On Thursday, we spent the day in and around the main town`in the Sacred-Valley, Olllantaytambo. All the buildings are made of adobe and the streets are paved in cobblestones, In the centre of the town is a busy square withe the streets on each of the four sides lined with the church, Commissariat and restaurants, Porters were sorting out their gear for the Inca Trail and souvenir sellers wee busy harassing everyone who did not look to be local.
On the edge of the town is a very impressive archeological site where there are the remains of an Incan Fortress. Rock terracing stretch for 80 or so metres up a steep hill and at the top are the remains of a temple to the Incan gods of the sun and the –moon. It would have been built from about the year 1000 until 1550. It is finished as the work was interrupted by the arrival of the Spanish. It is an incredible feat. The rocks were hauled by manpower from a quarry over seven kilometres away. Some of the would weigh up to 70 tonnes. The rocks are shaped and interlocked so well that it is impossible to push a knife blade in between them. The shaping was done with the use of hard stone such as obsidian and meteorites. It is still possible to see the protrusions that were carved into the rock for lifting and pulling.
The town is located on the junction of three valleys and the scenery is stunning. It has inspired me to think about coming back aat another time to some trekking here. After visiting the archeological site, we had brief stop at the local market and bought some Gatorade which helps cope with the high altitude as it is important to keep hydrated and Gatorade is also good for replacing electrolytes. The local distributor certainly has a good business!
We had lunch in one of the restaurants to the side of the town square and then visited a local primary school that is sponsored by Scenic Tours. This area is very poor and the school competes with the families needs for children to help n the fields, rather to spend the day learning. The children have a very long walk to school and don’t always get a lot to eat. We each donated $2 and the tour leaders bought a food parcel for each of the children. Jill and I also gave the school some pencils, paper and stickers that we had brought with us.
On Friday, we were up early to catch the train to Machu Picchu. Apart from walking, there is no other way to get there. We had to leave our main suitcases behind and only take an overnight bag as there was no room on the little train for lots of bags. The train track follows the river valley and it takes about 90 minutes from Olllantaytambo. As you get closer to Machu Picchu, the environment changes from dry grassy and rocky hills (actually, nearly vertical peaks over 1 kilometre high) to jungle with broad leaved trees, bromeliads and or3chids. The final part of the trip is a ride in a local bus from the station to the entrance of Machu Picchu 400 metres above the river valley. A fleet of small buses take the 3100 visitors per day up a narrow winding road. This area is incredibly rugged, I have never seen so many mountain peaks as jagged as these, or gorges with so many high vertical walls.
We spent nearly the whole day at this, the most significant archeological site in Sooth America. It looks exactly like it does in the tourist photos and is incredibly fascinating. Somewhere between 500 and 800 people lived here between 1020 and 1550. Suddenly, and for no known reason, they just disappeared. The site became overgrown by jungle until it was `discovered by an American geography teacher, Hyram Bingham, in the early 1900’s. Most of the renovations were completed by 1948, but some archeological work is still continuing today.
t is easy to identify terraced fields and buildings used for food storage. A royal residence still has a toilet and bedroom, complete with a polished granite sleeping platform. Original water conduits direct water to the fields and to fountains throughout the town. At the sun temple, a carved rock enabled the priests to determine the date of the solstice and another pentagonal rock acts as a compass, perfectly aligned on a north / south access. As in other sites, the rocks used in the construction have been cut to perfectly interlock – especially those in the walls of the temples.
We stayed overnight in the village of Machu Picchu and yesterday returned to Cuzco by train and bus. Peru Rail is very creative with the staff on the train putting on a small fashion show and a little cultural show. All this happened between having to jump down onto the tracks and`change the switches as we passed through sidings to allow trains coming three other way to pass.
We explored some other archeological sites on the way and stopped off at the Cathedral for a look at this very impressive building.
Like other Roman Catholic cathedrals, it is very ornate and `decorative. It seems a bit incongruous that a significant proportion of the population live below the poverty line here, yet one of the alters in the church contains 1250 kilograms of silver. That’s enough to build a hospital (or two). It was also interesting to see how the local people have overlaid something of their own culture into the religion, For instance, a painting of the last supper shows a guinea pig on a silver platter. Mary is portrayed in local costume and religious figures have broad Indian / Inca facial features.
Last night we had dinner at a restaurant with a show of local dancing and music (along with a couple of hundred other tourists). Today, we have a free day to explore Cuzco and do some shopping.