On July 4th 1976 I was in Ollantaytambo in the Urubamba Valley in Peru.
I had arrived the day before on the early train from Machu Picchu. I walked along the straight road through the bushy shade trees from the station up into the little town. The air was clear and the sun gave some warmth. In the town I immediately came across the Restaurant Imasumac, which was a good place to find. The Swedish woman and two Spanish men who ran the restaurant gave me good coffee and instant friendship. They told me where I could find a bed for the night and I had a look round the town and was impressed. Returning to the Imasumac for lunch as requested, I discovered there were several people I knew staying in town. In the afternoon we all went down to a house beside the railway station which they were turning into what they called an "albergue", an inn. The main movers were away but under the directions of another man we all used brute force and physics to move a huge well-stone out of the way so that building could continue.
The next day I visited the ruins but found myself more interested in using the position as a vantage point over the wide fields beside the Urubamba, the town and the little rural collection of houses beneath. I wrote in my notebook:
View from the Ruins: My picture taken in 1986It's US Bicentennial Day, but that must be a long way away. I'm looking down on the Urubamba valley, the grey town with one or two redder roofs and the white wall of the restaurant away to the left over the stonework; in front of me I have the chance to see the agricultural activity. A group of buildings with an animal yard to one side and a grass yard which doubles as football pitch behind, they're working on wheat and maize now, five men picking up the corn rubbish to carry it somewhere, others working the wheat (or barley)with pitchforks. A couple of donkeys were in just now to be loaded with some corn. Around the yard are ancient walls. Stretching up to the right are fields in yellow and green, some growing, some empty, some cut and waiting for collection. Right in front of me, the fields are parcelled small, tracks leading between and a few thatched shacks in front of a group of eucalypts. A group of cows is tended by a girl among the bushes. Plastic flags fly in a couple of small cornfields. Other cows are grazing in other fields further away. To the left a modern farm complex, some places use machinery here. The cemetery is nearer the town. One truck went down the valley road, a few men walking down one of three roads which lead to the Urubamba and the railway, some kids on the tracks. A sparrow-hawk flying over, very peaceful.
Over the next two days I explored around the town and the side valley of the Patacancha. I clambered up hillsides with hardly any trails, getting the cactus caught in my legs, looking at the wild flowers and the giant humming-birds. I walked to the pre-Inca site of Pumamarka and looked at the little farms and hamlets there. I loved the peace and the clear, high air which was warm enough here to be pleasant. I discovered Ollanta was a perfect place to stay; although there were only a few rooms at the railway station and the simple lodging where I stayed, there was good food and good companionship. People who stayed were interested in finding out more. We had no guide-books or maps of the area and so depended on word of mouth and rumour. One of my friends was an anthropologist working with a large co-operative outside town and she gave us insight into social developments. I would walk out in the day, more often than not on my own, and come back to the restaurant in the evening to discuss the day's happenings over fresh fish and Beethoven.
|House in Ollanta: My picture taken in 1986|
Above all the town was special in itself. To one side there was the archaeological site on the edge of the side valley. In front was a square with the church. Across the river was the restaurant and a plaza surrounded with mainly adobe buildings and another simple Peruvian restaurant. The rest of the town was basically an Inca town with some post-Inca finishing to the walls and roofs; the street-plan and the walls and house entrances were original; water flowed through stone channels in the streets covered with little flat stone bridges; the latrine in my hotel was outside in the garden and had two water courses channelled in, one clean the other dirty. The hills around were covered in Inca terraces, most of them in use; some hills had little adobe structures on them which turned out to be Inca store-houses. Although the farms around the river were part of the modern world, up the valley and on the hills were people living who didn't speak Spanish and who didn't use money, who dressed and lived in very traditional ways.
The "albergue" has changed over the years but remains the best-known of Ollanta's lodging-places. The Imasumac did not last long; I believe the building is still in use as an inn. When I stayed in Ollanta in 1986 I found that new building was changing the feel of the town and it was losing its clear and simple lines. The town has a tourism website.
|Ollanta towards the Ruins: My picture taken in 1986|
|Ollanta from the Ruins: My picture taken in 1986|
View ollanta in a larger map