What a marvellous day!

 

Well, the toothpaste held out you’ll be glad to know and since I stood it upside down, by the time I came to open it this morning, most had settled to the bottom of the tube.  No pale green spatter.  But there was a shout from the bathroom this morning as my hero unscrewed the top of his roll-on anti-perspirant and the ball shot out across the room!  Ah, altitude has very peculiar and rather surprising effects.

 

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I had a fright when I got into bed last night though.  I thought something had crawled in between the sheets but heaved a sigh of relief when I discovered a hot water bottle!  A full service hotel, for sure.

 

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We’d heard it raining in the night – well, it is the rainy season, after all – and so this morning, there were low clouds settled on the tops of the hills.  But what a wonderful landscape this is, surprisingly green and with flowers everywhere.  Gorgeous.

 

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We drove to the nearby town of Ollantaytambo where we were going to take a look at the archaeological site.  Ollantaytambo was an important Inca town and the central area is still built around a few Inca structures.

 

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We drove through the market place and out towards the inca ruins, where our driver Marco dropped us off right by a rather interesting stall.

 

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But we were not here to shop or to look around the market.  We were here to see this:

 

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Terraces filled the end of the valley and beyond and were really well preserved.

 

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Our guide, Adriana pointed out the significant features as we listened intently.  We had no idea that all of this was just up the road from where we are staying.

 

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Here were some beautifully cut stones too, so precise and smooth.  I guess we were getting a taste of what we’ll see at Machu Picchu later in the week.

 

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We took the steps up to a terrace about half way up the slope.  The stones were secure and dry, so they felt easy to climb.

 

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From here, we could get a good view of the “larder” across the valley.  This construction had been built to take advantage of the winds, which would blow cool air around the different storage areas.  These Inca people were so clever.

 

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Were we ok to go on, asked Adriana?  Well, yes, we thought so.  But the steps were a little steeper now and carrying water bottle, raincoat, camera and who knows what else, I decided that no, I didn’t need to go further.  I’d wait here for a while, might do some drawing, would certainly take some photographs and I’d see them when they returned.

 

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At the top of the steps which led through the terraces, there were wonderful examples of those beautifully fitted and finished stones with which we are so familiar from TV documentaries and travelogues. Adriana explained that, as an anti-earthquake measure, the walls all slope inwards by about 10 degrees. To get the granite so smooth the craftsmen shaped them with ultra-hard hematite rocks, then rubbed the surface with sand,

 

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The little trapezoidal niches would have held precious objects – statues or ceremonial plates.

 

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Even the gateways echoed the trapezoidal look. The whole upper area was unfinished though, abandoned just before the Spanish conquest when rival sons of the dead Inca began a civil war to claim the empire.

 

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The town at the foot of the ruins was beginning to bustle.  People were arriving from Cuzco to catch the train to Machu Picchu or simply to mooch around this charming small town.

 

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Since it’s a stopping off point for so many tourists – it’s one of the starting points for the Inca Trail, too – the souvenir stalls were many.

 

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But just across the road was a young woman wearing “the real thing” and Adriana asked if we may take her photo.  She agreed with a smile and stood whilst I tried to get all the detail of her felted woollen skirt, her bundle holding her 9 month old daughter Julissa and that amazing hat.

 

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Typical of this region, the hat is hollow and the top has a central hole about two inches in diameter where, I was told, the ladies kept their money!  They sometimes put flowers in there, too, but today, Julissa’s Mummy had left it empty.

 

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It was only when I took the photograph of the beaded chin strap of the hat that I spotted all of those safety pins.  I wonder if those are merely decorative, or if they will serve some purpose during the day?  With smiles all around – except for Julissa, who burst into tears, we thanked her profusely and went on our way.

 

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Ollantaytambo is a very picturesque spot and we saw several people photographing the locals.  This woman was sitting chatting to a family, playing with the children but really, getting a few choice shots for her album.  I felt a little uncomfortable about this – not about Julissa and her Mum, who were simply going about their business and happy to pose for a quick photo, but more so about the families who seemed to have dressed up for the sole purpose of posing (and earning money, of course).  Later in the day, Adriana said that some mothers kept their children from school so that they could roam the market to attract the attention of visitors.  Hearing this made me feel all the more uncomfortable!

 

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We stopped at the bottom of an Inca street to marvel at the water running down the side as it had done for centuries.  Simple stone bridges led to doorways through which clusters of three or four houses could be accessed.

 

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These doorways were trapezoidal – as you’d spotted already and though there was in wooden door here now, in Inca times there would have been a decorative textile hanging there.

 

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This doorway would have led to a house of some importance, since it has a double frame.

 

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Turning off the main street into a side passage with a central waterway, Adriana asked if we’d like to see inside a house?  Oooooh……  Now, my hero looked a bit doubtful but once we’d stepped inside the courtyard and seen things for sale, he felt better.  Even so, it was me who was really curious.

 

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We entered through an opening in the wall – not trapezoidal for some reason – doing our best not to trip in the water gully.

 

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This was home to three families and their assorted cats, dogs and, if you can spot them by the brown door, a duck and her brood of yellow, fluffy ducklings.  Though the water was still flowing through those channels in the yard, Adriana explained that all of these houses now have running water and mains electricity.

 

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The thatched house we were to visit had the traditional roof decoration I mentioned in my last blog post.

 

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Inside was a similar mix of Quescha and Catholic symbols adorning the smoke blackened stone walls.  But of course, it wasn’t those walls which attracted our attention, was it?

 

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No, it was the guinea pig family who all came out of hiding as soon as Adriana rustled the alfafa grass!  She explained that they live freely in the warmth of the kitchen and breed so quickly and easily that they continue to provide a rich source of protein for a family living somewhere like this.   So, cuy would definitely be on the menu here.  (Sorry Mrs Meeps!)

 

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These two had their own private alfafa source!

 

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Around the walls were niches containing small shrines to dead relatives, including their blackened skulls in some cases.  There were also more everyday items there beside them – a thermos flask, a coffee mug and right beneath one of the niches, a small bed where someone would curl up to sleep.

Was this real or merely preserved for tourists, we asked?  Adriana convinced us that though tourists certainly drop in here to see how people live, it was genuine and the family made their living in the same way as they had always done.  There are two sons living there right now who will inherit their parents’ home eventually, but whether they choose to continue living the simple life or to do as so many of their generation are choosing to do and explore the bright lights of a big city, who knows?

So much to take in.  So many visual treats already today and we weren’t even half way through.  I’ll continue in the next post, as usual.

More colour this afternoon, too

On a high!