Nancy O'Hare an independent traveller with a particular focus on remote, lesser-visited destinations, shares her most poignant experiences. Her stories have emerged over twenty years of living and working in five continents and travelling through more than sixty countries. Here she visits Ollantaytambo which was once a major city of the Incas.
This takes us a step back into the Sacred Valley. This valley was like a pearl necklace that traced Incan villages along the Urubamba River. The narrowly chiselled ravine started at Cusco, the diva of Incan cities, which offered ancient sites, lush accommodation, eclectic restaurants and a peppy personality. The valley then led through a few other Incan villages until it reached Ollantaytambo. Beyond Ollantaytambo, train tracks extended onward to Aguas Calientes, the drop-off point to visit Machu Picchu. The overall circuit contained an interconnected delight of sights in a relatively compact area. Whereas Aguas Calientes turned out to be touristy, busy and verging on tacky, Ollantaytambo remained as composed as it surely was thousands of years ago.
Ancient Incan storehouses towered over one side of the town, while exposed terraced hills crowned with a grand fortress dominated the opposite side. From a distance, the storage huts looked like a piece of honeycomb stuck to the rocky cliff face. After climbing a narrow, dusty track, we could see that the complex was composed of tiered townhouse-like stone structures.
A couple of dogs from town followed us up the narrow and arduous rocky path, familiar with its terrain. They played and wagged their tails for the most part, not noticing the steep ascent. During our return, they proceeded to latch onto the next set of hikers taking the same route. It seemed the dogs had designated themselves as chaperones for anyone climbing to the storehouses.
Expansive views from atop the adjacent terraced hillside exposed the valley beyond. The scene directly below highlighted a maze of ceremonial walls surrounded by the ancient structures from which we had started our climb. In the centre, a strangely familiar Inca Bucks Coffee Shop displayed a neon sign whose lettering imitated an all-too- recognizable green font known to coffee lovers worldwide.
We spent another morning walking alongside the Urubamba River to see an old quarry located six kilometres southeast of town. Little remained except vacant spaces on the rock face. Long ago, heavy boulders had been floated upstream, manually manoeuvered out of the river and then chiselled to engineer the fortress city of Ollantaytambo. An occasional dud stone lingered along the path, apparently unworthy of transporting farther and left where it lay for hundreds of years.
Ollantaytambo was once a hub for the Incas’ administrative, agricultural, religious and military activities. It seemed things had changed little in this town over the years. During our visit, farmers still tilled the fields using plows hauled by pairs of oxen. A father directed while his eldest son balanced on a wooden tee fastened to the cows’ harness. A younger son walked behind to gently steer the contraption. Ancient stone homes were spun around the town square like a spider’s web, yet definitively sturdier. These buildings were once home to ancient Incas and now housed present-day families. Plaster had filled time-worn defects, and new wooden doors updated the entrances. Some panels were freshly painted in a sky blue, while others peeled to reveal layers of faded blue paint curling down to darkened, washed-out wood.
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