Tuesday, 22 January 2013

What A Day!

We had a spectacular day today.  We had arranged for a private tour of two places in the sacred valley just before we left Cusco.  By 9:30 we were off to the first site, Ollantaytambo.   This small community is only 30 minutes away and we went directly to the ruins.  I don't know what I was expecting but it was not what we saw.  Once past the front gate we were greeted by huge and very impressive stone terraces soaring upward and attached to the living rock.

The terraces of Ollyntantambo

 I was awestruck at the sight and at how well preserved these were; and at the thought that these were built by people centuries ago without the aid of machinery.  To my dismay, a visit to these ruins include, by necessity, a climb to the top...did we not come here to avoid increased altitude???!!! Nevertheless we hung in there and started the climb up the uneven steps to the top. (admittedly several stops were necessary on the way up).

Here it was even more impressive...massive stones have been used to build walls, some weighing many tons.  These are fitted together without any cement or mud or mortar.  This feat of engineering filled me with awe.  I could only imagine what it was like before the Spaniards arrived and destroyed it...followed by the use of surrounding stones to build local homes (until 1930!!!)
We made our way to the "temple of the sun" a huge wall, made of massive stones, facing east; the location where the priests and nobility worshiped the sun god.  It was also impressive when we learned that the stones were quarried 5 km away and then brought to the site.

We made our way through the ruins and down the steep steps to the section of the complex which was devoted to the worship of the water god.  In this area there were several fountains at which visitors to the temple would purify themselves (with  the aid of handles so they could put their heads under the stream of water).  These fountains were fed by an ingenious system of aqueducts and underground channels from the nearby river and glaciers in the mountains.

A carving in a nearby cliff caught my eye and the guide explained that this was an astronomical instrument used to measure the phases of the sun using the shadow it cast.  This was another example of the ingenuity and knowledge of the Inca.  The carvings in the wall had to be placed perfectly to get the desired result, namely that the shadow fill a notch lower in the wall on the days of the summer and winter solstice!!!  How precise their calculations had to be and how accurate the hammer of the carver!!!  Unbelievable.
I could have stayed a week!!!  But lunch was waiting for us at a nearby restaurant...so it was goodbye to these most impressive ruins, which felt mystical in so many ways!

Our guide, Manuel Huaman of Peru Vaction Reps was fantastic.  He had a thorough and in-depth knowledge of the history of this site and of the Inca and pre-Incan history.  He also gave us some great tips about our upcoming visits to other areas.  As well as being a superlative guide, he is also a tour operator.  He can be reached at peruvacationreps@gmail.com.  He specializes in both group and independant travel throughout Peru.  I was very impressed by this young man who gave us a great tour and made the morning fantastic for us by being extremely flexible and adjusting his program to suit our desires.

The building  on the mountain was a storehouse where the increased altitude and indigenous ventilation allowed for long term food storage.

In the afternoon we had originally been scheduled to go to a market in another community called Pisac. This was a long way from the hotel, about 45 minutes. As I do not have any room in any case for souvenirs (especially for a three month trip) we negotiated separately to visit the ruins located at Pisac. As is often the case with my luck...the rain started to fall as we were on our way there so we knew we were in for a wet visit.
The community was at a much higher altitude than the one where we are staying, so our breathing got a bit laboured as we approached the city. We arrived in Pisac only to discover that the ruins were on top of the mountain. Our plans to stay low seemed to be undone this day indeed!!!
We drove up to the ruins (thankfully) and then donned ponchos to protect us from the ongoing downpour. We really thought that we would see nothing but once we started we were amazed. The clouds hovered below us in the valley and touched the surrounding mountain tops. This gave the site a truly mystical feel. We walked for a far distance marvelling at the beautiful and huge terraces which were below us. The path was terrifying...it was slick and muddy aside a shear drop to the valley below in many places. I had to swallow my fear more than once and pluck up my courage to keep going. Guard rails are not common here!!!

After a good 20 minute walk we arrived at the main attraction..the religious centre of the place. It was magnificent...apparently one of the best preserved ruins in the sacred valley. There were a number of temples surrounding another astronomical observatory. I find this incredible...a nob on the top of a natural rock had been carved and when light comes in a number of small windows, the shadow falls in just the right way to indicate the solstices and equinoxes...wow. Also, a carving of one half of the Andean cross sits on the ground...and during the solstices it casts a shadow which completes the cross and makes it whole...blow my mind!!!


The surrounding countryside was beautiful, as we were up so high we could see a lot...despite the rain and the clouds. We discovered that the cliff alongside the site were used as a burial ground and there were many caves dug into it...it defies imagination that anyone would climb there, let alone weighed down by a recently passed relative and all the belongings he/she would need in the afterlife!!
There were also fountains in this location, better preserved and still flowing with water (a lot of water given the rain!!)

We did not take the full tour as it was difficult trekking, especially at the altitude so we had to turn back and retrace our steps.
What an exceptional experience...and one filled with amazement at the ingenuity and industriousness of the Inca people. At every turn we saw something interesting and unexpected. The site was huge and when we returned and looked up we realized that the path we had taken actually followed a long ridge continuing the length of one of the mountain tops. In retrospect, we both felt that this was one of the best days we have ever had!!!
We spent the night drying our clothes and relaxing...more relaxing to come tomorrow as my foot is complaining a bit at the continued use... 

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