Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Travel Log, Friday, June 11, Pisac Ruins to Ollantaytambo

Our plan: wake up early and climb to the ruins. We did wake at 5:15 or so, and we were moving by 6:00. The sky was already light, but the mountains prevent the sun from hitting the town until about 9:00 or 9:30.

The ruins are probably 1,000 feet above the town and the hike is steep, through amazing terraces constructed by the Incas. Some of the terraces are on slopes of 60 degrees or more! Apart from the terraces, the first ruin you see while climbing up is a circular structure, that probably served as a watch tower/lookout - the views to the valley below from here are all-encompassing. From here, we continued to climb to the ancient village of Pasaqá, where the walls and windows of most of the structure, probably residences, are quite well preserved. The trail continues up, to the Intiwatana, which contains temples to the Sun and the Moon, among other structures. The site is huge, and by this time, we are pretty tired, so we sort of bee-lined to the exit (actually the entrance, as most people arrive by bus/taxi and hike down, unlike us) although we admired the Kalla Qasa, an "urban neighborhood" up hill from the trail as we passed by.

We took a cab back into Pisac, and had a big delicious meal before heading back to our hotel to pack and check out.

We boarded a bus for Urubamba, down the valley from Pisac, through some beautiful terrain. The valley bottom is narrow, and the mountains rise steeply on both sides. An occasional break in the ridgeline showed snow covered peaks and snowfields in the distance. Culivated fields, although this is the dry season, were visible quite high up the mountainsides.

We switched in Urubamba from the small bus to a taxi for the final leg into Ollantaytambo. From the driver we learned more about the devasting floods of February. It had rained for two days straight, and the river quickly rose, overflowed its banks, and took out bridges and destroyed adobe houses by saturating their lower bricks. After just two days, the river receded to normal levels, but the destruction remained.

At the hostel we stayed at the first night in Cuzco, the proprietress told us that we could use the kitchen, but they would charge us 5 soles (almost $2) extra to cover the cost of gas. We thought this a little excessive, since in Cuenca, a whole tank of gas, which lasted us about a month, costs only $2.00. But then we learned that a tank of gas in Peru, which is about 1/2 the size of the tanks in Ecuador, costas about 34 soles (almost $13). This is a source of contention among the populace, especially in the Cuzco region where the gas comes from , and it is bubbling up now because the government is planning on exporting the gas to other countries. (I learned later that it is natural gas which comes from this region, and the plan to sell it for about 17 soles a tank. The gas they have to buy is gasified petroleum, which is much more expensive, and the whole situation is benefiting a single businessman in Lima, who is undoubtedly well-connected with the current president.) There have been protests recently in the area, and, as in Ecuador, the preferred method of protest is to close the roads (and rail lines). Last week the organizers announced another "paro" for June 14, as well as June 17 and 18. So, while we had planned to stay in Ollantaytambo for a night, then go to Machu Pichu on the train on the June 12 and return on June 14, we decide to be pro-active. Our thinking is that if there is a paro on the 14th (still actually under discussion) then we´d be stuck in Aguas Calientes for at least an extra day, and perhaps more. Aguas Calientes is the last place to stay before the Machu Pichu ruins, and it has a reputation for overpriced everything. And they distinguished themselves during the February rains, when tourist were stranded there due to the closing of the tracks, by raising prices up to 5x their regular rates!

The ideal solution would have been to change our return to Sunday, June 13, but the only train with available seats was the 10:00 am run - hardly enough time to see the ruins, so we hastily decided to go up tonight, taking a 6:00 pm train. We'll visit Machu Pichu on Saturday, and return on the 10:00 train on Sunday.

On the train, which actually starts off as a bus since the tracks are not yet completely cleared, we met a Limeña going up to Machu Pichu, who told us about a cheap hotel. So we beelined past mobs of hotel hawkers to this place, Hostal Guiller, which isn't too bad, and costs only 45 soles/night ($15) for all for us - a definite bargain.

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