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Pisaq’s market and ruins

I am undeniably, a market fiend and love nothing more than a good wander up and down the aisles and nooks and crannies of village marketplaces. With more ruins on the agenda ( I like to compare) we thought it a good idea to kill two birds with one stone and combine the two.

Pisaq is only a collectivo and bus away from Ollytaytambo. Once again, a notable spot for important ruins and amazing agricultural terracing, it also is one of the major market destinations. Rather than fight through people whilst trying to rummage for a good bargain, we set off early from Ollytaytambo catching a empty collectivo(well it was when we first got on) Most of the village people were heading the same way though I would imagine they were going for some of their staples as opposed to my textile leanings. We were rewarded with a very comfortable wander through the aisles – only starting to fill up as we finished. Like probably a lot of the markets throughout the world where travellers descend, much of the market contains stalls and stalls of identical goods. Looks interesting at the start but by the end you are quite over brightly coloured acrylic peruvian blankets. Still, having said that, like most markets across the world, amongst this you can still find interesting and original goods rather than mass produced. And the colours and smells are amazing. I liked the vegetable and fruit section of the market. Colours everywhere, a mix of travellers and locals and those down from the highlands to try and sell their potatoes in order to buy their sugar and rice. Dye powders being weighed, and locals cramming themselves around the makeshift tables set up for a community version of Sunday lunch.

Having purchased another textile in order to carry our textiles – we stopped for a brief lunch and recharge before hunting down a taxi to take us to the top of the ruins. Whilst you can walk up from the market it is a solid couple of hours to reach the top travelling the very steep route. Great training for the Incan Trail they say – or maybe that’s the other way around. Anyway, with more steep climbing on our travelling itinerary, not to mention our purchases in tow, we opted to catch the taxi and save our energy for the huge ruins themselves (which still had enough ups and downs to tire you out) and the long steep descent back into town. The huge agricultural terracing was as expected – huge and amazing and by the time we had wandered and inspected all the way to the top and around we were pretty tired – with probably just enough energy in our steps to focus and manouvre around some of the trickier narrow sections. And we were serenaded all the way down by a flute player. Not an uncommon occurrence I may add. And as common as it is, I have to say there was something a little magical about descending, with the view that surrounds, and the sun, and a cool breeze with the haunting tunes. The young lad was working the haunting tunes and I knew that at some point I would be approached to purchase. Whilst I couldn’t purchase(it was wood) I had kept some notes to the side for his busking efforts.

Our luck in the morning with empty collectivo and buses was not to continue. On the return journey,I swear, each stop I thought they couldn’t possibly let any more people on. At one point, I had to stand on one tippy toe leaning over someone in order to let another pass. Unfortunately, I didn’t regain the ground for that foot for quite a while and the only reason I didn’t fall down with my one legged, tippy toe leaning stance …….there was nowhere to go!

I write this all with a smile on my face. Just another day at the market!

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Ollantaytambo – Sacred Valley, Peru

Ollantaytambo is approximately 2 hours from Cuzco, which is where most people land when visiting Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Many people in fact use this as their base. Cameron and I chose to be a little further out. While Ollantaytambo certainly has its fair share of tourists, (this is one of two main stations that service the Machu Picchu station at Agua Calientes and also a common start of the Inca Trail) the town itself still manages to retain a certain village feel to it. With its Incan buildings, cobbled streets and gushing waterways, it is quite a cruisy place once the tourists have headed off to Machu Picchu for the day. It’s a great place to do day trips from and if you want to truly experience the local transport, forget about the tourist coaches and Peru Rail. Jump into a collectivo(or should I say squeeze). These are basically combi minibuses that besides a couple of main stops, pick people up all the way along. When there are no seats left, the fun is in the squeezing. Personal space is not a consideration. We made sure that we jumped on at the first main stop ensuring a seat. They are cheap and simple but depending on what road you are travelling on – not for the faint hearted.

The town of Ollantaytambo is also home to some major ruins of the Incan Empire and is a key point in the Sacred Valley. As with most of the ruins, some of the stonework is so incredibly perfect – you can’t begin to imagine how long it took to shape it to fit like it does. Even more amazing are the huge blocks that were quarried 5 kms else away and moved into place. Pink Rhyolite blocks were used for many of the Temple structures whereas fieldstones were predominantly used in basic buildings. On the hills surrounding the town, there are also storehouses which were built to store all the grains and dried produce. Making use of the higher altitude and colder temperatures ensured longer life for their produce.

Cam and I also made a point of sampling quite a few of the local cafes although the Heart Café saw us visit more than a few times. Run as a not for profit , all monies it does make go towards the highland villages into a variety of projects from medicine, clothing, education and childrens health. Being a lover of all things textile made this also a choice pick. Various items created by the women of the villages is for sale with all monies going directly to them. The Chaskawasi hostel where we stayed also contributes to the villages. Whilst not a not for profit, Katey the owner works with the villagers and also asks all hostel customers to donate a kilo of rice or sugar. These are some of the main ingredients that villagers must come down the mountain for ,which is difficult and expensive.

If you are wanting to base yourselves somewhere for a few days and are looking for somewhere a little less of the hustle and bustle of Cuzco(as great as it is) Ollantaytambo could be the place you are looking for.

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South America – Machu Picchu

Three weeks in South America was not nearly enough time to do and see what I wanted but I certainly gave it a good try. Over the next few weeks I will add various pics and thoughts about my travels in Peru and Chile. What I do know for sure is that I will be heading back there over the ensuing years and try and visit many of the countries that make up this amazing continent.

Like many people, Machu Picchu was on my list of places to visit. A childhood love of archeology makes all ruins a must for me and I love nothing more than wandering through such places, taking in the history, noting all the detail that has gone into the architecture and trying to imagine the times when people lived their lives there. Due to a strike, we ended up being stuck in Agua Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu). This was an unfortunate happening but the positive was that due to this, not many people were at Macchu Picchu. So in Machu Picchu tourist terms, we almost had the place to ourselves and managed to take numerous photos of the ruins without people in them. And wandered a good 9 hours up and down and around the site in peace.

Cam and I wanted to climb Waynu Picchu, which is the high peak you can see at the back of Machu Picchu in most of the classic photos of the place. They only let 400 people head up there each day and it requires you to queue first thing at 6 am to get the pass. We decided to climb in the 7.00 am session while it was still a little cool – and glad thing we did. While the track up there is completely stepped, it is certainly steep and all walkers, regardless of age, size and fitness, were red, huffing and stopping for regular quick breathers along the way. It helped having been in the Sacred Valley for a number of days, acclimatizing to the high altitude before heading to Machu Picchu. Waynu Picchu has more ruins atop and around the peak which appear to be a mixture of both military and spiritual buildings. Besides getting to the top allowing your calves to stop screaming, it is such a lovely place to sit down and take in the peace of the area and of course the view is something else. It also gives you a great perspective of the structure of the main complex of MP down below.

After relaxing and exploring for awhile atop of Waynu Picchu we headed back down and spent the rest of the days wandering, and wondering. Much of Machu Picchu has been rebuilt to give visitors, an idea of the structure of the citadel but there is still plenty of orginal stonework to view, especially in the ashlar technique. This is the stonework most people readily identify with the Incans. Large stone blocks of regular shape that are shaped and carved to fit together without mortar. Beautiful and amazing! I have a SD card fully of Incan blocks – I must threaten to have a slide night of all of my stone block photos! Huge blocks that are carved for purposes that no-one is completely sure of lay in various temple structures and on open areas. Many appear to be for the use of understanding time and seasons such as the Intihuatana and with the history of the Incans, no doubt there were some that were used for sacrificial purposes – and I’m not necessarily meaning human. Chicha, a corn liquor/alchohol was often used for such occasions.

One cannot deny that Macchu Picchu is now heavily targetted toward the tourists – with its rebuilding and exorbitant rates of food and water in the small complex before the entrance as well as a very zooshy and expensive hotel. Hopefully this is as big as it will get – from reports I have read, Machu Picchu is now on a list of sites to watch and monitor for serious impact.The reason it is so heavily visited is clearly visible though – it truly is an amazing monument to a culture now gone. It is important, I feel, for people to be able to visit, and then hopefully understand a little more about the world around them – both past and present. So should tighter restrictions need to be put in place somewhere down the line to protect the area it will be totally understandable.