Day 6 — Ollantaytambo: the Town

Wednesday — April 8

Leaving the ruins shortly before noon, we walked the short distance back to Hostal Sauce. We were famished after our morning of clambering around the ruins. The smell of wood fire emanating from the restaurant next to the hotel had us craving for pizza, so we followed our noses to Pachamama Grill. It turns out, the ovens had just been lit and they weren’t quite ready to serve pizza. We decided to stay anyway and took a seat at one of the tables on the second floor. The food was very tasty — I really enjoyed the crema de choclo (cream of corn soup) that was served in a clay bowl; Mui followed Vidal’s lead and ordered the hamburguesa con queso y jamon y huevo (hamburger with cheese, ham, and egg) and was not disappointed.

Mui and Vidal have a bit of fun pretending the jacket completes the foursome at our table.

After lunch, Vidal left to return to Cusco and we went to the hotel to drop off our backpacks. While we were out, the staff had moved us into room 15 — a bit cozier (for that read, small) than our original room, but with a view of the ruins.

Room 15 at Hostal Sauce.

Room 15 has a view of the Inca ruins.

A bit about Ollantaytambo. The town is located at approximately 9,200 feet (~2,800 m) above sea level; as we’ve noticed since our arrival last night, it is much easier to breathe at this altitude. In fact, many visitors to the region come to the Sacred Valley first to acclimate. Since we’re working around a specific date for the Machu Picchu portion of our trip — namely, my birthday — we opted to start in Cusco and then move down to the Sacred Valley. But, I digress; back to the town.

Ollantaytambo, is the only Inca settlement in modern day Perú that has survived with its original street plan still pretty much intact. Historians believe that it was the royal estate of Inca Pachacuteq; the quality of the stonework seems to give credence to that claim. It is strategically located at a narrow choke point in the valley, which made it the perfect spot for a stand against the Spanish after the conquest. The town is said to have been named for an Inca general, Ollantay — combine his name with the word tambo, which means storage place/lodge/shelter, and you have the town’s name. I should note here that some historians believe that the reference to tambo, in this case, is to a pre-Inca tribe.

A statue of Ollantay stands in the town square.

(There’s a legend about Ollantay, but I’ll post that separately so as not to stray from the topic at hand.)

Leaving the exploration of the cobblestone streets for tomorrow, we wandered around Ollantaytambo’s main street; we walked to the mercado de artesanal (handcraft market) located outside the entrance to the ruins to look at the colorful displays of tapestries, dolls, and polished stone jewelry; intrigued by the canal running down the center of a pedestrian-only street leading from our hotel, we followed it to find kids playing in the water and women rinsing out dishes; we stopped to enjoy the fluffy muscovy ducklings in front of a nearby store for a few minutes before continuing onto the plaza.

You can take a taxi if you don’t want to wander around on foot.

One of the many shops near the handcraft market displaying colorful tapestries.

These canals date back to Inca times.

Muscovy ducklings.

It seems every Latin American town has a Plaza de Armas; Ollantaytambo is no exception even if the plaza is quite small. After our meandering walk through town, we joined the locals sitting on benches in the plaza — well, some of them were sitting on the steps, but you get the idea. We watched people going about their daily lives — chatting with friends, selling goods, caring for babies that were rolling around on the ground, impervious to the grime. We chatted with a driver waiting to pick up a contingent of tourists visiting the ruins. He was especially curious about our video camera, which Mui demonstrated to him while I munched on choclo con queso purchased from one of the street vendors.

Local color at Plaza de Armas.

This choclo has smaller kernels; it is tasty nonetheless.

When it started to sprinkle rain, we walked over to a nearby internet shop to check mail and make contact with friends and family. Eventually, we found our way back to the hotel, where we spent some time re-arranging luggage for tomorrow’s train trip — Perú Rail prefers that Vistadome passengers bring one small bag each as storage space is limited in the cars. (Our luggage needs are complicated not just by our photography equipment, but also by the fact that unlike most people who go to Machu Picchu for a day — at most, two days — we plan to be there four days.) After a bit of finessing, we managed to fit into two small carry-on bags, setting the rest aside for storage at the hotel.

After debating where to have dinner, we settled on Hearts Café once again, hoping that our patronage and small donation helps with the programs they support. After my snack of corn and cheese, I wasn’t very hungry, so I ordered their excellent lentil soup once again. Mui opted for the fajitas de pollo (chicken fajitas), which turned out to be different from the fajitas we’re used to — the chicken was served with barbeque sauce — but tasty nonetheless. Skipping dessert, we ordered chocolate caliente (hot chocolate), the perfect drink for a chilly evening.

Hearts Café — good food and a good cause.

Chocolate Caliente — liquid dessert.

While we enjoyed our liquid dessert, we chatted with the family that we met at the hotel. We also made a new friend — a young Danish woman working for an NGO (non-governmental organization). Based on Taquile Island (Lake Titicaca), she was in Ollantaytambo on vacation for a couple of days. When we inquired about her project, she told us that she works with the people of Taquile on a communitarian tourism program. It was fascinating to hear her take on the island people and their lives, all the more so because we will be visiting Taquile during our stay at Lake Titicaca in another week. An interesting end to a great day.

Next Up: Ollantay & Happy Star

1 comment:

  1. I'll give you just one guess who should be filling that jacket :)
    Travel Blogs can consist of photographs or snapshots; informative prose or idle chatter... Such a pleasure to be immersed in the former! Off to meet Ollantay...