“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.”
Leaving Cusco airport, we come to the conclusion that there’s no need to rent a car in Peru. The first reason being that there is public transportation everywhere, so there’s no real need for one. The majority of vehicles you see are taxis, buses, or collectivos. The second reason is a better one, and that is…… the traffic is crazy! Really crazy!…with seemingly no real rules of the road. New York taxi drivers have nothing on these guys. On our way out of town, our driver stops to get gas, and then we are on our way to Ollantaytambo. We pass through Poroy and some of the most beautiful farm land I’ve ever seen. It was still very early, but farmers were already out and working in their fields. In the distance, snow capped peaks gave a hint of what was to come.
Along the way we passed under the Sky Lodge hotel. It is a collection of small glass enclosures high up on a mountainside. If you happen to get a room at this amazing hotel, the only way to get to your room is to climb several hundred feet straight up a rock wall. Needless to say, not everyone will want to stay there, especially if you are afraid of heights.
Shortly after passing the Sky Lodge, the road changed from smooth asphalt to cobblestone, and that’s when we realized we’ve made it to Ollantaytambo.
Ollantaytambo is a town and an Incan archaeological site in southern Peru, approximately 45 miles by road northwest of Cusco. With a population of around 700, it sits at an altitude of 9,160 ft above sea level in the province of Urubamba. At the time of the Incan Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, who conquered this region, and built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, it served as a stronghold for the leader of the Inca resistance. Located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction because of its Incan ruins and its location en route to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail.
Although hiking the Inca Trail would have been nice, we were taking a much cheaper, but no less spectacular route to Aguas Calientes, and Machupicchu.
(The Plaza De Armas, near the center of town, with the massive fortress ruins looming on the hillside to the right)
Our driver parked his car and lead us to the Kamma Guest house, and what would be our favorite place to stay of the whole trip. By this point we were exhausted, having been awake for 27 hours and traveled 3,400 miles. Excited as we were to finally be in Peru, we decided to get a little nap in before further exploration of this ancient town.
Two hours later, we are awake, and we need food! It’s a little after 1 pm, so we stroll down to the center of town, known as the Plaza de Armas. On the corner there is a small restaurant named Papas. We head on inside and up the stairs to the dining area. The owner/waiter greets us and we scan over the menu. We both settled on a chicken sandwich, which also came with a soup and drink for 15 soles, about $5 US.
I was not expecting to receive that much food for so little money. This meal would have easily cost 2 to 3 times as much at home.
And the food itself? Absolutely amazing! The chicken sandwich consisted of a breast on toasted bread, with cheese and some kind of lettuce. The soup was like chicken noodle soup but better. After one taste, I didn’t care what was in it. I finished it off like i was starving.
After our meal, we headed down to the market near the entrance to the fortress ruins. We wander through, looking at booth after booth of brightly colored souvenirs, each one selling basically identical items. This time through we refrained from purchasing any, as we didn’t want to have to carry them all along our trip.
On a side note, if you are a tourist, when you step out into public here, someone is going to try to sell you something. Street vendors will spot you a mile away. Be prepared to say “No Gracias”… a lot!
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering through the town, up and down the cobblestone streets, and sitting in the plaza watching the locals go about their business. We watched the taxis and “motos” circling the square, looking for their next fare. Some are uniquely decorated and rather comical looking to attract riders.
When sunset came around 5:30 pm, we picked up some snacks and the Peruvian version of Ramen noodles, which has real chicken pieces and veggies. We chose these rather than eating out to stick to our super small budget. These were so much better than what we have at home!
With the evening came cooler temperatures, and the realization that our room had no heat or ac. Not that we needed it. An alpaca wool blanket spread out on the bed is more than enough to keep you warm.
Laying in bed that night, with the door to our very small balcony open, we could listen to water flowing down a channel that is cut into the floor of the alleyway just below our room. It took us almost no time at all to fall asleep, and we slept very well. After the super long day we had getting there, we deserved it. And as the coming days proved, we would need it.
To be continued…