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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!



Worshiping the Lens God at Sacsayhuaman

Catholic Guinea Pigs and Lens Worship With Señor Iglesias

As we near the end of a week of Spanish classes – we may not be fluent yet, but we have at least received praise for our advancements from many of the numerous visitors to our host family – we decided to take up the offer of a ´City Tour´from the Spanish School here in Cusco. Apparently there is no Spanish translation for ´City Tour´. Not only did this give us the opportunity to be guided around some of Cusco´s more eminent sights, it also gave us an hour out of class. Even for pretty well motivated mature students, this is a no-brainer.


So, after class we made our way into the centre of town and, having hastily bought a sandwich – you can´t be too careful about what you put in your mouth here – we just made it in time to board a minibus to take us on our tour. Astonishingly for Peru, the bus had seatbelts. Inevitably, they were impossible to use.


Our guide for the day was a pleasantly languid chap called Julio Cesar – ¨Just call me Julio if you like. You know, like Julio Iglesias, yes?¨ He was easy to spot, as he was the only man in Cusco wearing a scarf. Perhaps that´s his thing. Dismounting the minibus after a 45 second ride from the tourist office, we went to the Cathedral, where no photos were allowed. By most European people´s standards this is a weird church as it blends the Catholicism of the Conquistadors with the ´pagan´religion of the Incas. The walls are crammed full of paintings, many showing religious scenes enacted amongst the local  flora, forna and cuisine. At the last supper for example, Jesus and co are looking forward to tucking into papaya, potatoes and a nice plump roasted guinea pig. Elsewhere the Virgin Mary represents Mother Earth (Patcha Mama) and is often seen either splendidly pregnant or sporting a snake, the choir stalls are carved with bare breasted ladies, and the statue of Christ on the Cross is wearing a skirt sponsored by the local football team. Unusual, interesting and in many ways refreshing!

Our next stop was the ruins of an Inca temple of Coricancha, which the Spanish had thoughtfully build over with a large church of their own. They got their comeuppance mind, as a large Earthquake all but destroyed the church whilst the canny architecture of the Incas remained standing beneath. And it really was some top quality building, made from large bricks of near indestructible basalt, absolutely flush and smooth. Much like Stonehenge, there were windows that produced beams of sunlight on the solstace and windows that were perfectly aligned.

Through the windows at Coricancha

Next, it was back on the minibus and a ride up to Sacsayhuaman, where we´d already has a look (from a distance) on Sunday. Here the Inca architecture was really impressive, especially when explained by Julio. Not only do some of the stones weigh over 100 tonnes, but they were brought by hand, at altitude, from around 7 km away.

We had around half an hour to explore the ruins and it was here that it struck me how a place built for worship of the sun such as Sacsayhuaman, had now become a new place of worship. Everywhere we turned, tourists were worshiping their own deity. Most couldn´t go more than four paces without paying homage. Of course, we even succumbed a few times to honour the Lens God. Cameras certainly controlled the pathways and steps of the Inca city.

Worshiping the Lens God at Sacsayhuaman

For all it´s amazing architecture and buildings though, these places would not be as impressive were it not for the setting. As the sun started to go down, we moved on up to our final Inca stop, further up in the mountains at around 3700 meters. Here the Incas had channeled springs into small waterfalls, and here the scenery made the place. Again, the camera was king, but if you got a good shot of the mountains in the distance (and not of your mate wearing a silly hat pretending to drink the water) it was worth it. I´m not sure that we did either the vistas or the Lens God  justice.