Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Spectacular Scenery in Ollantaytambo Well-Worth a Spell

I've ventured to too many places around the world before going to Peru to be able to fairly call doing so a "lifelong dream."

But for the past decade or so, seeing Machu Picchu has been on my travel shortlist and my bucket list. And barring any train wrecks or other misfortunes, I should do so tomorrow afternoon.

I'm certain there are any number of other amazing sights and beguiling places in Peru, but in being able to budget a weeklong excursion, I planned on taking the typical route. 

Without being fit or hardy enough to consider hiking the Inca Trail, this meant flying into Lima, then flying to Cusco and taking a train to Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu, with a 20-minute bus ride to the plateau at a ticketed time.

So my initial itinerary/routing did not include Ollantaytambo, a small town between Cusco and Aguas Calientes.

Although I hadn't read much about the historically Incan city with a fun name, my not intending to stop there was due far less to conscious aversion than an express desire to reach Machu Picchu, expressly. 

But in reading about issues some travelers have with altitude sickness, rather than start the trek with 2 days in Lima, 1 in the mountainous Cusco and then onto MP, I decided to give myself a second day at high altitude before reaching Machu Picchu.

This prompted me to read more about Ollantaytambo's impressive Incan ruins--and note that it has a train station en route to Machu Picchu--and decide to instead begin with 1 day in Lima, a flight to Cusco and rather than a second day there, a taxi or Uber to Ollantaytambo.

Given U.S. norms and costs regarding transportation via a personal driver, it may seem odd to take a cab or Uber for a 2 hour ride. (Ollantaytambo is 26 miles from Cusco, but via roads twisting through mountain terrain.)

Although I had booked an Uber, the driver asked if I could pay him "off-book" given commissions he'd be responsible for paying. This seemed odd, but we agreed on a price of 60 soles, approx. $18.

The ride featured some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen, with not only mountains but snow-capped mountains.

The driver did a nice job with terrain that would've scared me to death--it reminded me of beautiful yet treacherous mountain passes I used to drive near Los Angeles--and in getting me as close to the Intitambo Hotel as Ollantaytambo's narrow streets would allow, I happily gave him an extra $10.

The main thing to do in Ollantaytambo is climbing the ruins of an Incan fortress--to the Temple of the Sun--embedded in the side of a mountain.

This entails 200 steep and jagged stairs. Being old and fat--and not wanting to kill myself, literally or figuratively before Machu Picchu tomorrow--I was a bit wary about attempting this.

But I'm rather intrepid for the sake of good photographs and then figure I give it a go and get as far as I comfortably could.

An enterprising tour guide named Fernando wisely pounced on the old fat American guy there by himself, and while this essentially doubled my cost, I was actually quite glad I took him up (or more so he took me up, and then down, allowing me to pace myself and likely saving my life a dozen or so times).

I can't say I learned that much, but having survived not too worse for wear, it was a rather amazing experience.

Then, hanging out on Ollantaytambo's main plaza, having a croissant at the Choco Museo, wandering ancient streets back to my hotel and getting dinner nearby made for a really wonderful day.

Ollantaytambo is in the heart of what the Incans called the Sacred Valley, and the astonishing mountain scenery--and old ruins--make it rather majestic.

Even though I haven't been much rather by the altitude, I'm glad I got to see Ollantaytambo on my way to Machu Picchu.

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