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Ollantaytambo

After leaving our excellent host family and week of school behind in Cusco, we have ventured out into the world of shared taxis (collectivos), the Sacred Valley and the superb small town of Ollantaytambo. We arrived here after a fairly hairy journey along the mountain roads, packed into a car alongside old ladies in traditional dress (one of whom comfortably fell asleep on Helen) and what appeared to be a box of fresh meat on ice. Stopping off at tiny Chincherro on the way, the blessing of a walk amongst almost deserted Inka ruins was a welcome change from the bustle and pollution of Cusco. The fresco-heavy colonial church, again built on Inka walls was also fantastic. You’ll have to google it for pictures though, as our camera was under constant watch by an andean attendant inside. By the way, you will probably be bored senseless of pictures of Inka ruins after our trip to Macchu Picchu tomorrow, so they’ll be kept to a minimum here.

Eventually after more taxis and sleepy old ladies we got to Ollantaytambo. This is a small town that is squeezed in between three mountains near a river. The streets are cobbled, the walls and doorways haven’t changed much since Inka times and many of the narrow streets are lined with waterways built into the ground for centuries.

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The town, like many pieces of Inka design, is itself planned to be symbolic, as viewed from above it represented an ear of corn – a highly prized foodstuff. Looking down over the town from one side is a carved image in the mountain. The face of ‘The Pilgrim’ is tricky to spot at first, but once you’ve made it out, it’s gaze follows you everywhere around the town.

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From the opposite mountain the ruins of the Inka temple and fortress, complete with grand royal agricultural terraces, draw large crowds. Again, once you are aware that the huge site is designed as such, the image of the llama is inescapable, with the Temple of the Sun its eye that is lit up alone on the winter solstice in June.

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One part tourist trap as an Inka Trail jump-off, one part heritage centre and one part stunning vista, Ollantaytambo has been a great place to visit, made all the more fantastic by our stay at the awesome ‘Casa De Wow!’ and a great steak dinner at the restaurant, Puka Rumi.

Bring on Macchu Picchu (by the end of which we’ll probably be totally Inka’d out!

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The Andes – A Bit Like Lightwater Valley

Many years ago I used to go on day trips to that magnificent Yorkshire theme park, Lightwater Valley. Aside from the Death Slide and The Ultimate, one of the biggest draws there was, for a while, The Rat. This ride basically consisted of an hour or so of queuing, followed by a couple of minutes of a fairly speedy roller coaster in the dark.

I’m currently sitting on a Cruz Del Sur bus through the Andes on the route from Lima to Cusco. This basically seems to consist of a couple of minutes of queuing, followed by 21 hours of incredibly fast roller coaster, most of which has taken place in the dark.

Of course, most people’s idea of travelling on a bus in South America might consist of dusty, bumpy roads and an uncomfortable, clapped-out old bus being pursued by packs of dogs. Well the existence of such buses remains to be seen but this one couldn’t be further from the stereotype. Large bed-seats, TVs, air-con, hostess serving dinner – it’s all pretty luxury airline. But when in darkness you are catapulted from one side of your large bed-seat to the next, the lady opposite is sick and you’re informed that under no circumstances should you poo in the toilet for the next 21 hours, you really start to wish you’d popped that sleeping pill!

The driving is remarkable. Never have I felt closer to being a NASA test pilot whilst simultaneously resembling a side of beef in a getaway meat wagon. Lewis Hamilton would struggle to hold the lines that this double decker takes around hairpin bends at 70mph.

But then daylight creeps in and the scenery emerges. You never got this at Lightwater Valley…

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A Plane With A View

A few mini adventures in Lima today, including an impromptu Spanish class and lots of men with guns (don’t panic mum).

It’s weird to leave in summer and arrive in winter – cool and drizzly today. Long bus journey to Cuzco tomorrow, 21 hours in fact! I hope the views will be as good as those from the plane – the Amazon and the Andes:
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