Journey from the ancient city of Cusco to Ollantaytambo

Flying from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco is only about an hour or so, and the flight this time was smooth, and I would learn in the future on other flight that is not usually the case. I was excited to experience the ancient city of Cusco.

Cusco is a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. In 2013, the city had a population of 435,114, and its elevation is around 11,200 ft.

Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”. It has become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. The Constitution of Peru designates it as the Historical Capital of Peru.

Finding my way from the airport gate to ground transportation was comfortable. Eventually, I found my way to the van that would be taking me to the hotel Casa Andina Koricancha in the heart of Cusco.

The street in Cusco are mostly made of brick and are too narrow with steep hills; the drivers can be crazy, so you have to be aware. You can see a wide range of ancient architecture mixed with some more recent buildings. When I arrived at the hotel, a parade was happening in the streets. Many of the catholic schools and soldiers were celebrating a catholic holiday specific to the region. I made my way to the front desk and checked in. I inquired about getting my laundry done as most of my clothes were dirty by this point, and we would be leaving for the Inca Quarry Trail in a few days. The gentleman at the front desk told me it would be charged by weight, which equaled about $3.00 a pound. Arriving at my room, I found a very comfortable bed, three LoL, a nice bathroom, and general accommodations. I unloaded, took a hot shower (which had never felt better), gathered up my laundry, and headed to the lobby. Once at the lobby, I dropped the laundry off, met some friends in the lobby, and headed out to dinner. Walking through Cusco is surreal; the ancient architecture, energy, diversity, and history are all-consuming. The city is full of tourists from all over the world and locals who still mostly practice their traditional trades. We decided to eat at Nuna, a relatively newer restaurant which was recommended by a local. The atmosphere was comfortable, and the service was excellent, although communication can be difficult if you are not fluent in Spanish. I indulged in some pretty good local craft beer. I also decided to try Alpaca, which I have to say is delicious and better than beef. After having a few more drinks, we decided to head back to the hotel because we would be having a meeting with our guides early in mourning about the Inca Quarry Trail hike to Machu Picchu.

After a good night’s rest, I made my way down to the lobby to have breakfast, pick up my laundry, and went to attend the meeting about the Inca Quarry trail hike. I met with other travelers that would be going on the walk as well as the guides. The primary guide’s name was Hugo, and he was a funny and intelligent man. He explained the route we would take, the length of time, altitude, dangers, precautions, and what to be sure to bring. I would be the only American on the trek but would be joined by a Scottish gentleman, a 60-year-old experienced Aussie bloke, a 33-year-old versed traveler from Portugal, and a 23-year-old girl from the UK, as well as a host of porters and guides. I felt good after the meeting but a bit nervous as I knew it would test my endurance. We parted ways to meet him and the rest of the team in Ollyantambo the following day.

I spent the remainder of the day exploring Cusco, trying different foods, shopping, chocolate factory, and coffee shop. I also explored many beautiful churches, including Cusco Cathedral and San Blas Temple. After exploring for a while longer, I met up with some of the group for dinner, and then we decided to go to an alpaca clothing factory and market.

Alpaca fleece is the natural fiber harvested from an alpaca. It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious, and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca fiber is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite. Huacaya, an alpaca that grows soft spongy fiber, has a natural crimp, thus making a naturally elastic yarn well-suited for knitting. Suri has no crimp and therefore is a better fit for woven goods. The designer Armani has used Suri alpaca to fashion men’s and women’s suits. Alpaca fleece is made into various products, from straightforward and inexpensive garments made by the indigenous communities to sophisticated, industrially produced, and expensive products such as suits. In the United States, groups of smaller alpaca breeders have banded together to create “fiber co-ops,” to manufacture alpaca fiber products less expensive.

I have decided recently to start importing Alpaca clothing into the Ohio Valley. So if anyone is interested, please let me know.

After dinner and a few drinks, I decided to walk around for a little while and soak in the vibe and the sights of Cusco at night before venturing back to the hotel. I needed to get up at 5:30 to be on a van heading through the Sacred Valley on our way to the city of Ollantaytambo to start the trek to Machu Picchu.

The next morning, I got up feeling a little altitude sickness, but nothing a little coca tea would not relieve. I went downstairs, met the group, and had breakfast. Our first stop on the way to Ollantaytambo would be Sacsayhuamán, a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire. The Killke culture first built sections about 1100; they had occupied the area since 900. The complex was expanded and added to by the Inca from the 13th century; they built dry stone walls constructed of huge stones. The workers carefully cut the boulders to fit them together tightly without mortar. The site is at an altitude of 12,142 ft and has a beautiful overlook of Cusco. The shear size and magnitude of these structures are impressive, and to think only about 30% of the original structure remains today.

After leaving Sacsayhuamán, we headed back to the van to continue our drive through the Sacred Valley on the way to Ollantaytambo. Along the way, we stopped to visit with a family that made pottery and hosted travelers. I was excited to experience this because I took ceramics in high school and college, which interested me. The family was gracious and prepared a delicious meal consisting of potato soup made from dried potatoes, avocado salad with bread, and chicken with rice. Also served with the meal was Chicha, not the beer but the purple non-alcoholic drink made from corn. The meal was delicious, and the hosts could not have been more genuine and kind. After talking for a while, we followed them to their studio to create their pottery and watched them work. As they began to work, I could immediately tell how skilled their technique was and that generations of family members had perfected it. They maintain their tradition from the way they cultivated the clay from the local mountains to the kick wheel they use to spin the pottery, the decoration technique, and the kiln they used to bake the pottery.

After leaving our hosting family, we continued on our way to Ollantaytambo, stopping at a local bar to have some Chicha. The alcoholic drink fermented in a pot from corn mash and sometimes mixed with strawberry juice. We also enjoyed a drinking game called Sapo, which consists of tossing coins into a stand containing various slots with different points and a brass frog in the middle as a bullseye, not too different from cornhole. We played a few games and had a few drinks, and continued to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is a town and an Inca archaeological site in southern Peru, which is about 45 miles northwest of Cusco. It is located at an altitude 9,160 ft above sea level. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, who conquered the region and built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. Nowadays, located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca ruins and its location en route to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail

The ruins in Ollantaytambo are incredible, and climbing the massive stones to the top is breathtaking. After exploring the ruins, I headed to my hotel to check-in and relaxed. Once I had checked in and unpacked my things, I walked to the center square to get some dinner and have a few drinks. Ollantaytambo’s stone streets are ancient, and open waterways are running down either side of the roads. After exploring the stores, alleyways, and bars for a while, I met up with some group members for dinner at a local restaurant. We talked about the beginning of the Inca trail hike, our diverse backgrounds, and what had to lead us to this point of wanting to visit Machu Picchu and hike the trail. After one too many drinks considering I had to be up at 5:00 AM to meet with the rest of the group, Hugo, my trail guide, and his crew so our group could begin the Inca Quarry trail hike bright and early.

I woke up the next morning feeling great, so I grabbed a quit coca tea and went to the lobby to meet the group to start the hike to Machu Picchu.

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