Peru: Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley

(Last Updated On: May 10, 2020)

Part of our journey retraces our route of the other day, but I am glad to have another chance to again take in the the Urumbamba Valley’s rather stark beauty.

Although the landscape seems remote and empty, the fields that roll away from us in all directions are tilled, a potato field contrasting with the rugged mountains beyond.

The young men and boys working these fields use hand tools that would have been familiar to their ancestors many generations before.

We regularly pass adults and/or children herding animals or just waiting by the roadside.

When we stop at an isolated viewpoint, as is the case everywhere here, vendors of all ages immediately appear.

Above the village of Urumbamba we pass the scenic viewpoint where we stopped enroute to Machu Picchu. This time we head directly down and through the pleasant town along the rive and and on toward Ollantaytambo.

I have been eager to return to Ollantaytambo since our brief stop to catch the train. My glimpse through the bus window then showed a town perhaps not much changed from Incan days, with a dramatic fortress overlooking it. I am eager to return and explore.

Our bus drops us at the edge of a broad plaza. Today that plaza is largely covered by a canopy which shades a speaker’s platform, amplifiers, and a large number of neatly arranged plastic chairs – all of which seem to be filled with men wearing matching bright orange woven wraps, a few women and children lingering in the rear. Although the speaker at the podium is addressing his audience in Quechua, this clearly seems to be some sort of business meeting.

Lucho explains that these are local mayors who gather on this day every year to meet, conduct business, and choose leaders. It looks like an outdoor meeting of an exotic rotary club – at once both mundane and magical.

It is a gathering of local yayas.

We are allowed to linger only briefly, as our tour begins a short distance from the plaza at a museum where we visit a still-in-use traditional home.

I am both skeptical of and creeped out by the idea that this is a real household: The cats, guinea pigs, and chickens that roam indoors are rather charming and the corn and grains drying in the rafters look nutritious, but are those really the skulls of their ancestors next to the pictures of Jesus and the saints in the wall niches?

It is a strange place.

I follow Lucho and the rest of our group through streets framed by high Incan walls into a place where local residents wear brightly colored traditional clothing as they go about their daily lives, water runs in ancient channels, and roofing is attached in traditional Incan fashion.

Incan ruins are visible in the mountains that surround the city on all sides.

Unfortunately, we are also surrounded by incessant and annoying street vendors. Their continual pleading makes it impossible to hear Lucho’s stories about this place and its people. Normally a polite “no, gracias” or two is enough to make a vendor move on. Not here. They hang at our elbows, pleading and begging us to purchase their ponchos and dolls, postcards and paintings, and all manner of other tourist trinkets. I just want them to shut up. (Rudeness has some impact, but only a little.) It’s frustrating, as this city is so interesting. I’d like to spend some time soaking it in – I’d at least like to be able to hear Lucho’s commentary!

We head next to the market, with a side-trip to the ruins that glower above.

I REALLY want to climb up to the ruins, but Lucho has announced that the entire jaunt up and back will take 45 minutes. I look up at the silhouette against the gray sky. . . 45 minutes? Up AND back?

Maybe I’ll just stay down here and check out the architecture closer to the ground and shop in the market.

The water system runs through the edge of the market, so that is a good place to start.

Above, an elaborate Incan granary sits halfway up a nearby mountainside.

Among other enticing items, the market has a lot of lovely, but inexpensive jewelry. I walk through, asking the price of a few pieces, trying to decide what I really want to buy. One young woman has some more unusual woven necklace and long elaborate earrings.

I admire them without buying, still trying to decide.

On my way out of the market to contemplate potential purchases while looking around the rest of the town, I stop and admire a pair of serpentine earrings. The gentleman selling them offers a good price, but I want to think awhile. A short distance from the market, he catches up to me, the earrings in hand. The price is now very low and his persistence is rewarded by my purchase.

Later I return to buy a pair from the young woman. When I ask her to identify a stone, she doesn’t know the English name for it and runs to get the person to whom these pieces actually belong . . . the gentleman who tracked me down to sell me the serpentine earrings. (I buy two pairs of long, graceful earrings from them.)

Shopping done, Lane and I wander through the village. If we were traveling on our own, we would spend a few days here exploring area ruins and enjoying this pleasant village.

I am still intent on photographing a few of the yayas in their brilliant orange outfits. Just above street level, I spot a flash of orange – a small group of young men on a restaurant terrace overlooking the ruins. They leapfrog over each other and then one does a cartwheel. They keep switching places, move back and forth — a few at the far edge of the terrace while others remain back by the far wall.

Then I see it: They have a camera. Like me, they are tourists here.

I photograph them while they photograph each other.

Next Post: Lunch

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