Our first stop was at Ollantaytambo, the ruins of an Incan Emperor’s estate. During the Spanish invasion the estate became a stronghold and a rare and short lived victory for the Incas over the Spanish was won there.
Ollantaytambo has an adjacent town you drive through to get to the site. There’s activity this morning, people going to work, eating breakfast at stalls, woman with the Peruvian “back pack” filled with either a baby or the things she will sell that day on the street or in a stall.
The houses in this little village have a fairly consistent architecture with several building foundations that are clearly Incan. Every where we’ve been we’ve seen foundations to current homes, in the cities, small towns and even villages that are Incan. Those seriously tight stones that fit like a glove and will seemingly last forever. Current houses use the stones for foundations, or parts of foundations because the government doesn’t allow anyone to destroy these remnants of Incan civilization.
Edgar said that after the last big Cusco earthquake in 1950, which destroyed much of the city, the government required people to incorporate the Incan walls and foundations into their reconstruction. When you walk down the streets of Cusco you see much of this stone work.
The other thing you see all over Peru is the Incan steppes. Whereever we drove Edgar would point them out on the hillside. The stone work so good that they sit there today high on the hillsides.
In Ollantaytambo there were several steppes up the hillside leading to where the nobility lived overlooking the valley and protected by the huge mountains. As we climbed Edgar would pull us off onto one of the steppes and tell us about the people who occupied this estate and village. (It was also a time to catch our breathe – we’re climbing in high altitude)
He pointed high on the mountains opposite to where there were many storage buildings. I mean high up, a serious climb to go get last years potatoes for dinner! The reason they stored food there was because it was colder. The Incans were big on storing food in large quantities.
He also showed us points for the look outs and runners. The lookouts would communicate with one another using mirror-like stones or fire. The runners passed on information to the next runner to bring to a nearby village or administrative center. We walked to the top of these steppes to where a temple was in the process of being built but abandoned when the Spanish arrived. Edgar explained that the quarry for all these rocks was on a mountain across the valley, 3.5k away! The Incan workers had to quarry the rock, and 50-80 men would bring it down the mountain, across the Urubamba river, across the plain and up the hill! They used ropes and logs, and laid gravel over wet areas so they could haul there load. The Temple was never finished and boulders still lay in the valley where they were left in the process of moving. No plans for the temple where found so they don’t know what it would have been like.
The stone they use is granite, and they cutting with a harder stone, sand and stone were used to smooth the stone. The cuts are precise, geometric, even today you can’t fit a playing card between the stones, no mortar was used. They even understood to build the walls at a slight angle to protect against earthquakes. Doorways are wider at the base for the same reason. Aqueducts were built to bring water from the glaciers above.
The climb to the top felt great after days of riding in a bus. I’m anxious to find more about this civilization when I get back.
As we drove from Ollantaytambo to our next stop, the village of Chinchero, Edgar points out the iron ore on the mountain sides and a large area of salt mines. Peru is very rich in minerals, especially gold and silver and mining is the mains industry of the country.
Next stop was lunch and a weaving demonstration in Chinchero. The weavers here have built a consortium made up of several families and they’re dedicated to producing authentic weaving patterns and colors. You see their work all over this area. You can tell it’s the same group because of the clothing they wear when they sell the products.
After a Peruvian country lunch of soup, quinoa, potatoes, corn, chicken and coy (quinea pig) and an anise drink as a digestive we sat down with coca tea to watch and listen. Edgar was the translator.
One of the woman started by explaining how they prepare the Alpaca wool first by washing it. There is a root they use with soap properties and its grated into water, produces suds and the dirty wool is washed and comes out amazingly clean and white. After its dried they dye the wool using natural dyes. They had several containers of natural leaves, lichen, berries etc with accompanying already dyed wool and she explained the dyes they use. One was a fungus found on cactus that produces a deep red color when she rubbed it on her hand. Then she added lemon and the color changed to an orange. She explained how they can make 37 different colors with that one element. Another women showed how the dyed wool is made into strands (during the demonstration all the other women had their hands busy using a wooden spool working wool into strands). Then one of the woman pulled out a sheep skin rug and kneeling on the ground put the stap around her back. Using the leg bone of a llama she tighter the last strand before starting a new row. The pattern of what looked like a table runner was intricate.
Behind her was the wood stove and large black pots used to cook our lunch. As we got on the bus to leave a local woman with her baby on her back came to the bus to sell key chains. There are many poor people in these small towns and mothers carrying babies and small children are all over. It’s hard to watch, their lives are hard. There is no welfare system and if you don’t work you don’t eat. It’s a constant reminder of how fortunate we are.
After lunch Edgar brought us to a nearby village kindergarten.
The school was a small one room hut with a yard. Although small it was pleasant with good light and was made to be cheerful with colorful, educational, posters on the walls. The school held 12 kids 2-5 years old, not all were there because it’s harvest season and families travel 2 hours to harvest so they can’t return on time to pick up their kids.
Edgar explained that Gate One sponsors this school with books and writing materials and the next project is to build a fence around the yard (because some families worry that the kids will wander off). We sang Old Macdonald to break the ice which seemed to work. The kids told us their names and we told them ours, and after some questions to the teacher we went outside and played ball with the kids. There was one little boy about 4 who was an enthusiastic and quite a good little soccer player. It took a minute before they each child joined in and became more comfortable. The balls were flying every where with much laughter. Then the mule next door started honking loudly, perhaps annoyed at the activity next door or perhaps wanting to join in!
Interesting facts: the Incans built 20000 miles of roads linking administrative center and towns. Some were gravel, some smooth flat stones, depending on who would be using them.