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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Thursday, 14 July 2011

July 14th: Ollantaytambo

On July 14th 1976 I was in Ollantaytambo in the Urubamba Valley in Peru.  I had visited a few days before and had returned with my luggage to spend a little longer in this little town.

This day I walked up the Patacancha valley to the pre-Inca site of Pumamarka, a set of buildings which sit in a commanding position above the point where the valley first opens out a little.  It was a perfect spot to sit and watch and listen, and I could return by a different route along the edge of the ridge.  I wrote this in my notebook:
Pumamarka:  My picture taken in 1986
I'm sitting between the two little outposts which stand on the precipice looking down over the little valley, whose waters I can clearly hear.  A peak opposite, trees on this valley slope to a good height, a few changing into rich yellow now.  A few isolated farms, I can hear a cock from one, maybe an axe or stone-work from another and smoke from a third point where the valley gets narrower.  Ploughed fields and scrub below, some yellowish bushes, cattle and horses.  On this side the hill is barer, little green bushes, occasional cactus, dandelion-like bulbs growing without leaves.  At the head of the little valley I can see the snow-covered slopes of Veronica, clouds above.

Terraces at Pumamarka:  My picture taken in 1986
Wider fields nearer the village below, one house with yellow corn in the yard, sheep and goats in one place, they're bringing in the wheat, you can see where it's been recently cut, and in one field they were flinging it high with pitchforks; later they use horses, maybe four, to winnow it.  The village itself is sleepy now, a couple of white-washed houses, one house seems bigger, a second story and a tiled roof.  Eucalyptus trees for shelter and some largish light green trees.  Golden corn again.  I saw a girl tending the sheep and goats, an old woman coming for water to the river with one bowl clay, one plastic.  Another girl with a short red skirt.  The shrine under a rock at the opening, a scarecrow or idol with a basin cut open for a body and a pot for head and shoulders.
After writing I climbed a little above where the vegetation almost smells tropical and I could see the whole site.  I got more interested in the ruins, the wooden lintels and niches and so on.  Walking back on the higher trail I enjoyed the terraces as much as I had enjoyed everything else.  I noticed how they built them in contours, with means of going up and down, using the water, building houses among them, especially at the point where the path descended to the valley. 

Another day I walked further up the valley beyond Pumamarka.  I passed several pack animal groups taking goods into Ollanta to sell, mostly donkeys and horses, and mostly Indians but there was one group of alpacas and llamas; the Indians driving them stopped for me to admire them, but I spooked a large brown alpaca and had to move on.  I climbed a bit after the village below Pumamarka, passing a ruin on a hill just above a hamlet, then there was a pleasant climb past a brook up a hill where the river came down in falls.  At the top there was a village, with a little tower looking like a church, and ruins on the hillside opposite.   Another hamlet was built on an open hill with stone enclosures and paths running between them.  Further up, I reached a larger village which was arranged on open land either side of the river.  I talked with people sorting maize husks and they told me the place was called Huilloc.  I walked on, on the other side of the river through a narrowing canyon and found a hilltop for my sardine lunch, among stone works that might have been pre-Inca.  There was a little unused aqueduct above Huilloc and I talked to some schoolchildren there, an all Indian village. At this height there was much more bird and animal life, lizards and mice especially I noted.  Finally I reached a spot where I talked to some Indians with llamas who told me they were from "Pachacarta".  I turned back tired but happy with my exploring, and was lucky to see a torrent duck with a black and white head and a red bill, playing in some rapids quite near the final valley.

Before I left I went with a friend to see the quarry which I now know is called Cachicata.  From here they had brought the fine pink granite used for the most significant stones in the main sanctuary at Ollanta.  We took the trail which went along the river through pretty country, and were shown a trail through a primitive Christian graveyard and along a ridge, until we reached disused terraces and a grave built on a rock.  We went up to see a building we called the fortress and a line of graves along a wall; we could see over the valley to Mount Veronica and the valley where the road goes from Chilca to Quillabamba.  We climbed up through cactus and then into the white scree, maybe two thirds of the way up, which was enough.  The descent through the scree was dangerous, and then we came down through broken, possibly unfinished terraces, past one lot of collected rock cubes.  This was one of the few signs of deliberate quarrying work I saw in the area; there also were some large blocks which might have been worked and a channel for water, and an Inca trail which might have been used to bring the stone down.  We came down the hill in evening light, along a huge terrace, under one ruin, past adobe ruins and an Inca reservoir.

If I wasn't going on a longer outing I tried to walk into the Urubamba valley every day.  I would wander along the banks or the railway line, looking at the farm life and the fields surrounded by yellow broom, the wild flowers and humming-birds, and above the snow peaks, especially Veronica with its fine, shapely summit.   One day I watched two men and a packhorse descending from what looked like out of nowhere.  Some people, I understood, lived up near the snowline, cultivating particular sorts of potatoes for trade.

Ronald Wright describes a visit to the quarry in the early eighties in his book Cut Stones and Crossroads.
Nowadays there are plenty of hiking tours up and down the valley.  There is a picture of Huilloc here.  

The Plaza:  My picture taken in 1986

Street in Ollanta:  My picture taken in 1986
In Ollanta:  My picture taken in 1986

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