Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ollantaytambo, The Sacred Valley, Peru - March 2015

Continuing on our Peruvian adventure after leaving Cusco and Chinchero we headed into The Sacred Valley. The Urubamba Valley as its otherwise known has the sacred Incan River the Rio Urambamba flowing through it, hence The Sacred Valley. The main attractions in The Sacred Valley stretch from Pisac in the south east to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu in the north west. Apart from the valley being home to a sacred river it was also the fertile river plains which supplied both the Inca's and the Spanish with ample food and grains that also contributed to the valley as being thought of as 'sacred'.
Salineras Salt Mines.
While there are perfectly good roads leading into and through the Sacred Valley, somewhat fittingly we would arrive on foot. But before descending to the valley floor we stopped to check out the Salineras Salt Mines perched high up a side valley above Urubamba. The salt mines have been in production for hundreds of years, they are basically a series of terraces cut into the steep side valley with a irrigation system that the workers would open when they needed to flood the terraces with the salty mineral rich water, which comes out of a spring further up the valley. Once flooded the water would be shut off and the water on the terraces left to evaporate, eventually leaving the salt, which would then be harvested. Whilst some of the group visited the shop to buy some pink salt I had a chat to a couple of the workers, (as best that I could in Spanglish)  they were carrying large bags of clay around the terraces, after talking for awhile I asked if I could lift the bags to get an idea how heavy they were, hoisting it up I reckon they weighed 50 kilograms easily, and these guys were lugging them around steep terraces! Once again in Spanglish I said how strong that they must be and we all had a laugh, although I think they may have been laughing at the crazy gringo who now had a dusty shirt.
Looking down into The Sacred Valley from the Salineras Salt Mines.
I reckon they weighed around 50 kg.
We arrived into The Sacred Valley on foot.
Leaving Salineras we now descended down to the floor of the Sacred Valley, crossing the Rio Urubamba we met our bus and headed off to another great restaurant for lunch, Pepe as usual knew a great spot to eat. You know your getting close to Urubamba when you start to see an infestation of small vehicles like tuk-tuks on the road, it appears that they have a top speed of around 30 kilometres an hour but that doesn't stop them heading a long way out of town. Its something like a game of Russian roulette on the road as the tuk tuks putt along and the buses and cars bear down on them a full speed without wanting to stop or slow down, any gap will do as the faster traffic in both directions tries to get around the tuk-tuks without taking their foot off the accelerator. After lunch we wandered up to the colonial church at the Plaza De Armas, witnessing a funeral procession passing by we silently paid our respects.
Crossing the Rio Urubamba on our way to lunch at Urubamba.
The streets of Urubamba, complete with tuk tuks and a glacier hanging off the mountains above.
The Plaza de Armas in Urubamba.
Back on the bus we headed to Ollantaytambo, our home for the next couple of nights. Leaving or gear on the bus we headed straight to the Ollantaytambo Ruins to have a look around. When the Spanish first saw Ollantaytambo they thought that it was 'so well fortified that it was a thing of horror' and indeed Manco Inca fought one of the Incas last stands here before eventually  retreating, the initial victory by Manco Inca over the conquistadors here was the first time that the Spanish had been bested in battle by the Incas. Ollantaytambo is situated where The Sacred Valley narrows which meant that it was of great strategic value. The walls of the fortress were protected by 17 exceedingly steep terraces  which the Spanish had to climb before they would be able to take the fortress. From the top we could see the quarry on a hill on the other side of the Rio Urubamba where the Inca's had quarried most of the rock used at Ollantaytambo, we would be visiting there tomorrow. Dropping down off the fortress we made a quick visit to Templo del Agua getting a couple of photos of the Incan fountains before it was time to head to our hotel. In hindsight I would of liked to spend more time at the ruins at Ollantaytambo but it wasn't to be on this trip.
The terraces at Ollantaytambo ruins, the Spanish called this a 'thing of horror'.
Rita and Rose climbing the steep terraces, the township is stretched out below.
These knobs on the rock were used by the Inca's the help move the rock, when the buildings were complete they would remove the knobs. Unfortunately a lot of the Incan buildings weren't completed before the conquistadores arrived.
The unfinished sun temple, with the fertile Sacred Valley below.
Ollantaytambo Ruins in the late afternoon light.
One of the fountains at the Templo del Agua.
After a good night at the Hotel Tika Wagi Valley we had a relaxing start to the next day. After breakfast we re grouped and headed off on a day walk up to Cachicata the old Incan quarry. Pepe led us through the backstreets of Ollantaytambo before we descended and crossed over the Rio Urubamba near the entrance to town. Once across the massive river we slowly climbed up the south side of The Sacred Valley, the climb was very gradual and provided great views back down to the Rio Urubamba and Ollantaytambo as we climbed. The country through here has an almost arid feel to it, not the tropical jungle that I was assuming it would be, we even passed some cacti as well as the ubiquitous Eucalyptus. By the time we'd climbed up to the quarry the weather had turned a bit so we didn't spend long there. The Quarry is about 3.5 kilometres from the fortress and the Incas had to transport the massive rocks across, oh yeah there was the small matter of the Rio Urubamba in between as well, not to worry, the Incas just diverted the river around the massive rocks, I kid you not!
The view from my room at Ollantaytambo.
Looking back towards the ruins at Ollantaytambo, our hotel was just over the bridge.
The old Inca stone paving and drains in Ollantaytambo.
Being Easter the school children were dressing up for a parade at the Plaza de Armas.
The children watched on by their proud parents.
Some more of the parade at Ollantaytambo.
Descending back to the floor of the valley we headed to the railway station to another great restaurant for lunch. After slowly working our way back to the hotel through the historic streets and lanes of Ollantaytambo we had the rest of the afternoon to pack for our trek to Machu Picchu and explore the historic town a bit more.
Climbing to the old Inca Quarry, this is the station that a lot of people leave for Machu Picchu from.

Climbing up out of The Sacred Valley, the country was a lot more arid than I thought it would be.
Looking back down to Ollantaytambo.

After our walk to the Inca quarry we had another great lunch and then Pepe showed us around the farm where they grew the produce that we had enjoyed at lunch.

The Dirt.
We stayed at the Hotel Tika Wagi Valley, they don't appear to have a website but feature on Trip Advisor among other sites. The hotel was another very good one, nice and quiet, clean rooms, good food and free wifi in the rooms. The Salineras Salt Mines and the ruins at Ollantaytambo both require an entrance fee, but both are definitely worth seeing. We only had a couple of hours at the fortress at Ollantaytambo and in hindsight it wasn't anywhere enough time, you could easily spend a day or two looking around the ruins along with Pinkuylluna on the eastern side of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo the town itself also has a lot of Incan history in all its nooks and crannies and you need to allow a bit of time to check all them out and just to let this stunning place sink in. As usual on our trip to Peru we didn't go hungry, once again I can't remember the names of all the places we ate but there wasn't a bad one among them, we were quickly learning that Peru is a bit of a foodie's paradise.

Pinkuylluna on the opposite side of a side valley from Ollantaytambo Ruins, they were thought to be store houses.

More of the ruins at Ollantaytambo cut into the side of the mountain.

Our home for two nights in Ollantaytambo, another great hotel.
Looking over the historic town to the ruins at Ollantaytambo.

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