Day 6 — Ollantaytambo: the Ruins

Wednesday — April 8

After a good night’s rest, I was raring to go when I woke up around 6:00a. Even Mui, who’d had a bit of difficulty with his breathing yesterday while we were at the highest altitude of our trip, was ready to take on the Ruins of Ollantaytambo. Low-lying clouds were covering the tops of the nearby mountains when I stepped out for a peek at the scenery before breakfast. Patches of blue sky gave hope for a nice morning at the ruins that were visible from Hostal Sauce in the light of day. In fact, except for a few sprinkles here and there, we had a grand morning.

Glimpse of the Inca ruins from Hostal Sauce.

Around 7:00a, we met up with Vidal for breakfast, which was set up on the ground floor of the hotel. All of the buffet items were fresh and tasty — I especially enjoyed the fresh, cut-up fruit and the warm crêpes that were served with homemade jam. As we were finishing breakfast, we were joined by a family visiting from our neck of the US — it’s a small world. We chatted with them for a while before taking our leave and heading to the ruins.

Breakfast is at 7:00a unless an earlier time is requested.
(the chullos on the wall are part of the proprietor’s extensive collection)

One of the advantages of working with Vidal to organize our itinerary has been that with the exception of a few unavoidable instances, we’ve been able to arrange our schedule so as to have the sites mostly to ourselves. His knowledge of regular tour schedules has enabled him to plan around these times — a definite advantage for us. Case in point: when we arrived at the ruins, the only people there were a few other independent travelers. Showing our Boletos Turistico (tourist tickets), we quickly gained entrance and started exploring this fantastic Inca site. We took our time going up the terraced levels, stopping frequently not just to catch our breath, but also to enjoy the scenery.

The ruins of Ollantaytambo from a street in town.

There are over 200 steps to the top — and they’re steep!

Apu Pinkuylluna towers over the town.

Although the site did serve a defensive purpose, it was built as a ceremonial center, using stones from a quarry located high on a mountain on the other side of the Urubamba River (about four miles [6.5 km] away). I can’t fathom how they managed to move these massive stones — after all, they didn’t have vehicles to use for transport (the wheel did not exist) or cranes to lift them. I know they had thousands of workers and that they built ramps to get the stones from the quarry to the construction site … still, the effort it must have taken! Combine that with the smoothness of the polished stones and the alignment of their placement, and you have something that is awe-inspiring. Even the fact that construction was interrupted by the Spanish conquest does not detract from the spectacular nature of the site.

Ollantaytambo has gone into history books as being one of the few places in Perú to have successfully resisted Spanish attacks. The story goes that after Manco Inca was defeated at Sacsayhuaman, he retreated to Ollantaytambo, where he managed to defeat the Spanish force that was sent to capture him (flooding the plains below the fortress was partially responsible for this success). Alas, his victory was short-lived; the Spanish returned with a much bigger army and defeated Manco Inca, forcing him to retreat to Vilcabamba in the jungle.

Catching our breath at the ruins of Ollantaytambo.
(photo by Vidal)

We spent several hours at the ruins, exploring the nooks and crannies, the terraces, the Sun Temple, the qollqas (store houses), the fountains, and anything else that caught our attention — which was a lot. Vidal was a virtual encyclopedia, demonstrating the close alignment of the stones in the walls — so much so that in most places it is impossible to slip a piece of paper between the joints; discussing the primary function of the ruins — more ceremonial than defensive, as evidenced by the highly-polished stone slabs used in the construction of the site; telling us how the massive stones were moved into place — it involved ramps, ladders that provided leverage, and lots and lots of manpower; giving the Quechua names of the various sectors — the main terraces, for example, are known as Pumatallis; discussing the potential use of the t-shaped grooves in some of the stone slabs — they may have been filled with molten bronze to pull some of the megalithic slabs closer together; drawing our attention to the likeness of Viracocha, the creator of the universe, carved into the mountain on the other side of town.

Vidal demonstrates the tightness of the joints — a hallmark of Inca construction.

Push, Mui, I can’t move this stone slab by myself!
(photo by Vidal)

Crossing over to the less-visited side of the ruins, we ran into the family whose acquaintance we had made at breakfast. Sitting on one of the stone walls, we chatted with them for a while, taking the opportunity to rest as well. That it was sprinkling rain did not bother us at all; in fact, we appreciated the cool drops as the sun had warmed things up considerably by then. It wasn’t quite noon when we left the ruins, but we were famished …

Next Up: Day 6 —Ollantaytambo: the Town

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