Thursday — April 9At breakfast we debated how to spend our day. We considered hiking to Cachicata, the quarry from where the material for building the ruins was extracted; we discussed going on a horseback adventure to nearby Pumamarca, a well-preserved site of Inca ruins; we talked about exploring some of the tambos part way up Apu Pinkuylluna (an apu is a sacred mountain). In the end, we reminded ourselves that this was supposed to be the R&R (rest and relaxation) portion of our trip and decided to take a pass on anything that would require us to exert ourselves. Not ones to sit around the hotel until it was time to take the train out of town, however, we came up with a plan for leisurely exploring Ollantaytambo.Before we could put our plan in effect, however, we had to get past El Sauce’s quaint security system! It seems that when the front desk is unattended, they tie a rope around the handles of the front door to deter people from just wandering in off the street. As we were gathering our belongings, one of the staff came back to the front desk and thus we were freed before we had to take matters into our own hands.
Quaint but effective security system.From the hotel, we headed to Plaza de Armas where we took a moment to photograph the porters preparing to head off on the 4-day Camino Inca (Inca Trail) hike to Machu Picchu. The Incas built a vast network of roads to connect the four corners of the empire. The trail to Machu Picchu is part of that network. We considered the hike when we started planning our trip. It would have been interesting to follow in the steps of the ancient people of the land to arrive at what is commonly referred to as the Lost City of the Incas. Ultimately, however, we decided that at this altitude, even with porters carrying the heavy stuff, we’d be biting off more than we could comfortably chew. Hence option two: the train to Machu Picchu. But that’s a story for later.
Porters awaiting transport to the trailhead.Turning into one of the narrow, cobblestone streets leading off the plaza, we explored the neighborhoods where the locals live. We followed an ancient canal bordering one of the streets, seeing some of the realities of local life (case in point, a man washing his feet in the water flowing through the canal while a woman, just a little ways up the road, used the same water to rinse some lettuce). We stopped to peer into a cancha where the residents were going about daily chores. Canchas are literally the building blocks of ancient Inca towns. Each cancha has one entrance, usually a stone doorway, that leads into a central courtyard rimmed with houses.
Mui stops to videotape an ancient Inca Canal.
Double-jambed stone entrance to a cancha.
Viracocha continues to watch over the people of Ollantaytambo.Next we went to the handcraft market where we browsed the stalls displaying colorful tapestries. Knowing we had limited space in our bags, however, we had to be content with purchasing a couple of pieces of stone jewelry instead. With Mui’s need to “haggle” sated for the time being, we then headed to the small museum near our hotel.
Colorful markets are a hallmark of towns in Perú.El Museo CATCCO, founded in 1997, was worth the visit. There were no other visitors while we were there and the staff was preparing the courtyard for a luncheon, so we had the run of the small museum. We took our time studying the murals and the displays in the small rooms on the second floor, learning a bit more about the culture and history of the area, as well as the social structure of the ancient people that inhabited the valley.
The CATCCO Museum is well worth a visit.
Mural depicting the production of chicha, a type of beer made from maize.Following our meandering walk through Ollantaytambo, we stopped in at an Internet shop to check email. With the knowledge that all was well with loved ones, we then took a break in the plaza, enjoying the local color and munching on choclo con queso while we rested our weary feet.
Mid-morning local color at Plaza de Armas.
The ice cream vendor is color-coordinated with the sunflowers in Plaza de Armas.Our next stop was at the market where the locals shop for everything from clothes, to produce, to meat and chicken, to cheese and grains, to flowers, to plastic laundry tubs, to primus stoves. The colorful market was very crowded; so much so that navigating the narrow aisles without bumping into anything or anyone was quite a challenge. Nearby, a small parking lot was chock-a-block with vans and minibuses waiting to transport locals and tourists to the various towns dotting the Sacred Valley. We debated taking a collectivo (shared van/bus transport) to Urubamba, a nearby town, but decided that with the short time we had available to us, the visit would be much too rushed. Instead, we headed back to Plaza de Armas where a sidewalk table at Hearts Café called out to us — time for lunch.
Perusing the excellent meal options at Hearts Café.As usual, everything on the menu looked good. Although I was tempted to order the lentil soup again, I decided to get the local version of a BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich), served with guacamole — excellent. Mui’s grilled chicken and cheese sandwich was topped with sautéed onions and came with homemade chutney on the side — also excellent. (By the way, Hearts Café uses purified water to wash produce ... having noted above that we'd seen a woman washing lettuce in the canal water, just thought I should mention that.)After lunch, we ordered the café’s signature hot chocolate and sat at our table for a while enjoying the mid-day activity in the plaza. In particular, we were captivated by an old woman setting up a display of bread on a nearby sidewalk. When some of the pita-like loaves fell on the ground, she calmly picked them up, slapped them against her apron to remove any dirt, and put them back on top of the pile. She then sat down and proceeded to bag the bread in stacks of six or eight. Yes, the ones she picked up from the ground went into one of those bags. (Note to self: be careful where you buy bread!)
Old woman setting up her sidewalk display of bread.On that note, we headed back to El Sauce to meet up with Vidal for our train trip to Aguas Calientes.Next Up: Day 7 — The 4:03p Vistadome to Aguas Calientes