Saturday, July 23, 2005

Going back to the historic Peru: Inca Pisac & Ollantaytambo


Cuzco, laid in the middle of the Sacred Valley, was very attractive looking for all of us at first glance. But, after a week in this heavily tourist laden city, we longed to see some locals that are not dressed similarly to the Incas, only a mere of 500 years ago. We took a deep breath, and set off to Pisac, an hour bus ride north of Cuzco where we saw the famous Sunday market and also saw the spectacular Inca Pisac when the sun has just started warming up the Valley. Ollantaytambo, another famous Inca site located further west of Pisac was our next destination, where we decided to go for the next adventure

Plaza de aramas, Cuzco – The highest place in the world to be harassed!
Sometimes it is amazing how time can slip out of your fingers when you don't watch after it.
As we landed in Cuzco on Wednesday, we took our time even though we had our plans for the next few days. Adi and Lee wanted to check out the option to learn Salsa dance and Spanish while Chris wanted to chill-out and see the ruins in the vicinity. And what about me? I wanted to grasp as much as possible of Cuzco and without tearing my pants off. This, I found, is VERY hard when you travel in group with different budgets and level of every day consuming. As everyone had its own plans, I found that I don't have any other choice but to make some excursions on my own. I wanted to visit Pisac and the four ruins close to Cuzco. My plan was a simple and straightforward: going to Pisac on Saturday to hang out there, then on Sunday visit the market and the day afterwards, walk up the steep path to the Inca ruins above Pisac. On the same day I would also visit the ruins on my way back to Cuzco. But, plans change as I have stated here several times. Chris was ahead of me, and already on Friday he went to check out the ruins, only he forgot to take with him money to pay for the entrance (OOUCH!). So, talking that evening, we decided that we gonna go on Saturday to see the ruins and then the girls gonna meet us at market the next day (shopping, dah??). We planned to wake up at 4 am, take the bus at 5 am and be there at sunrise. Nice plan. Plans change, don't they?
That evening we went to have a drink at a touristic place called Mama America (written also in Hebrew, unbelievable) and to meet with a Hungarian guy that Chris met in Pisac and was in Columbia. As both of us thought about going there, we wanted to hear his stories and to get some info about the place.
Well, one thing to tell you about Cuzco, especially, about the main square, Plaza De Aramas. It is FULL with restaurants and agencies, but even more, with locals standing outside the establishment, pushing free fliers at you, calling at you and harassing you in every way they can as long as you enter their place and leave couple of soles on the way out (preferably, US Dollars, of course). They will talk with you Hebrew, call you AHÍ, catch you by the arm (that guy almost got a slap from me!) and will give you "FREE DRINK" fliers to their place (hoping, of course, that you will drink more). From earlier experience that week I got the full picture: FREE DRINK, is actually, a Cuba Libre cocktail, a favorite Coca-Cola mixture with Rum. Sounds nice, doesn't it? Well, when they use a 10 sol Rum (Havana club costs around 40), you can understand what kind of shit the tourists consume in large amounts. And all this to get the piss (i.e. drunk).
Well, me and Chris got into the Mama America joint, only to realize that it was the time for Salsa lessons…WHAT THE FUCK?? Now, there is also a joint called Mama Africa (how original that is?!) and Chris was not sure that the Hungarian guy said Africa or America. In addition, a nice Israeli guy name Arik, was also supposed to meet us there, so we could not leave until we know where the hell is the Hungarian guy. So after checking out the other place, I returned with no conclusion. We drank our drinks (I had "nice" stomach cramps so I had only coke) and finally Arik came in with a kiwi and his Peruvian girlfriend. It was nice and we more or less abandoned the possibility of seeing the Hungarian guy again. Around midnight we went to check out the Mama Africa, as the music there suited us more and we hoped we might find the Hungarian guy still pist off there. Full packed with international tunes in the loud speakers, we didn't found anything but partying, so we stayed a bit more, Chris getting pisser and pisser by the minute. Eventually, we left that joint in the direction of our hostel, only then more and more harassers came and offered dear old drunken Chris more and more drinks and even movies (at 1:30 am? What the shit you are talking about??). I tried to pull Chris out of that honey-like trap, but he wouldn't budge and just look at me with his drunken face, all smiles, drifting from one sales man to another, trying to decide what is best for him. I gripped that either I pulled him out of there (which was quite hard as he is a tall and was also drunk as hell) or stay with him till he falls drunken flat on the floor. Or, and that was not easy for me to do, was to walk away and leave him with vultures. And that was exactly what I have done: I told him that Im going and I advise him to join me (advise to a drunk guy..what the hell I was thinking for my self??). He still looked at me with his same drunk face, and I decided that Im going.
I felt like shit, leaving him like this to have more and more drinks, in a foreign city that is known of some petty crimes and pick pocketing. But eventually I understand that I don't want to have more drinks or even to stay in those joints. I went back into the room and went to bed, all feeling bad and worried. Eventually, around 4 am the guy got into the room, not to drunk by the way, and went head long to a long sleep.

Pisac Sunday market and the Inca Pisac ruins
So, we were supposedly had to wake up at 4 am, right? Well, I woke up only at 9 am that Saturday, so I gripped that we are not gonna do what we panned in the first place. After everybody woke up, we decided that we gonna go to the market in Pisac the next morning (as early as possible), and maybe visit the ruins there after being in the market.
The next day we set off a bit late (around 9 am) and went on the bus on a hour ride up north. Pisac is located in the sacred valley (like other towns build on Inca ruins or near them) and is towered by a high hill and an enormous mountain protruding high into the sky. Pisac Sunday market is a famous event, drawing many people from all the area. When we came into town, it was already full packed with tourists, vendors and the like. The center plaza was full of covered stands, selling from artisans crafts of Pumas to food and drinks. It was a total mess. Adi and Lee went straight for the kill, looking for souvenir for the family, while Chris went wandering around. I popped out the camera and started snapping shots at the different crafts and merchandises, as well as some pictures of the whole plaza. It is a little town, and after half an hour I finished my camera tour, and went for a stroll just to feel the environment of this small and not so peaceful town. At a certain point I have met with Chris and went into Ulrikes café to have some coffee and talk things over. We met with the girls (which wanted to have some lunch) and went again into this cafe. Around 3 pm we made our way back to Cuzco. I and Chris decided to go the next day again to visit the Inca site at first light and the next day we woke up at 5 am and got on the 6 am bus to Pisac.
This time, the town was quite and still sleepy, the plaza all vacant and grayish in the first sun rays of light. We had a quick coffee and then made our way to the ruins. Usually, most people take a taxi to the other side of the ruins, and from there continue on the ridge back to the little town of Pisac. As usual, me and Chris had to find the harder way to go. Going up fast, we came to the first battalion in 30 minutes and observed the amazing view of the Sacred Valley spreads right beneath us, with the agriculture terraces spilling down on our west side. On the east side, on the other hand, we saw modernization typified by a soccer field and a modern asphalt road (which also leads to the other side of this ruins site). We surveyed the ruins, noticing that those ruins where without any rails or anything to prevent someone from falling 50 meters down to the slope below. Even so, we were actually happy that those precautions were not present, as it left the site original and at its best. We continued on, climbing on the ridge, discovering with each step another ruin or a battalion long abandoned. Finally, we came to the ceremony site, with its accurate fitting which is what makes the Inca culture so famous of. We continued on walking and climbing over rocks and small peaks that nobody is supposedly suppose to go there, but we just had to go off the beaten track. Of course, at this time of day (8 am) nobody except for the workers were there. Eventually, around 9 am we came to the backside battalions and ruins of Inca Pisac, noticing the start of the tourist stream into the site. As we thought Adi and Lee would join us later on, we chilled out on the top of the ruins and had our nice little breakfast. Around 11 am an American couple (father and daughter) came up the stairs and we had a nice conversation with the two, ranging from traveling to politics, and eventually we met them again when we were back at Pisac.
Around 12:30 we decided to go back to Pisac, only not from the way we came, but from another different way, which is through one of the valleys that surrounds the ruins. While we were doing our way down, we noticed numerous holes in the side of the valley, and went to investigate them. We were not sure they were tombs that were robbed as the Lonely Planet stated so we went to check it out. After crossing the valley and starting to climb the opposite slope, we came to several of the holes, most of them empty but some held some remains of bones, not human as we could tell. Then we noticed that someone was shouting at us and gesturing with his hand that we should return back to the other side. When we returned, we found two guys sitting on a rock, their body language beams with anger. You should not have gone there, it is the cemetery, it is forbidden to go there, they told us. I asked them who are them and they answered that they are there to keep that no tourists go there (great, fellas, do your job first, then complain!). Well, we didn't stayed too much to argue and get their angry stares at us, and went away. All the way back to Pisac I had heavy heart that I have disturbed the peace of the death, even if I told my self that I should stop believe in superstition.
Coming back to Pisac, we gripped that the girls stayed in Cusco and that we might as well return back too, after a lunch in Ulrike`s place. Over lunch we already planned our next moves: Chris wanted to see Ollantaytambo and afterwards come back to Cusco and taking a bus to Puno and then Bolivia. His time was getting short, and he had to kick fast as possible as it gets. Machu Picchu? Ha, it is so full of tourist, so he would skip it. The first person I heard saying something like that, but I respect him and also understand where this decision comes from. We took the next bus back to Cusco.

Ollantaytambo and the spontaneous decision!
Our plan as to go to Ollantaytambo around the afternoon, stay there for the night and then the next morning wake up really early and visit the ruins. At Ollnataytambo there are actually two sites: the city itself perched on a low slope, and the fortress, on the opposite slope, perched even higher. We wanted to visit them both.
So, in order to get there, we needed first to take a bus to Urubamba, a small town settled on the Urubamba river (going all the way up the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu and even further away) and then take another combi (a small van) to Ollantaytambo. So, we (Lee, Chris and Me) set off around 1 pm and done our way to Urubamba, with the beautiful snow peaked Veronica Mountain in the view some part of the ride.
In Ollantaytambo we squeezed into a combi and did the 30 minutes ride to the quiet town, with the statue of an Inca warrior facing the Fortress. We found a nice place to set our heads down, and went back to the plaza to have some lunch. The town, by the way, was packed with tourists, most of them coming with organized tours, all walking with bamboo sticks that can be bought all over town (and even Lee bought one the next day…). So touristy…YAC! We passed the evening drinking wine and playing game cards (shit-head and YANIV) and went to sleep in order to wake up early (5 am).
Waking up was hard, but eventually I dragged my self to the bathroom to wash my face and teeth. The whole town was quiet and grey, so eventually we took off around 6:30 am to have some early coffee. Because only the old town is closed with a gate (the fortress is not), we decided to see those ruins first and then move to the survey the fortress ruins, which were much more problematic to access. It happened to be a wise decision.
When we crossed into the site, a guy stopped us and told us we should buy the Boletico Touristico (a damn expensive card that enables the entry to several Inca sites all around the Sacred Valley and expires in ten days). However, the guy that sells the cards was not there yet (how typical) so we told him we can pay when we get down.
Going up the terraces to the old town, workers were working hard taking sacks filled with earth up the steep terraces to the site. The first light of the sun has not yet been over the north eastern hills and the site was quite and tranquil. We surveyed the site for an hour and then moved onward toward other sections of the site.Finding a narrow path that leads up, Chris started walking up and called for us. After a half and hour climb we reached a high perched ruins, that it seems not to many tourist visit. The view over ancient and modern Ollantaytambo, as well as the view over the sacred valley were amazingly beautiful, and we decided to chill-out there for couple of hours.
Looking toward the west, suddenly Chris said that he is so close to Machu Picchu, so maybe he can walk at the same day to Aguas Calientes (the little town near the ruins; also called Machu Picchu Pueblo). I told him that he should be prepared for such a trip, especially if he plans to do it in a day, and that we would join him (I didn't felt like trying and arranging the mules and all the trek, and most importantly, I wanted to see the ruins with Chris). After discussing our possibilities, we agreed that we gonna go back as soon as possible, arrange our stuff for the next few days, and the next day make our way to Chilca, a town which is the end of the Sacred Valley road.

Ollantaytambo ruins, fortress and Percy
So, after we decided what is the time line, we hurried to get down to town and to check out the other ruins on the other side of town. Walking in town, at first it was hard to find the path that leads up, but a man getting out of his house showed us a path that leads up from his backyard..nice.
Walking up we had a nice view of the ancient ruins and moving on, we mistakenly chose the wrong path and by no time we found our self trying to cut down to the main path through cliff hanging dried vegetation and crumbling rocks. Suddenly, while I was doing some effort to cross a narrow and non existent path, I have noticed a boy running up the path below us and directing us to the best path we can take in order to meet the main path. Finally, after negotiating some rocks and vegetation we finally got to the path and to the small ruins at its top. Unfortunately, it was the end of the path and from now on, it is a harsh climbing up to the ruins above our heads. As we knew we didn't had too much time to spend, we decided to stop here and have our wine with some bread. We talked with the boy, Percy, which was already 12 years old and reminded me of my nephew, Raz, which had his Bar Mitzva only a couple of days before. We shared with him some wine and couple of rolls of bread ("Chen, he is 12 years old, you wanna get him drunk??") and after been there for 20 minutes (and photographing with him) we made our way back to town. We had a long day ahead of us, and even longer the day afterwards.

No comments: