It’s another early wake up for me. I have to meet Armando early at the plaza where he will take me to where I catch the bus for the Sacred Valley Tour. The tour is a trip in and around the Sacred Valley of the Incas in a valley in the Andes of Peru, close to the Inca capital of Cusco. It is fed by numerous rivers which descend through adjoining valleys and gorges, and contains numerous archaeological remains and villages. The valley was appreciated by the Incas due to its special geographical and climatic qualities. It was one of the empire’s main points for the extraction of natural wealth, and the best place for maize production in Peru. The tour includes a stops at an artisan market and Ruins in Pisaq, lunch at Urubamba; visit to the military ruins at Ollantaytambo and a visit to the town of Chinchero. However I would not be going to Chinchero, I was spending the night in Ollantaytambo so I could catch an early train to Aguas Calientes the next day.
So I get onto the bus and sit next to two girls. Let’s call them Brunette and Blonde. As soon as Brunette opened her mouth, I knew she was Dutch (The Dutch accent is so easy to spot). Anyway Blonde is Belgian. They are friends from who have just graduated and have taken a bit of a break, so they are learning Spanish in Peru and the will move on to do some volunteer work in Bolivia. I ask their names and initiated one of the strangest starts to a conversation I’ve ever had…
Tonito: So what’s your names?
Brunette: That’s complicated.
Tonito: Umm Okay…
Brunette: No no… It’s just that you have to promise to be quiet about it.
Tonito: Okay. An explanation would wholly justifiable now…
Brunettee: HAHAHAHA! It’s nothing bunny boilerish. It’s just that we didn’t want to pay for a full tourist ticket, but we didn’t have our original student cards, so we borrowed cards of these two girls on our Spanish Course. So for today, I’m Anna, but I’m normally Karen.
Blonde: And for today, I’m Sandra, but normally Miriam.
Tonito: So what do I call you?
Brunette: By our real names… We kept forgetting the other names.
And just as they were saying that, the guide on the bus was checking whether everyone was there when he goes “Anna? Sandra?” and as they said, they had forgotten and I had to remind them about their stolen identities.
With this interesting introduction over with, the guide, Willy, introduced himself. Willy had the habit of staring into nothingness when talking about the sites we were visiting. I guess when you do that for many years; it does get repetitive and, well, boring.
Just as a side note here, I don’t usually like doing these kind of organized tours on buses, however as I didn’t have much time in Peru and wanted to see as much as possible, organized tours was the easiest thing for me to do. The one good thing about these tours is that, when travelling solo like I was, you can always find someone to chat with as was the case this with the two students with stolen identities.
The bus creeked out of its parked state and made its way up the hills of Cusco. The views from the windows were stunning as we made our way up the mountains and then into the valley on the way to our first stop, Pisaq Artisan market. These souvenirs markets are everywhere and all sell the same things. I’m not one for souvenirs because if you buy for one person, you have to buy for everyone. The only thing I do buy is typical local (if not touristy) bracelets for myself and for my brothers. After taking some photos I buy a few bracelets for my brothers before being hurried back to the bus by Willy and an annoying Brazilian who kept shouting “Arriba Peru!” (which I think was the tour company he was with).
Back on the bus and moving we were headed towards the Pisaq ruins. The drive there was really interesting as the houses along the side of the road were all of traditional adobe construction. Which can make them look kind of wonky at times however, it does give it a very rustic and natural feel.
The bus come to a halt at the top of the hill where we get out and head towards the entrance. The Pisac ruins are some of the finest and largest in the entire valley. Despite the excellent condition of many of the structures, little is conclusively known about the site’s actual purpose. It appears to have been part city, part ceremonial center, and part military complex. It might have been a royal estate of the Inca emperor (Pachacútec). As soon as you walk past the entrance you are faced with an amazing view of the valley and the impressive Inca terracing along the hillside.
The complex contains the Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun) which sits on the top of the hill. The temple was an astronomical observatory. The ruins have some interesting little features, such as the largest Inca cemetery buried in the hillside; a ritual bathing complex, fed by water canals. Wlly gave us his well rehearsed and memorized information on the ruins (whilst always staring into nothingness) before we made our way back to the bus.
From here we will be travelling to the town of Urubamba where we would have lunch. Lunch consisted of an overpriced buffet (included in tour price but still) in a restaurant most of the tour groups have lunch, and its clearly catering for tour groups, but not a great way. Though I wouldn’t go as far to say this only happens in Peru as I’ve similar experiences in Egypt and Lebanon. Not only was the food not great but we were hurried to quickly finish our desert and coffees only to get outside and wait 10 minutes for our bus.
After lunch we headed towards Ollantaytambo. The Inca elite adopted Ollantaytambo, building irrigation systems and a crowning temple designed for worship and astronomical observation. The architecture and engineering like Pisaq is impressive with its steep terraces and storage structures on the opposite hill. The terraces lead up to the temple hill which consists of two temples, the Temples of Ten Niches and the Temple of the Sun. Once again the Inca’s impressed me with the amazing scale, workmanship and engineering. We climbed the terraces and walked around the temples before heading back down toward another little artisan and craft market in the little square.
The square is surrounded by little cafes and restaurants but one of them is slightly different. And corny. It’s the Incabucks. Karen, Miriam and had a hot chocolate (it cooled down dramatically) when suddenly Armando appeared. He’d come down to give me my train tickets and entrance tickets to Machu Picchu, which he told me he would send someone to give me. After this he took me to my hotel, the K’uychi Punku Hostal, a family run who who all gather in the dining area in the evening to watch TV.
I liked Ollantaytambo. It was a really pretty laidback town which really didn’t seem as touristy as some of the others I’d visited. It was quite enough to just relax in, which what I did. I went out and had some dinner (which was so good!) and some Pisco (local liquor) before heading back to the hotel to have a shisha, before heading up to bed as I had another early morning the next day.