Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Ollantaytambo Travel Blog

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Local women dying wool

Cusco is one of those places that still remain a favourite destination while being overly touristy. If you say you've been to Peru, people will ask you if you've been to Cusco. It's really just a given, seeing as it's the biggest closest city to Macchu Picchu (which I would have to say is one of biggest drawcards of South America, let alone Peru).

It's actually a lot smaller than I anticipated, but quite lovely with lots of old buildings, both pre-colonial and colonial. The streets are mostly paved and incredibly slippery. Our day was spent exploring the city and its big artesan market, then out for dinner with the tour group at a restaurant that specialised in local highland dishes.

Llama and alpaca

The following day, we were herded onto a bus and drove to a weaving market. Lots of women wearing traditional dress and weaving, with plenty of things to buy and llamas for photo opportunities. We eventually made it to the impressive Andean ruins of Pisac. Lots of Incan terraces and pre-Incan foundations are left standing on the hillside. Pisac is also home to the biggest Incan burial site; their graves are built into the side of the mountain. We then had a wander around the colonial town of Pisac, down in the valley, where we also had lunch. By this stage (day 4 of the tour), several people in the group were sick, although the worst off was Steve, a stylist from LA, who spent most of the afternoon throwing up liquid into a plastic bag at the back of the bus.

Local women weaving
I also wasn't feeling so good, which was quite annoying. You'd think having spent 6 weeks in the damn country would make me immune to most things, but no.

Our siesta on the bus was (rudely) interrupted by a stop at a ceramics place. We were given a demonstration of how tough their ceramics are - you can whack a nail in and bash them on hard surfaces and they won't break. The designs were nice - bold and colourful Inca representations of animals and other things. We then stopped at a chicha brewery. Whil waiting for the previous tour group to finish up, we played this curious frog game. There's a brass frog with its mouth open, sitting on a small wooden table. On the table there are a few holes, covered by flippy metal doors. You have to stand several metres away from the table and toss little brass coins onto the table.

Llamas can be so cute!
The aim of the game is to get the coins in the frog's mouth, or through one of the metal doors into the drawer below. At the end of your turn (10 coins), you pull out the drawer and add up your score. You could actually buy the game, everything except the table, and I was temptede but restrained myself.

Chicha is a fermented corn drink quite popular with the locals. It seems pretty easy to make: the corn kernels are left in water overnight then put under plastic to germinate. After 3 days, they're crushed and strained into big pots, and left to ferment for awhile before being drunk. It has the appearance of milky beer, with head, and tastes quite sharp and almost sour. I can't imagine it ever having the western popularity of beer though.

Our last stop for the day was the ruins at Ollantaytambo which sit just oustide the town of the same name.

Steve, Ann, Ellen and Andre learning about the chica-brewing process
They were quite impressive, as they're built all the way up the mountains. There are all sorts of interesting things about the way the rooms were built and the position of the sun rising from behind the mountains at certain times of the year (the first ray of light would hit the water running through a little aqueduct in the room), and next to that same spot on the mountain is the seven sisters constellation. There's also a face in the mountain, meant to be the Andean god.

Andean culture has three animals to represent their three world: the condor, for the world above; the puma, for the world in which people dwell, and the snake, for the underworld. The Andean cross has four sectors, with three steps in each sector, representing condor, puma and snake; the past, present and future; work for the government, the community and yourself; and love, wisdom and knowledge. I think a lot of people in our group empathised with this element of Andean culture.

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Local women dying wool
Local women dying wool
Llama and alpaca
Llama and alpaca
Local women weaving
Local women weaving
Llamas can be so cute!
Llamas can be so cute!
Steve, Ann, Ellen and Andre learni…
Steve, Ann, Ellen and Andre learn…
Ruins and special mountain at Olla…
Ruins and special mountain at Oll…
Ollantaytambo
photo by: lrecht