Friday, November 7, 2014

Into the Sacred Valley

Yesterday we awoke in Cusco and took a taxi down into the valley to Ollantaytambo. We could have taken public transport for a pittance, but having our own car enabled us to stop at sights along the way for photos of llamas, burros, and marvellous views. 

We descended steeply into the valley below Cusco (aka "the sacred valley"). We passed fields of patchwork farmland where men and women tilling the soil and planting by hand or with the aid of oxen and burros. The women still wore their traditional dress, including their tall, proud hats.

We stopped at Chinchero (at more than 12,000 feet apparently) where we visited a little area where women were weaving the incredible Peruvian tapestries and blankets and knitting the woolly shawls and hats sold everywhere. It was obviously geared towards tourists, but it was still interesting to see how they spin the alpaca yarn and dye it vivid hues using leaves, flowers, bark, and bug blood.

Heading on our way, past mud brick houses and women selling yet more handicrafts by the roadside we stopped to take more pictures as we neared the bottom of the valley.

Finally (after about two hours) we reached Ollantaytambo. It is a really charming town of about 700 people nestled in the mountains. It has a cute and tiny plaza with narrow, sone streets (many pedestrian) radiating out from it, and lined with old stone houses. Centuries old. 

On the mountains around the town are the impressive remains of an Incan fortress. There is a small market, various restaurants catering to tourists, and a decent crafts market. Most delightful. Shortly after we arrived a seemingly random religious procession was led through the town by a white robed priest (?) and followed by a tuneless marching band, and maybe two dozen residents, covered in pink and white confetti.

We walked the town and i had a cigar while we watched the local woman in their colorful skirts and saucer-like red hats carry bushels of grass, baskets of bread and small children around by strapping them to their backs with colorful, woven blankets.

We left Ollantaytambo by train, on the Inca Rail to Aguas Callientes - the town at the base of Machu Picchu. The train trip was a little under two hours and was very enjoyable, passing by the Urubamba River and mountains that grew increasingly steep. 

It was a lovely train ride - except for one thing. If there is one type of music that i universally loathe it is Peruvian (or South American - i know other countries are equally responsible for this abomination) pan pipe music. I find it especially distasteful when the sings being played are in factAmerican or British pop songs. Well, that it what played on the train throughout the journey. Peruvian pan pipe versions of 'Hey Jude', 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight', etc. I mean, come on. They must be able to do better than this. 'Careless Whisper' should never be reproduced on a pan flute. However, they did provide complimentary snacks and beverages, so that almost made it bearable.

Arrived in Aguas Callientes after dark, with just the silhouettes of the mountains visible against the near black sky.

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