Peru Trip #10 – Cuzco to Ollantaytambo

Condors at the Animal Rescue Centre, near Cuzco - click to see more on Flickr
So last night I decided to throw caution to the wind and try out one of the posh restaurants of Cusco – with my credit card. Bistrot was recommended by my Cusco tour guide so I got the hotel to book me a table, and went up for dinner there at 8pm. The food was excellent – clearly a properly trained, imaginative chef. The service was worse than amateur – embarrassing. Once I had got past the language difficulty of wanting a decent bottle from the reasonably good list, rather than just a glass of the local Peruvian Tacama white wine – not bad, but not appropriate for a posh dinner – I had to offer to take over opening the expensive bottle of wine, wincing as the waitress struggled with it, with all the promise of bits of cork ending up in the wine. A nice enough girl, friendly, willing, but with barely any English and barely any training as a waitress. My Jumbo River Prawns were cooked to perfection in a delicious sauce, but again I had quite a struggle (and an empty side plate delivered) before managing to get a small bowl of warm water to wash my fingers. Hopefully they’ll serve one with the prawns to future guests. I realised this was quite a new venture, only open a short time, with much to learn. The best thing about the dining experience, however, was the other two diners in the restaurant, a couple from London in their ‘gap year’ between work and retirement, touring the world. Had a really nice chat with them. Bolivia, they say, is even cheaper than Peru, Argentina about the same, but Brazil as expensive as Europe. Like me, they have found everyone they’ve met to be very friendly, and felt no threat at all, despite all the warnings. We conclude that it must be backpacking poor student travellers in cheap hostels that tend to experience the underside we have been warned of, and that we are cushioned by the reach of our wallets. Having to buy a bottle to get a nice wine with my delicious River and ShellFish ‘Parihuela,’ which came with the lovely Peruvian garlic rice I already enjoyed in the north, I of course was pretty happy by the end of the meal, chatting with the other diners. It was a shame that the service was so poor, and that, in the end, despite the signs, they seemed incapable of making their EFTPOS handheld work, either with MasterCard or VISA, and I had to part with half of my remaining cash for this lovely dinner – money well spent, but which I had wanted to put on the credit card to pay later, not pay for out of the rest of my holiday cash. I made no bones about ensuring they knew my displeasure. My fellow guests were equally put out by this, though perhaps less surprised than I that the signs turned out to be misleading, at best. I still made sure they complimented the chef though !

Me drinking Chicha in an Inca bar

So this morning I awoke somewhat hungover – from wine rather than
altitude, for a change – and was treated as a first stop to an animal
rescue centre, caring for exotic Andean creatures with injuries, or
saved from the black market, and returning them, when ready, to the
wild. I met three condors – huge carrion birds – a couple of pumas, and
some large parrots. On the road away from here, the devastation caused
by the flooding in the last rainy season becomes all too apparent, with
the road washed away in places down to a single carriageway. Six months
ago, this area experienced twice the normal rainfall and, among other
things, the railway up to Macchu Picchu was severely damaged (and
repaired by June, thankfully!) The next stop was a traditional Inca bar,
a homely pub where they make their own ‘chicha’ – a maize corn beer,
served straight to the men and brewed with strawberries and served with a
sprinkling of herbs on top to the women. Very nice, I’d say!

Silversmith grinding semi-precious stones and shells into small pieces and gluing them into silver jewelry with tree resin

Third was Pisak, and its famous market, where I was able to use the
credit card to stock up on Peruvian silver (95% alloy with copper, like
Britannia Silver, better than Sterling Silver which is only 92.5%)
beautifully worked by local craftsmen, with the famous Macchu Picchu
serpentine (flecked with iron-pyrites and haematite), Peruvian smokey
quartz, local obsidian, and a particularly lovely skyblue local
sodalite, worked into the silver casings with local tree resin for glue.
Very lovely. I also parted with some dollars for the rug I have been
looking for ever since I arrived in Peru, and had a sneaking suspicion I
might find here. Natural dyes and hand-woven, I got one with the Inca
calendar in red, black, and blue. Very nice. I feel like a good
tourist now, with my souvenirs and gifts for friends back home.

Ollantaytambo - click to see more on Flickr

So the main event of the morning, and I am thankfully quite awake by now
(parting with money often has that effect). Ollantaytambo sits at the
junction of three valleys, including the Cusco valley, and the Sacred
Valley where Macchu Picchu lies. The winds combine here and the Incas,
great technicians that they were, built their storage houses just where
the winds meet and keep the temperature a good 3-4deg lower than on the
valley floor. Either side of the river in the middle of the valley they
built houses for the common people on one side, and the royal compound
on the other. A tambo is literally that – a staging post for the royal
household on its journeys around the empire.

The Terraces at Ollantaytambo - click to see more on Flickr

The terraces here are extremely cleverly formed, with different clays
and soils and at different altitudes to create a series of
micro-climates perfect for potatoes, beans, fruits, and coca leaves –
yes jungle coca leaves growing in the corner of the Sacred Valley,
rather than imported like pretty much everywhere else.
The Profile in the Mountain overlooking Ollantaytambo - click to see more on Flickr
The mountain with the cold storage houses also sports a carved human
profile near its peak, as viewed from the Temple of the Sun at the top
of the terraces behind the royal compound. On the winter solstice on
June 21st the sun rises over distant mountains right at the third eye of
this profile, and shines directly across the valley hitting the Temple
of the Sun first before anywhere else. Coming from sources unknown,
pure mountain spring water at constant temperature and flow appears from
spouts into channels to snake around the terraces as irrigation, and –
most beautifully of all – to create a series of pleasure garden channels
through the royal compound. One wonders if they maybe even had
fountains, after the moorish fashion of contemporary buildings across
the Atlantic like the Alhambra. The whole place is like a holiday
resort in that sense, with the old Inca town square with its flowing
water channel today’s tourist market at the entrance to the
archaeological site: the royal compound, terraces, and what remains of
the Temples the Spanish left behind, when they broke them down to use
the stone to build their churches. The common people’s side of town is
still lived in, Inca streets running up the hills from the main street
into town.

Water feature with tap at Ollantaytambo - click to see more on Flickr

Last stop is at Tunupa, a fantastic buffet restaurant for tourist buses,
with excellent food, and a delightful riverside garden, where I eat
heartily before being dropped at my hotel prior to tomorrow’s early
morning trip to Macchu Picchu.

The river at the bottom of the gardens at Tunupa Restaurant - click to see more on Flickr

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