Along the Sacred Valley: Pisac to Ollantaya Tambo - South America: a first time for everything - CycleBlaze

September 5, 2013

Along the Sacred Valley: Pisac to Ollantaya Tambo

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LIFE STARTS early in Pisac. I was back in the market square this morning, the square where we had eaten in the pleasantly eccentric Blue Llama restaurant, in time to see the first stallholders erecting the market they had demolished by moonlight. It was 6.30am and the sun was yawning and stretching beyond the mountain at the market´s edge. It reflected on the cobbles and cast velvet shadows between them. Eventually, as it matures and rises, it will shine a little into the narrow, rising roadways with their central drainage channels devised by the Incas.

The drainage channels in the middle of the road date from Inca days
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Tradition demands I say the square is bustling. But it isn´t. This is something that happens every day, before much of the world is awake. It is a routine. There is no need to rush, no need to bustle. Men in cold trousers and warm shoulder blankets, and women in dark, colourful dresses and brown felt hats with flat, broad rims are filling the square with rugs, knitted clothing and the general ware of a market that supplies both needs and tourists.

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Slightly hippie tourists, too. Paper signs on doorways and shop windows offer a chance to "connect to your innernet" for internal cleansing. If not that, then "spiritual massage". Bars have names I fancy wouldn´t be out of place in Nepal. Nobody would be embarrassed to speak of "chilling out."

I told you the place was slightly mystic, didn't I?
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This morning, in the weak, new sunshine, I cross in an alleyway with an anaemic westerner with long hair and a Gandalf beard and eyes that wouldn´t shame a rodent. He wears a poncho and rough trousers and sandals. Hard to say his age but I'd say in his 30s. And impossible to say his nationality because he passes wordlessly and with no acknowledgement beyond a suspicious stare.

Wall painting in the men's loo at the Blue Llama in Pisac
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His role in South America is that of Ridiculous Westerner. I´d like to say he has dropped out or blended in or something, but how often do hippies drop out at 6.30 in the morning?

As chance has it, I come across him twice more. I am wandering without purpose and clearly he must be as well, if we keep seeing each other. I start to wonder if I am being stalked, a potential touch for coins or drugs. But, again... at 6.30?

It´s embarrassing to say, but I have been unnerved by a hippie.

Workaday villages of open-fronted workshops and radiator stores were our pleasure for the morning
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Today's ride did no more than follow a valley for 60km. We'd hoped for verdant pastures and the occasional village on the banks of a burbling stream. But what we got for the first hours was ribbon development of unappealing small towns busy with open-fronted workshops draining tractors of oil or knocking and welding things. Twice we saw bike workshops. Not shops but workshops, the sort you suspect of having a hammer as the primary tool.

This woman bowed under her load was blind and navigated by her stick and the sound of traffic. Notice the guinea pig on the village sign? They're a delicacy in Peru.
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In South American culture, Jesus wears not a western loincloth on the cross but richly embroidered clothing
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If you have ridden in a developing country, you know what I mean. All is reality. There is no enigma. Life is lived, daily, functionally. People rise early, work hard, earn little and continue beyond sunset. It´s hard to tell their age.

Life isn't easy in rural Peru
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The population is young and schools are chocker with children in neat, dark blue uniforms. Younger children run in the road and shout greetings when they have the courage. Women carry infants in papooses over their shoulder. But it is hard to work out the adults. Their faces are lined by effort and then by the sun. They are not poor by Peruvian standards but life isn't easy.

...and then the ribbon development ended and the beauty began
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Two hours later, we are clear of the workaday villages, the ones the tour buses not surprisingly shun. Their tourists, like us, go this way for one reason: the ancient fortress terraces that stutter upwards beyond Ollantaya Tambo.

Yesterday´s mountains crowd in beside us, although their other side now. In theory we are descending, because the river is bubbling with us. But a rising headwind and an optical illusion persuade us otherwise. We push our bikes over a dusty, stony hill created as a diversion for orange-dressed men repairing a bridge. And then, final indignity, we take the right turn for Ollantaya and find it not simply cobbled but cobbled beyond the point of riding. We push.

We are not alone. The town lives on the gasping grandeur of the Inca fortress. Peruvians as well as foreigners come here. It is on The List. And rightly so. Why it was never named a wonder of the ancient world, we don't know.

What we - and all the other tourists - have come for. But it's far, far larger than what you see here
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