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Published: July 28th 2017
Geo: -13.2646, -72.2658
A more dignified 7.30am start this morning left us feeling more refreshed. On this tour, we are already experiencing a wide range of breakfasts, but today's was the most bizarre I think we have ever had while travelling - pasta and yucca chips. It was, however strange sounding, really tasty and set us up for a long day travelling - a nine hour journey (with several stops) through the Sacred Valley to our ultimate destination of Ollantaytambo.
After the sunshine of yesterday, we were disappointed to see a dull, grey, misty start to our first real foray into Inca territory, but we knew that at this altitude, the sun can often burn through incredibly quickly, and so we kept our fingers crossed for clear blue skies later on. As we climbed out of Cusco, the entire city began to spread out beneath us, pinks, reds, oranges and yellows of the rooftops creating a patchwork effect as we drove higher. Eventually, we arrived at our first destination, the ancient Inca ruins of Sacsaywaman (or Sexy Woman as it's more commonly and affectionately known) - one of the largest surviving Inca strongholds, and one from which many of the colonial buildings in Cusco took their stone foundations. It sprawls out below a huge white statue of Christ, which can be seen from all areas of the city and, topped with the incredible sweeping views over the colonial buildings below is a magical sight to behold, even in the morning mist.
From here, we continued down, leaving the high altitude of Cusco behind us and began to descend into the valley itself. Here, we made a stop at an animal sanctuary, where the owners were committed to rescuing rare animals and those at risk from markets, tourist shows and other cruel conditions. Here, we were able to meet friendly llamas and alpacas, feed them, cuddle them and take incredible selfie shots with them. As long as we had a handful of grass in our hands, they were pretty much malleable to anything! From the adorable smushed faces of the alpaca, we were taken to see three Pumas, prowling their territory menacingly. The guide threw a piece of meat high into the top of the fence to show us the immense power these animals have - the female we were watching leapt about 6m into the air and clung into the fence, devouring the hunk of meat. Sadly, she had been rescued from a nightclub, where she had been drugged for people to have photos taken with her, and so was only half the weight of a normal adult female - putting into perspective the size and ferocity a normal puma would have. The next enclosure housed three stunningly majestic Andean condors - each feather being sold in the black market for $1500 has put them firmly onto the endangered list. We were treated to a real display of their prowess as they were given the opportunity to fly towards us, the air thundering with each beat of their enormous wings. They flew right over our heads before landing indelicately on the banks beside us, where they spread their wings output to their full span and paraded around for us. The centre does great work and we felt privileged to have been a part of their work - just £2 per visitor keeps the centre alive and their commitment to the animals was clear to see.
Leaving our furry and feathered friends behind us, we continued our descent - the sun breaking through the clouds and painting the sky in a gorgeous blue. Twenty minutes further into the journey, we stopped roadside and took in an incredible view. Snow-capped peaks rose in the distance, behind stunning natural terraces carved by some ancient giant into the steep sides of the mountains towering over the river, snaking along the valley floor. The sun, peeking through the remaining clouds cast shafts of light into the mountainsides, which seemed to glow in its gaze. It was easy to see why the ancient Inca chose this valley to settle in, with a wealth of natural beauty and their gods, the sun, the water and the mountain, all converging in one place.
Our next stop was in the tiny village of Calca, where we were introduced to the women of the Ccaccaccollo women's weaving cooperative - a foundation supported by G Adventures' Planeterra charity which promotes sustainable tourism. Here, we were greeted by a traditionally dressed woman wrapped in stunningly patterned woven cloth and the white hat and long socks of the hill tribes. Her smile split her face in half and she gave each of us a warm hug as we disembarked the bus. She led us up a narrow street, typical houses lining either side of the cobbles to a wide courtyard, the walls filled on each side with stalls, each one draped with bright fabrics, scarves, hats, gloves and ponchos, all woven in intensely bright colours in every pattern imaginable. In the centre of the courtyard, fifteen or so women, all wearing the same dress as our guide spun reels of bright wool and three women were busily wearing intricate designs onto cloth on huge frames. Small children dashed around, their mothers busily engaged in earning their living. Our guide showed us the different types of wool, of which the baby alpaca was the softest and finest, and then explained how natural dyes are used - one beetle can be mixed with five or six different minerals or plants to produce 10 different colours. She showed us how the wool is cleaned, dyed and re-spun to make the fiesta softest wool. We then drank herbal tea mixed from several types of mint and flowers, before the perusing the stalls and buying soft-as-silk gloves and scarves, supporting the women in their economic well-being. The views surrounding us were out of this world and we really began to get a sense of being in South America, watching the alpaca and llamas roam around the site, the Andes looming on three sides.
Ah hour later, we arrived at the Pisac ruins - a high ancient city where the very thinness of the air took our breaths away. Here, clay houses were perched on top of layer upon layer of stone terraces, expertly carved into the hillsides by the Inca. Over 6 metres wide, each one would have been used to grow varieties of corn, potatoes and other staples inn vast quantities. The ruins themselves were brilliantly preserved, thick blocks of stones were expertly carved and then covered in thick layers of clay. The hike up to the top was breathtaking - more for the exhaustion than for the views, although they too were spectacular - staring out over the steep staircase of rock, surrounded by pockmarked faces of rock, where the ancestors of our guide had been mummified, bad up in the foetal position and left to their gods surrounded by treasures.
We next stopped at another of G Adventures' projects - the Parwa Restaurant in the tiny village of Huchay Qosco - only 65 families live there and are supported by this incredible restaurant. Here, surrounded by mountains with a bubbling river tumbling past, we enjoyed an amazing Peruvian feast - appetisers of mashed potatoes topped with cheese, salad, cornbread wrapped in a banana leaf and potato soup were the prequel to a feast for the tastebuds - chillies stuffed with alpaca and served with crispy roast potatoes, all washed down with cinnamon soaked rice pudding studded with cloves. It was absolutely delicious, and each time we thought we had finished, another dish was brought out to tantalise our tongues. When we could not force another forkful into our mouths, we continued on our journey to our ultimate destination.
As we headed towards Ollantaytambo, we passed even more stunning scenery. Mountains like jagged teeth touched the sky above us while we traversed the valley floor. Desert plants and flowers spring up in the fields by the roads, adding to the beauty of the area. Eventually, we arrived in the main square of Ollantaytambo - a perfect backpackers town nestled in the mountains. The main square, and the rest of the town in fact, were constructed out of wooden two story buildings, which housed a variety of cosy bars and restaurants, their terraces gazing out at the mountains around them. Our hotel was almost alpine in its appearance - a quaint courtyard filled with scented flowers, around which was a wooden structure over three stories, each one with a balcony. The whole atmosphere of the place was of a bygone era, when life was simple and quiet, and we passed a few moments, just enjoying the quiet and the view.
However, our tour guide had different ideas and, fifteen minutes after our arrival, we were on our way to the ruins that the town is famous for. The scene of one of the only Inca victories against the conquistadors, we entered the ruins of the temple just before sunset. It was a dizzying climb up to the temple of the sun, huge steps carved into the rocks testing our legs and our stamina. However, in reaching the top, and gazing down on the town below and the pity leaks surrounding us, it was worth the half hour upward climbs. Our guide pointed out the granaries that we would be hiking to tomorrow and showed us how the rocks were transported - some weighing over 100 tonnes - from the hillside quarry over 7km away. The rocks were carried on two poles. It was mind-boggling to think that this incredible feat was accomplished without the need for a single piece of machinery, and once again hammered home the ingenuity and sheer strength of the a Inca. Wandering round and enjoying learning about the customs of the ancient people and seeing their places of worship to the water, the mountains and sun reminded us again of how amazing ancient civilisations really were.
A brief wander through the pretty market and back through the attractive streets of the town led us to a disappointing dinner, our first poor meal of the trip, and then to bed, where we were lulled to sleep by the hooting of the train that reminded us that tomorrow we would be catching it through incredible vistas on our way to Aguas Calientes. It had been an incredible day with fascinating encounters, wonderful scenery and gruelling walking, but one we would never forget.
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