Thursday, June 09, 2005


In the past couple of days, I checked out the agricultural terracing at Pisac and "fortress temple" at Ollantaytambo. Unfortunately, my visits were brief, as my ambitious plans for the Sacred Valley were somewhat curtailed as a result of Tuesday´s dinner, Lomo Saltado (a Peruvian specialty, kind of like a beef stir fry with french fries, but obviously not the forté of the restaurant where I ate it). I wasn´t extremely sick, but felt ill enough to want to take it easy for a couple of days and save up my energy for the Mother Of All Ruins. But my goodness, those Incas did like to build their fortresses and temples (and agricultural terracing, obviously) on the sides of hills, and they were fond of long, tiring staircases! So my visits were brief and I didn´t explore them entirely (I was afraid in my weakened condition I might take a nasty spill down the stairs...)

In Pisac I was approached by an extremely persistent guide who wanted to show me around, and despite the fact that I told him repeatedly that I wanted to be alone he kept following me until I got mad and yelled at him. Basically, I´m too cheap to pay for a guide and I get bored with guided tours. So when I visit these ruins I really have no idea what they´re about, besides the bits of information I can glean from my guidebooks. But I find it more fun to invent it. On my own, I can decide where the bathrooms are, where the leaders got to sleep and the best locations for the conservatory and ball room. I like to imagine small Inca children running around the various passageways and staircases, and the effect would be ruined by learning that these areas were for ceremonial slaughtering of llamas (or small children, for that matter--the Incas greatly feared the gods of the mountains, and honored Pachamama, Mother Earth, and out of fear of volcanos and crop-ruining weather they practiced ceremonial human sacrifice).

My guidebook (Lonely Planet: Peru) tells me two interesting facts about Ollantaytambo. First, this is one of the only places where the Incas defeated the invading Spanish; guided by one of their most famous leaders, Manco Inca and they did this by ingeniously redirecting the flow of water from their canals to flood the valley and force Pizzaro´s troops into retreat. And second, in order to build the fortress, they needed to move stones from one side of the valley to the other, and in order to get them from one side to the other, and so they brought the stones to one side of the river and then redirected its course (granted, it´s a small river) so that the stones were on the other side, before moving them up to the building site. Amazing, huh? They were certainly very intelligent architects, with a gift for using water to their advantage.