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.
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.
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.
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!