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Published: July 24th 2010
Above and Beyond Ollantaytambo
The raod is riddled with puddles after some rainfall...
Ollantaytambo’s cobblestone streets eventually devolve into gravel, an invisible fence for tourists. A gravel road parallels the stream that runs into the Urubamba River. It further deteriorates at an ordinary church painted in mustard yellow. To the left are the far extensions of the ruins, then wilderness interrupted by verdant crops. A young chap in a Yankees cap walks by me with his hands in his pockets.
“Señor,” I startle him. “Buenos días. What is there on this road?”
“Oh, no one ever goes up there,” referring to the other Ollantaytambo into which he feels I belong.
“Gracias.” That’s all I need. It is the path less taken. According to Frost, that has made all the difference. Having downed noodle soup for breakfast and with a bottle of water in my pack, I hug the right side of the road and move briskly forward. “No one ever goes up there” is not a warning, but an excuse to explore.
In one way, he was right. There is nothing in particular. The road gradually inclines into a side valley never far from the tributary which will lead me back to Ollanta. Destitute and needy homes line the street every few hundred yards.
These ruins are perched at the end of town...
I come across a poster glued to a utility pole. It is for someone named Washington running for mayor. He is posed with a smile almost too wide to take seriously. I do not know if Washington is his first or last name. I hope it is his last and his first name is Jorge. By the name alone I’d probably vote for him.
All the homes are of stone, but mostly mud. Neatly piled mud bricks have been set out in a thick grassy field to dry. The building blocks are stacked six or seven high. I peer up a hill to the left between a row of homes. While the dry exterior earthen walls do nothing to inspire, the windows are modern and framed in finished and stained timber. An aged woman catches a glimpse of me and takes cover inside. I round a wide bend. A pig is tethered to a fence pole. It cannot get too close because it is staked next to several strands of barbed wire. At first I do not see it. I notice it from the grunting. Its dull mustard spots and black blotches blend into the dusty ditch. I name it
Vote for Washington...
“tocino”, or bacon. Rosalinda would probably name it Petunia and put a bow on it. All of a sudden, I am in the mood for a ham sandwich.
Above and beyond Ollantaytambo there is no wealth, no realty sign to attract limeños to invest in a second home, no plots of land are for sale. No one comes here to get away from it all. People live here and make a go of it. It is not where anyone kicks back on their porch to watch the sunset before going out for cocktails. There are no porches, no economic access to a dry martini. Docile strays wander and are oblivious to my temporary encroachment. I take little notice of them until a German shepherd walks directly at me. I freeze in fear, but try not to show it. My muscles contract. It is too lethargic to investigate and buries its nose into a small pile of plastic refuse.
A few kilometers of the path is still passable by car. Brown-orange puddles pock the way, a result of last night’s brief shower. The deeper I penetrate, the more unstable and abysmal the homes become. In the river plain, I see the
Homes of mud and stone...
first indication of mechanized labor around Ollanta. It is a healthy looking blue tractor and tills rows into the soil at a blistering pace compared to the oxen I saw at work outside of Chinchero between here and Cusco. I hear the revving of saws and a power drill. A steady pounding of hammers striking timber resonates as evidence of construction and progress. In some spots fields of potatoes are terraced just like at the ruins, but the bushy tall grass has made it through unattended and uncared for cracks. Birds of prey glide overhead.
After about three miles, I turn back. I again encounter the German Shepherd, the pig, and the same depressed homes. Dried thatch collects in bails. Corn is set out to dry on covered platforms just like in Quinua. A boy in a traditional bright red woven top walks his mountain bike up to join me. From there he hops on and pedals to town. Underneath his top is a baggy pair of jeans. A young woman reads paper soiled in the muck in hopes of, well, I am not sure. A sure indication that I am back within the culturally familiar confines of Ollanta proper
Mud bricks drying in a field...
is a sharp looking wooden sign with a glorious lack of attention to grammar. It reads…
Peruvian Tipycal Food
Try To Eat The Our Guinea Pig
To my right the ruins come alive for a brief moment in a burst of sunlight.
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