, and then pass the axe on to another dancer who would do the same. This went on for an hour or so until the tree finally fell. The tradition is that whoever finally cuts the tree down is responsible for the next year's party.
We headed for a little restaurant (to beat the crowd) and had a nice dinner, and then as we were having coffee the rains started. Although we were visiting Peru during the rainy season, we had never been caught yet, as it seems to rain mostly at night. After carrying ponchos and umbrellas everywhere for the past two weeks, we were finally caught unprepared. We were pretty well soaked when we made it back to the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised. When we entered the hotel lobby a group from Argentina whom we had met earlier was sitting in front of the fireplace and a roaring fire. They made room for us; we had hot coca tea, and were soon snug and warm.
Sunday is market day in Pisac, and it is a big tourist event. We decided to stop there for the day on our way back to Cusco.
We had left Ollantaytambo early in the morning, and we arrived at Pisac before the market got underway. That worked out fine for us, as it gave us a chance to visit the ruins. Every set of ruins we visited impressed us, and we found each to be a little different in some way. In Pisac we found the Inca roadway to be narrow and running along the cliff edge as we moved from one watchtower or gate to the next. I'm not particularly bothered by heights, but I still stayed close to the wall at the edge of the road.
After a couple of hours of sightseeing, it was time to head for the market.
We were not disappointed. Although we had read that the prices in Pisac were higher than the markets in Cusco, we found it to be the opposite. Prices were very reasonable, and for some things quite inexpensive. Maybe it helped that the weather was on the rainy side, with the occasional shower chasing tourists back to their busses. About three-fourths of the market is devoted to fabrics, woolen products and the usual craftwork produced for the tourists. The remainder is filled with produce and other products for everyday use by the locals. We bought an ear of the local boiled corn just to see how it tasted. It was probably as good as or better than any roasting ear I have had here. It wasn't particularly sweet, but it was full of juice and quite tasty.
We saw the women spinning wool with spindles that looked like tops. They used them something like a combination of a top and a yo-yo. They would wind and unwind the yarn, bouncing the spindle on the ground occasionally as they gradually made the yarn tighter. The women we met on Isla Amantani would be doing this as they walked around, multi-tasking all day long.
In the middle of the market place is a small church which has mass in Quechua (language of the Incas) and in Spanish. The Quechua mass was over as we walked by. The attendees were dressed in colorful traditional attire. Many of the tourists were busy taking their pictures. We didn't want to disturb their religious sanctuary so we left them alone and we have no pictures.
The market in Pisac was one of the high points of our trip, and we recommend anyone planning to travel to Peru include a visit in their itinerary.
We had scheduled a couple more days in Cusco before returning to Lima, just to be sure we had time to see everything before our return home. High on the list was the local fortress or temple Sacsayhuaman, (pronounced "Sexy Woman" by tourists). Another wonderful example of the stonework of the Incas, it took thousands of workers more than 50 years to construct. As impressive as the structure is now, about 80 percent of the stones were removed by the Spanish for use in construction elsewhere.
Although there isn't much in the way of train service in Peru, there are two train stations in Cusco. One is for the trains to Aguas Calientes and the other for the daily train to Puno. Adjacent to each train station is a large market, so we had to visit both. One market was about half full of things for tourists to buy, and we did our part for the local economy! We had to buy an extra bag just to carry all our souvenirs.
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