by Maureen Zupan '72, P'09
We left at 9 a.m. for our trip to Pisac. One member of our group who will remain unnamed to protect his identify left his ticket for the ruins behind in his room. Luckily he figured it out before we got too far. The bus stopped in the square so he could run back to get the tickets (it would have been too hard to turn the bus around in the narrow streets!). It actually was quite fortuitous. It gave us the opportunity to get off the bus and explore Ollantaytambo's main square. Local people tried to sell all kinds of things to us, including women in the tall white top hats. Guide Jimmy told us that these hats are a sign of stature in the community. Women who own businesses or who have a respected position of some sort wear the top hats. One approached our bus to try to sell some food to us.
Our climb up the terraces at the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo had been arduous on Day Three, but Professor Scott McKinney assured us that our Day Four trek through the Pisac ruins would in some respects be harder! And it was.
Pisac is considered one of the most significant Incan ruins, yet our guide (Jimmy) told us that it is not well visited. We're all glad Scott put it on our itinerary. Pisac has been inhabited for ten centuries, and became an important regional capital for the Incas. Researchers think it started as a military post and that it became a ceremonial site over the years. There are many agricultural terraces. Steep paths (and steps) lead up to a fort with walls of polished stone. Guide Jimmy showed us how adept the Incas were at architecture, as they built to compensate for the difficult and earthquake prone terrain,
The climb was incredibly difficult: single file was necessary through much of it. There were many steep narrow staircases (no handrails or protection of any kind). We had to go through a cave-like VERY narrow tunnel that required some negotiating around rocks. Any false move or slip in the wrong direction would mean falling without anything to stop you for many, many feet. I slipped once on the gravel and went down (softly); luckily my feet went forward, so I stayed on the trail!
We stopped many times for Guide Jimmy to explain what we were seeing, although I'm convinced that was just his excuse to allow us to rest!
When we got to the top, we then (obviously) had to go back down. I knew it likely would be a bit harder to go down, and it was! Near the end there was a LONG series of steep steps that we had to go UP to go down. Several of us trailed behind as we stopped every 15 steps to rest.
At the end of the trail, there was a paved road that we walked on for about ½ mile. Turns out that there had been a major mudslide during the rainy season a year ago that had wiped out part of the road. We walked over the now dried mud to get back on our bus.
Not everyone did the trek. Those that stayed behind visited the ruins that were at the bottom of the mountain and then the markets of local merchandise and craft. Kate noticed some Incas sitting by the roadside, very quietly. She was drawn to them and found out that they are Incan shamans who were there to lead some people in a class. A group of people from Canada who were there for the class told Kate that these particular shamans were considered Peruvian treasures. In order to hire them to teach in another country, you would be required to post a $100,000 bond to the government. As they sat quietly by the roadside, they also offered altar clothes and sacred rocks for sale.
After our visit, we headed back to Urabambo for lunch. Along the way Guide Jimmy told us about coca. We are offered coca tea every morning because it is thought to counteract the affects of altitude sickness. Vendors sell packets of coca leaves to chew on; Guide Jimmy said that it is done for medicinal reasons. Coca leaves are also the basis of cocaine, and while the government tries to contain/stop drug trafficking, farmers are paid much more for their crops by the drug lords. With the small amount of revenue the people earn selling coca for legitimate reasons, it is much too tempting.
We also passed a lot of houses that were only partially built, seemingly abandoned. Guide Jimmy explained that in this area people build their own homes, and they do it as they have the time and money to do so. There is no bank they can go to for a loan. As they have money, they buy materials and build as far as the materials will go. When the house is far enough along, they will live in part of the unfinished house as the rest is built.
We saw quite a few seemingly private homes that had a pole holding a red plastic bag at the end. They are signs that there is corn beer available at the residence for purchase. Guide Jimmy told us that people drink a tall glass of corn beer all in one long gulp…and that we should avoid it at all costs. It is WAY too strong.
Lunch was at the Royal Inka Restaurant which had traditional Peruvian food. In honor of their American visitors, the restaurant piped in Frank and Nancy Sinatra music as we ate, and served "fried fries" (with every dish served).
After lunch we went a few blocks to the market. As we got off the bus, there were young children asking to have their picture taken with us (for which they then expected a coin or two). There were dozens of stalls selling jewelry, alpaca items, and all kinds of foods, including whole chickens and fish. We found a very nice jewelry store and several people made purchases. Okay, lots of us bought stuff, including me!
Scott McKinney brought us all together at 7pm to make sure we were ready for the early morning trip to Agua Caliente and Macchu Pichu. The train to Agua Caliente, at the base of Macchu Pichu, left from a station just a few minutes from our hotel. We were only going to be allowed to bring a small suitcase and a backpack (or similar) on the train. We had to pack everything else into a suitcase we would be leaving behind at our Ollantaytambo hotel for the two days we were going to be in Agua Caliente. We needed to pack rain gear, sunblock, and insect repellent. Our train would be leaving at 7:05 am, and we had to be on it by 6:35am. Scott also used it as an opportunity to give us some more education about the history of the Incan Empire.
Several of us went to dinner after, at a local pizza restaurant. It was delicious! The restaurant is owned by a young Peruvian, and had a wood fire oven for baking the pizzas. He was clearly very excited to have us there. We sat near the oven, and when the pizza was cooked, it was in front of us in about ten seconds. The restaurant owner is also a painter; his paintings covered the walls of the restaurant. We were given a lecture about Einstein's theory of relativity and black holes by Nancy's husband Dave (thanks Dave!). For dessert, we had another pizza!
Long day…and it'll be an early morning.