Pointing to amazing stonework at Ollantaytambo
There it was, Machu Picchu in the morning fog.
Dave 'n' me in the middle of the site.
Dave in front of the lower ruins.
The calender stone in the middle ruins.
Dave, modelling his Andean hat, presents Foggy Machu Picchu.
Proof I was There, Then.
Dave's poncho misbehaving in the rain.
Llamas keep the grass short on the grounds.
Red-orange men gather in Ollantaytambo.
Salineras de Maras consist of about 5,000 salt pits.
A lone salt harvester in the wet season.
A view of Cusco and the words painted on the mountainside.
A stone calender forms the belly button of the "Inca Empire" at Saqsayhuamán.
Okay, okay... with respect to all you linear thinkers out there, I shall start in the middle, and head more towards the end of the story... Right. So Ollantaytambo. No, Urubamba. Actually, let me regress... Cusco. I did mention the baths at Cconoq? They were excellent. I am so excited, I forgot what I was remembering... K. Okay. We were wandering around Cusco when we decided to get train tickets and plane tickets the same day.
The problem with the train that goes to Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) is that it is the only means of getting to the town, other than walking over 100 km. And thusly the company, having a monopoly, takes financial advantage of all the tourists, raping them in at between 60 and 110 dollars a cherry pop. There is a train available to nationals for a mere 5 dollars, but, well, we clearly ain't no nationals. But we found out about a sneaky deal where one can buy a partial train ticket from where the roads end at Ollantaytambo for just 24 dollars. The buses to get to Ollantaytambo cost about two dollars, round trip, so Dave and I made off with a savings of over 100 dollars... and we got to check out the stop-over town of Urubamba where we had a great little lunch, and then got to wander the surprisingly worthwhile ruins of Ollantaytambo. What a great deal! The only thing was that the train left at 8:00 pm and came back at 5:30 in the morning two days later. Perfect enough, I'd say.
So while in Ollantaytambo, we took a private guided tour of the ruins and learned a bit about the history and reasoning behind customs. These ruins were incredible battlements perched on the almost-vertical faces of mountainsides, with high pointed roof peaks that would have supported thatch. Speaking of faces on mountainsides, there was a giant, clearly visible frowning ghost-face of a different, lighter colour, a natural formation that one can't help but notice right off. With more attention to the mountain higher up, one can see what appears to be the perfect profile of an indio, where, from the position of the high watchtower, the sun rises right behind its forehead on the some equinox or solstice... which I find hard to agree with, because it is obvious that a half a step in any direction while in the large watchtower will completely change one's point of view.
Also hard to believe is that the Incans constructed all their major villages in the shapes of animals, like the condor, puma, llama, and oh, an ear of corn. Of course! The corn animal! Dave believes it, but then again, he was brought up Cathodelick. I think one can find shapes wherever one damn well pleases, and it has nothing to do with any actual urban planning of yore. But whatever feeds the frenzied Tourist Fish. (For example: ...and now we shall visit, the Highest, Tallest, Widest, Heaviest Cornerstone with the Most Angles (three dimensionally speaking, of course) IN THE WORLD (above 2,150 meters, of course) and surrounded by a semi-navigable lagoon. There is a similar rock with actually a few more angles, but it is only at 2,075 meters, and is surrounded by no lagoon, navigable or otherwise... just as a made-up example of how ridiculous people get just to have something the MOST something IN THE WORLD(!))
So that was Ollantaytambo. That and I met a fruit I had never met before...tomate con cola, or "tomato with a tail" which I find absolutely endearing. It is the lovechild of the tomato and the pepper, with a thin skin that peels off of a sweet and bitter seedy fruit, reddish orange in colour. Then after some alpaca meat on a stick, and an ear of corn with kernels the size of many people's finger joints, we headed down along the river to the train station.
An hour and a half through the bumpy darkness speaking German and English with Swiss people, and we had arrived. Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, is the jumping-off point to see the famous ruins. We got lucky with a nice enough hotel during the post-de-boarding tourist hoard mad rush to find cheap lodging, and settled in for the night. The following morning, bright as 5:30 am can ever be, we woke up to find that the rounded-topped mountains, hemming us in against the flood-threatening raging river, are about to fall over and in on us... they are so high they seem to lean in to let only a little sky into the valley.
We paid the exorbitant fee to ride the tourist bus up to the ruins and then pay the crazy-expensive entrance fee to get in and then pay a (worthwhile) guide to take us around for two hours. We hooked up with three Chilean guys to get our premiums down, and headed up the terraced mountainside. We stopped to take that postcard picture of Machu Picchu in the morning mist.
As it turns out, the mist is not just relegated to the mornings during the rainy season. It rained all day long, and we stood out for shifts waiting for the heavy mist to clear for a mere seven and a half seconds (literally) to take memorable pictures of what we spent all day admiring. There were llamas and alpacas loose in the ruins, cropping down the grass in the plaza areas below, and few tourists ventured out into the pea soup to mar otherwise perfect shots. We learned all kinds of things about the Tajuantinsuyano culture, the misnomer being "Inca civilization" as only the rulers were called Incas. It would be like all you people being called the "President Bush civilization" and please excuse me for implying that Bush is actually a leader. We were told that Picchu means "mountain", and that Machu means "old", and that Cusco (Qosqo) was the belly button of the "Incan civilization".
The chacana, or Andean cross, which has twelve points, usually has a circle cut out from the middle, representing Cusco. The four directions off the center represent the four valleys that go off in four directions from this omphalos. Antisuyo, Collasuyo, Chinchasuyo, and Contisuyo, disregard spellings. The three steps recurrent in Incan art and temples represent the janapacha, the heavens and future, represented by the condor; caipacha, the human plane and present, represented by the puma; and ukupacha, the underground and past, represented by the snake. The Incans were obsessed with everything having its opposite and counterpart, balance and counterbalance, male and female, negative and positive, etc. and etc. Their word for duality is llananti, and it can be felt even in what is left of their architecture.
Because it was raining all morning, Dave and I decided not to climb the signature mountain Huayna Picchu behind the ruins. They only let people up before 1:00 and only after (literally) making you sign your life away, as they don't want to be responsible for the occasional tourist deaths that occur. Instead, we walked in the opposite direction along a cliff-embracingly steep trail to the "Incan bridge". It is a continuance of the path we were walking along, except it is two sides of built up rocks along the dead-end canyon face that can't quite meet due to some chasm or another, and are connected by a wooden (restored, of course) footbridge. Now closed to tourists, due to a tragic death or two.
I was going to have no part in this falling off of scary-high cliffs, and we returned picking our way carefully back along the cliff side with startling drop-offs a mere slip away. This was added to our ever-growing list of "This Would Never Be Legal in the States" which also included scrambling all over the nation's patrimony of a historic archeological site, along unmarked things that seemed like they might have been paths in Ollantaytambo. That, and this whole month-long celebration of launching water balloons, with careless abandon for safety, at innocent passers-by, which I am not a huge fan of. Thank goodness this will be over on Sunday.
Right, Machu Picchu, the walk back from the Incan bridge, the bitter little wild strawberries found with the advice of a small chirrupy bird who had nothing else to do but follow us down the path, in the rain, along the cliff side, back to the ruins. We climbed all over again, where our tour had gone, and exploring new places. We spent about eight hours altogether at the site, and could have spent more, but the chills were getting us.
Although we had originally planned to walk down the hillside, we opted to pay the bus as we were soaking wet and cold and Dave's poncho had malfunctioned and was then in two pieces, one of which hanging double over his rump to keep his backpack dry. So this is cute. The road down is a series of long switchbacks that cut through the steep stepped footpath many times all the way down to Aguas Calientes. At the top of the mountain, little boys dressed in local bright red and orange garb, ponchos, ear-flapped hats, pompon-bedecked purses, all wait in a breathless group to say "GOOBYYYE" to the tourists in the bus.
One boy stood apart from the others and made a hand sign, saluting across his chest and yelling as loud as he could. Our bus continued down and when we were just about to turn around another switchback, the same little boy was at the bottom of the steps waiting for us screaming "AAADIOOS" with another salute. Thus it went, him running down the footpath to get to the switchbacks before the bus arrived to alternately yell "GOOOBYYE" and "AAADIOOOS" while saluting. The tourists loved it. All the way down the mountain went he, the last bit a sprint directly in the road in front of the bus barreling down on him, and then, just as planned, the bus stopped to pick him up, where he proceeded to present his pouch for a filling of tourist-palmed coins. He even got something out of me, that's how cute it was. "GOOOOOOBYYYYYE"
In Aguas Calientes, back at the ranch, we decide to aprovechar, what else but, the aguas calientes. Thermal baths that the town is famous for, a rather dirty, yet interesting affair, with several pools of varying colours of shed tourist skin cells and varying temperatures, ranging from the #$%&ing cold as @ss pure raging red river water, to pleasantly muscle-relaxingly warm, albeit hygienically-challenged, geothermic spring water. We stayed for hours, enjoying the numbing effect of the valley, clouds, heat differentiation, and what appeared to be an old man made out of the bare rock, inclining his perfect silhouette to the sky, with his perfect mountain torso and perfect little man nipple on his barrel chest.
Now I am seeing indios everywhere in the rock. (Machu Picchu has the face of an indio in the mountain background, clearly looking up straight out of the ground) I talked with this random tall bald German dude, in German, and this will come into the picture later. Oh, and while we were in Machu Picchu, we came across these Chilean kids we had met in Puno, on a bus taking pictures, and then again in Cusco, wandering the streets stupidly not paying attention to traffic and people and taking pictures, and then again in Ollantaytambo, taking pictures of the train coming into the station, and then again on top of the ruins. We chatted, and even though I had said hi to them every time we met up, the one guy with the itchy trigger finger didn't recognize us, probably because he is constantly looking through a viewfinder.
Anyway, he took a picture of us, right there on Machu Picchu, and so now is sure to remember us. And also, walking through the streets of Cusco, we met up with the short little ancient reumy-eyed English lady named Grif, the one we had met in Nasca who had the foot problem who couldn't walk, who we went to do errands in the market for. Well, she is rather batty, and I think dangerously courting disaster and travelling on her pension without health insurance or help from a more grounded companion, and so we had this strange conversation where she went on and on about the same things she did in the last conversation we had had, and we carefully avoided telling her which hostel we were staying at. But it just goes to show, what kind of a circus circuit we are on, meeting up with the same clowns going over their same tricks for the politely bored natives who only came for the peanuts.
Meanwhile, back in Aguas Calientes, we enjoyed yet another fabulous vegetarian dinner provided by the Hare Krishna chain Govinda's. We got an extra meal to go and went to bed early for the train departure the following morning. And then Dave showered and changed his socks, and I am giving you too much information. But seriously folks, the train ride back to Ollantaytambo was gorgeous. And another incredible detail: we discovered chocolate mint cookies, yum! We got into Ollantaytambo reasonably early yet, and so immediately went back to Urubamba, right after I took a picture of twelve red-orange men in the park. Hello! And why are you all red and orange? They didn't know, but I was invited to come to their red-orange village, only a two-hour hike straight up the canyon. But I was on a mission to find Salinas, a salt collecting terrace on a mountainside.
This is the first time that our Bible has failed us. Lonely Planet puts Salinas on the map in the opposite direction from where it actually was, so only after some repetitive local-grilling, do we make it via tricycle taxi to the trailhead. Well, the place is correctly called Salineras de Maras, and after a hike straight up the mountainside, we make it huffing and puffing to a strange landscape of layered pool upon pool of brackish water with crystals coating the sides and forming containment edges. During the dry season, the pools are much prettier, being a blinding white of salt against red earth.
There is a small heavily salt-laden trickle of water that comes out of the mountainside and works its way down the mountain, detained in over 5,000 pools of compacted earth. About 250 families benefit from the salt industry, coming up every three days to refill their shallow little evaporating ponds and at the end of the month to rake up the three layers of salt and carry them laboriously up the steep trails to the salt processing barn. The first two layers are for human consumption, but the majority of it, the third layer, is for animal use.
The worker left in charge during the unproductive wet season took the time to show us how to test for iodine that they add with a backpack sprayer, and how the salt itself forms a floor harder than concrete, and how they can't have a concrete floor because the salt would grind it away. So lots of red dirt, salt, and rust spots in the ceiling. I met up with a group of travelling Germans taking a guided hike, and end up saying every embarrassingly pitiful little thing I know to say in German, and then switching to English like a typical American. What shame to be so close to being able to speak a language, and yet, so far. But the point is, I find myself speaking German here in Peru with amazing frequency.
So we hiked back down to Tarabamba, which is where we had been dropped off from Urubamba, and not quite sure of all the -bambas in the area, just head back to Urubamba and then finally to Cusco. We head back to the same hostel we were in before, and stay in the same room, in the same respective beds, because that is the modus operandi of us creatures of infuriating habit. We talk with the same little hostel night caretaker, David, and drink the cañazo we had saved from Cconoq. We talk about all kinds of things, and then as my American David gets up to go to bed, in walks the same tall bald German guy from the hot springs in Aguas Calientes and he sits down next to me and puts his arm around me familiarly and randomly asked if I am a nette mädschen, running his hand down my back.
I think he was trying to get at whether or not I am casually and sexually friendly, and I reply that I am not in fact a "nice girl" and get up to leave. I come back when he has left to purchase water from the Peruvian David, and he sits me down and tells me how upset he was that the German guy came on to me and how could I let that happen and why do I tease him so, and can he please please please kiss me?
What? No! This is the David that Dave and I have know for six of our eight days in Cusco area, and who I consider a friend of confidence, as we have discussed our respective boyfriends and girlfriend extensively. Oh! Forsooth! How he envies my Angel! Pity! Kisses? And I am adamant: no kisses. He persists until I gracefully extricate myself, and the following day he is at it again, but the thing is, I really enjoy talking with him, except for the part where he asks for kisses, which really surprised me the first time, but by now was getting rather old.
We spent our last day in Cusco doing the circuit of four ruins sites just outside of town. We took a horse tour, meaning a boy ran alongside our two horses with a stick showing us how to get to each site, and then leaving us to walk around them at our leisure, and then having to find him again with the horses to get to the next site. It was about four hours, but a fun little outing. We saw Qenko, known for it's carvings and stone cave temple, then Tambo Machay which to this day has working Inca bath fountains, then to the fortress of Puca Pucara, and then back to were we started to see Sacsayhumán (pronounced "sexy woman"). The latter is a three-tiered giant stone zigzag wall where the actual bellybutton of Cusco (Qosqo) is commemorated with a giant circle. Cusco, said to be built in the form of a panther, has this bellybutton as the eye of the puma, and the plaza where the genitals would be. If a puma had giant square-shaped genitals directly under their bellies, that is. I swear, modern views can be so ridiculous.
So anyway, we had to say goodbye to Cusco, and David--and when we came back to the hotel that last night, he had gifts for each of us. Little leather books with the Andean cross formed with ancient cloth mantle, and the bellybutton of Cusco right there in the middle, blank pages all ready for filling. I don't understand why I find exactly zero men or women attractive in Peru, or why so many men and women find me attractive. But, David, well, little feisty man, it was goodbye this morning (still no kisses, sorry) and Dave and I left for the Cusco airport.
After a short and uneventful flight (one hour), we found ourselves in Lima again. We bought our bus tickets to go to Trujillo tonight (nine hours), checked out a museum, then met up with the man in charge of human resources for Tucan tour company in the hotel he was staying at, and agreed to meet up when he is free and after we get back from Iquitos on the trail-end of our trip. We are still thinking about that random job opportunity, being a tour guide here in Peru.
And most recently we went to an internet cafe to kill time because we are beat and don't want to re-explore downtown Lima again, in the hot sun, and it was here where I wrote a realllly reeaaaaally long letter to you guys, and then breathed deeply, and decided to finally send it. Okay, so here it goeees... And love to all. I think I am having, eh, "issues" again, about missing certain homes I've had, especially one where I have this little dog...