Inca Gods and Human Ants

The Gods look down on everything, and always have. Up high on a hillside overlooking Ollantaytambo I see an ancient town, still built on Inca foundations. From the main square to the north run alleys built of stone, and between them lie courtyards, each surrounded by rooms, usually on two storeys, that make homes, and always have. Days are hot and nights are cool, a warm wind blows with surprising force from the west.

Ollantaytambo sits in a valley on the Urubamba river, and has steep hills on all sides. To the south-east I can see the river meandering here through gentle countryside, from the Sacred Valley, apparrantly a land of plenty. To the north-west however, the scenery changes. Hills become mountains, the valley more like a ravine, and the river travels on to Machu Picchu, and eventually the Amazon. (I have become keenly aware of how quickly the environment changes during these last few weeks in Peru- with Cape Farewell we hiked down from high Andean puna grassland, through cloud forest and into rainforest in a couple of days, and the climate changed from freezing to baking within a week.)

I am on an eastern wall, sitting in an old Incan granary, or so my guidebook speculates. Across the valley, and town, is a steep hill defined by terraces and half built temples, at least 500 years old if not much more. Winding amidst these is a constant ant-trail of humans, imported by the coachload every day from Cuzco. When I see the huge coachpark at the base of the ruins, I wonder how many of them even get to walk around this beautiful town and breathe in its dust.

Seeing the human tourists from afar is enough for me – I read through the tour in my book and imagine my way through the great stones, picking out various features from a distance.

This is only our third such site, and each one has been a different experience in both location and strategy. The winner by far was Sacsaywaman, on a steep hill above Cuzco, at sunrise, shared only with a few local kids and teenagers enjoying their Sunday morning by playing in this great open space. And play they do… football, volleyball, basketball, hopscotch, and any number of made-up amusements in all the streets.. all ages, you name it, it´s being played in Peru!

The second site was Machu Picchu. We didn´t do this one quite right, but then it´s difficult to know what right might be. The dream, ofcourse, would be to hike in. But the Inca Trail is booked until September and if you do hike in, you have to join a guided group. Andy as part of a guided walking group? I can´t quite see it. We opted instead for the train, a glorious journey by any standard (and from any train- the tourist prices range from $40 to $220!).. and chose to spend the night nearby in Aguas Caliente in order to get in early. Which we did… arriving at 5am for the first bus, at 5.30, we joined a queue with over 200 people in front of us. (I´m not exaggerating – we were on bus number 10 and each had a capacity of 200 to 270 depending on layout.) Machu Picchu itself is ofcourse incredible but I need a couple more weeks in Peru to decide if the visit is great enough to outweigh the tourist machine that takes you there. And where does the money go? Train plus bus plus entry will cost even the lowest budget non-student about $150, and that´s not to mention food and accommodation.

And now we´re in Ollantaytambo. In the Sacred Valley of the Incas. And I can understand why. The climate is perfect, the people gentle, and the great river is said to reflect the Milky Way. At night the Southern Cross and Scorpio shine bright amongst the southern hemisphere stars, and point us in the direction we are headed: south, back to Chile…. the slow way.