the sacred Valley of the Incas

Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Sun 12 Oct 2014 21:56
The city of Cuzco - well up in the Andes and at the heart of the Inca empire - is just one hour's flight from Lima, but with a change in altitude of over 3,000 metres.  Wary of of altitude sickness we got off the plane and straight into a taxi taking us down into the Sacred Valley, to the pretty Inca town of Ollantaytambo.

Ollanta (for short) has narrow, but well drained streets

Most of the roofs have a pair of pottery oxen on the ridge - not sure about the significance of the beer bottle!

and some had a cactus (for a sense of plumb?) We didn't climb to the overlooking ruins - this pic taken with a long lens!

The scenery is as breathtaking as the thin air.  The valley is fertile and f
ields are ploughed as they have been for centuries, using pairs of oxen.  Cows, sheep and pigs abound.  Llamas are no longer the dominant domestic animal.  And the people - especially the women - really do wear the brightly coloured clothes and distinctive hats portrayed in the guide books.

Many of the eateries served pizza - perhaps

By mid afternoon it was quiet enough for a nap

We stayed in a small family-run hotel which was very comfortable, but at 2800 metres above sea level Ollantaytambo was still a challenge.  We had to do everything slowly or risk feeling dizzy, and sleeping was difficult - frequently waking up short of breath.  We'd already been introduced to coca tea in Lima and were by now drinking it regularly to help acclimatise.  It's a stimulant so helps increase one's breathing and some of us noticed more vibrant dreams!  The air is not just thin but dry and dehydration can also be a problem.  Apart from the delicious tropical fruit juices available everywhere in Peru we now discovered another Andean speciality: purple corn drink.  It's made from the almost black maize grown in the highlands and looks like Ribena but tastes less fruity.  The Incas fermented it and presented it to the Gods in intricately decorated pots.

 Once we got this high we needed a rest

Our hotel was close to the local ruins, which were not to be missed.  We managed to climb up the impressive Inca fortress that overlooks the settlement and admire the views of the Sacred Valley.  It was here that the Incas saw off the conquistadors for a short while by ambushing them and then flooding the valley.  The fortress is a good example of Inca engineering, with extensive stone walls where each piece was carved to fit.  The village itself is quaint, though much in need of a by-pass for the traffic, all of whcih which has to pass through.

One begins to appreciate the advantage of height - there are only narrow staircases between the terraced retaining walls

Masonry seems to have been the predominant trade

These protuberances are said to have had astronomical functions

Shall we walk along that cliff edge path? It looks nice and shady

Corners squared or rounded - no problem

A pair of (local varietal) tuc-tucs to take us to the station

After two nights we were ready for the next exciting stage of our trip: a train ride down the Sacred Valley to the town of Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu mountain.  The railway is the only way to get to there, other than on foot, and follows a scenic route along the Urumbamba river, passing a number of settlements and ruins along the way.  The almost 2 hour journey in a Vistadome carriage (with windows in the roof) was very comfortable and a nice brunch was served on the way.  Approaching Aguas Calientes the scenery changes to the tropical forest - Yungas - that covers the eastern slopes of the Andes.

This looks like our train

The railway followed the river, closely

At train passing places in the middle of nowhere Interflora delivers