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October 04, 2004

Ollantaytambo and Pisac

Jessica and I took a weekend trip to two nearby towns, Ollantaytambo and Pisac. We left Saturday morning, and it took us about 2 hours and $1.25 to get to Ollantaytambo on two different buses. The second was basically a minivan with more seats, called a combi, and I counted 22 people crammed in, including a few small children! Luckily that was the shorter stretch of the trip. Ollantaytambo is a stop on the train route to Machu Picchu, but it also has some great ruins of its own, considered second only to Machu Picchu, so I'm glad we went there first! The ruins were really spectacular. I can't exactly put my finger on what I liked about them so much, but Jessica and I had a lot of fun wandering around and exploring the different areas and taking lots and lots of pictures (coming soon, or maybe already available when you read this).

I love to imagine the ruins covered in their thatch roofs and inhabited by a lively and interesting people. I imagine what the different rooms were used for, and how fun it would be to run along all the narrow paths as a kid. Each Incan site I've seen has been so dramatic, and I understand why the Incas were drawn to such amazing places with such sweeping vistas and interesting landscapes nearby. It's interesting to me, though, that so much here is focused on the Incas, who lived just 500-600 years ago, and whose empire was so short-lived (about 100 years, I think), when there were many peoples who lived in the many, many years prior. The Incan empire was brought to an abrupt end by the arrival of the Spaniards. If only they hadn't shown up! It's hard to picture what Peru (and so much of the Americas) would have been like if the Spaniards hadn't come and conquered and destroyed so much. There's hardly any concrete information about the Incas because the Spaniards were so bent on getting rid of everything. The battles and subsequent massacres that occurred at some of these ruins are mind-boggling. Yesterday at Pisac there was a woman selling a chess set with Incans vs. Spaniards. At the time it seemed funny and clever, but I'm sure there's some deeper resentment buried in such images.

Ollantaytambo is also the best-preserved Inca town in Peru, and there's a large section of the old town that's still inhabited today (as opposed to the ceremonial ruins up on the hill). How cool to live in a home the Incas lived in, and even just to walk the same streets, which we did with relish.

We headed to Pisac Saturday afternoon, and due to some completely unexplained delays with the bus, we arrived a little bit after dark. It's always a little disconcerting to arrive in a new place at night, but we knew where we were going, and just headed directly that way. We were lucky to have arrived at all, though, since the bus driver started to pull away for Cusco without telling us that was the only stop for Pisac!

Pisac was very quiet on Saturday night, and we easily found a cheap and cozy place to stay just a block off the main plaza. As the hostel guy had promised, it was muy tranquilo and we felt safe exploring a bit that night. Two of the four lights in the plaza were out, so it was rather dark, and for some reason the townspeople were cutting down an enormous tree, with about 5 trunks, with a chainsaw. It was funny to see all the people standing around "supervising" the project. They were also busy setting up stalls for the market the next morning, and it was cool to see the square before it was completely overrun by buyers and sellers. We had some pretty traditional food for dinner. I had lomo saltado, which is a kind of stir fry with beef, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and french fries (!), served with rice--of course. No meal seems to be complete here without both potatoes AND rice. I'm certainly not suffering for lack of carbs. I'm going to try to remember to take pictures of some of the foods I eat on my trip.

The next morning, the market, one of the biggest and most famous in South America for artesan crafts, was getting going when we headed out around 8:30. We'd heard the tour buses from Cusco start arriving around 9:00, so we wanted to see it before the onslaught. There's a separate part of the market where the locals from the countryside come to barter for different food items, and that part was so interesting and colorful. We tried to be discreet in taking pictures, but there were a few situations where it was clear we needed to buy something or otherwise give them money for pictures. I had an upsetting situation with a woman who hid her face, then held out her hand for money. I told her I only wanted to take a picture of the brilliantly colored dyes she was selling, not her. I took the picture, and even showed her she wasn't in it, but she still wanted money and was being kind of mean about it. I didn't want to make things worse, so I just slapped a sol (about 30 cents) in her hand and walked away. I should have just taken a picture with her in it if I knew she'd ask for money anyway! There were also a lot of kids and adults walking around really, really dressed up in traditional andean ceremonial dress, and asking to have their photo taken (for a price, of course). This happens in Cusco, too, and one time I asked how much and they said "voluntario," then asked for a tip when I was done--tricky! It's a difficult situation for me, philosophically, and I still don't know how to handle it. It feels disingenuous to take pictures on the sly, but it also seems completely fake to pay for a picture, and I'm not sure whether it's a good thing to support the practice. I think one difference in these situations is that the woman selling dye was just going about her normal daily routine, which I hoped to capture a piece of. Can you imagine someone wanting to take a picture of someone working at McDonalds, or just walking down the street in the US, and saying "Sure, that'll be 50 cents."? We don't need the money in the same way, but that's what this amounts to. I suppose for the ones dressed up specifically for pictures, it's almost their job, but it still feels strange. I wonder about professional photographers who get great photos of people for calendars and the like. How do they do it? Do they pay for their pictures? Do I think less of the pictures if that's the case?

Any way, we bought some food for breakfast at the market, then wandered around the stalls and worked on our bargaining techniques as we bought some souvenirs. There's just so much to choose from, it's really hard to know what to buy, but it was fun. We met Lukas and Sharon from my Spanish class for lunch (they stopped off in Pisac on their way back from a school-organized hike) and we went to the Pisac ruins together in the afternoon, which were also really cool. There were some kids there hassling us to buy things from them. They kept hanging around, even after we'd said no. I started to put on some sunscreen, and suddenly all these hands were in front of me, asking for sunscreen! Unusual, but okay--perhaps I can play a small part in their not getting skin cancer?

We decided to "splurge" on a taxi all the way back to Cusco, about a 45-minute ride. Including the drive from the ruins back into Pisac, and the driver waiting around while we went to the bathroom and collected our bags and bought some snacks, it cost us less than $3 each.

After saying goodbye to Lukas and Sharon, we had one last dinner with the family, then started packing. My bags are stuffed to the max; I'm going to need to send some stuff home, but hear it's cheaper in Bolivia, so am going to try to wait until then. It's strange to start saying goodbye to people. I know it's something I need to get used to, as it'll happen constantly on this trip!

Posted by Amy on October 4, 2004 10:21 AM
Category: Peru

How much fun is that! I am becoming very desirous of seeing Inca ruins.

Posted by: dad on October 4, 2004 11:18 AM

the market sounds fabulous. did you buy anything other than the opportunity to photgraph people?

Posted by: rebecca on October 6, 2004 08:04 AM
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