May 22, 2013 by jiejie768
So, once again, it’s been a while since we’ve posted on the blog. I’d gotten about halfway through our trip with my mom when blog fatigue and our friend Keegan arriving for a 10-day visit combined to kill my momentum.
But I’m back, and my hope is to finish blogging about mom’s trip, post a few blogs about Keegan’s visit (including a potential guest post from Keegan himself), post a massive book review blog, and wrap up our time in Ayacucho all before Meg and I head back to the States once and for all on June 7. It’s a lofty goal to be sure, but since Meg is slaving away on a 40-plus-page master’s thesis (in Spanish) about the relationship between Quechua and Peruvian Spanish, I figure I have the easy end of the deal.
Before we get to the post, however, I do want to share some good news with our loyal readership. Meg and I, upon returning home, will each be gainfully occupied. Meg has accepted a job as a Spanish teacher at University Prep in Seattle, and I will embark on a two-year graduate school program (followed by four additional years teaching in Seattle Public Schools) at the University of Washington as part of the first-ever cohort of the Seattle Teacher Residency program. Needless to say, we’re pretty excited (and relieved) to have successfully spent a (school) year abroad and still managed to get jobs upon returning home. OK, without further ado, on to Ollantaytambo.
As I mentioned in a few previous posts about our trip with Mom, we opted to stay in Ollantaytambo for two nights surrounding our visit to Machu Picchu. This was partly motivated by a distaste for Aguas Calientes, the village at the foot of Machu Picchu, and partly motivated by our desire to check out Ollanta after our December visit was cut short by a train delay.
The portion of the visit set aside for visiting the sights in Ollanta itself was the morning of Tuesday, April 9, the day after our visit to Machu Picchu. We were planning to be back in Cusco by Tuesday evening, but had as much time as we needed to explore the ruins that tower above the town of Ollantaytambo.
Ollanta served as a something of a stronghold for the Incas during the Spanish conquests, and today features an impressive hillside lined with terraces leading up to picturesque stone ruins. Further adding to Ollanta’s mystique, is the fact that the town itself is home to several Inca ruins which are unique in being the only known Inca ruins still occupied to this day. Also, in addition to the towering hillside ruins that catch one’s eye immediately upon setting foot in Ollanta, the mountainsides that surround the village are dotted with isolated ruins that appear to be unreachable.
That morning, Meg, Mom and I slept in a bit before capitalizing on Hotel Sol’s excellent complementary breakfast (arguably the best pancakes in all of Peru). Mom, who had had her fill of stairs during visits to Machu Picchu, Wayna Picchu and Pisac over the previous two days, was strongly considering sitting this one out. Meg, in all likelihood, had similar thoughts, but knew better than to suggest I go up and explore the ruins on my own (I can be a real baby when I want to be). In the end, though, breakfast re-energized everyone to the point that we all decided to brave the hillside and punish our quads and calves for another day.
So it was that we checked out of the Hotel Sol, which was an excellent place to stay during our time in town. The hotel had actually been booked by GeGe before she realized she would be unable to come, and it worked out perfectly. The rooms were very nice and the building featured a gorgeous courtyard garden and plenty of comfortable seating areas. To top it off, Mom had room with a balcony overlooking a picturesque river and a million-dollar view of Ollanta’s famous ruins. I would highly recommend this spot to anyone visiting Ollanta or Machu Picchu (they even appeared to pack a breakfast for guests leaving early to spend the day at Machu Picchu, but we didn’t learn about that feature in time to take advantage). All in all, a very nice place to stay.
It turned out the towering terraces of Ollantaytambo appeared more daunting than they actually were. We took our time climbing the stairs, stopping every few terraces to enjoy the view of town and mountains that was materializing below us as we rose. After about 20 minutes and a couple rests, we reached the top of the ruins and explored the structures that appeared to have been temples and the like.
We had once again opted against getting a guide (actually, Ollanta was the only place we visited that didn’t have an abundance of guides waiting outside), and I did my best to serve as our makeshift source of information. Truth be told, I was pretty much just guessing in a lot of places, but having visited a good number of Inca ruins at this point in the trip, a lot of them have similar features. Regardless, we enjoyed the view, inspected the architecture and skirted the mountainside to reach another set of buildings before descending into what appeared to be the residential part of the Ollanta complex (as I said, I was really just guessing here, but I’m pretty confident that I’m right given that I read a book that mentioned Ollantaytambo once).
The residential area abuts the public market in Ollanta and had a cool waterway structure that directed the river water to various abodes for use by the (former) residents. While in that part of the ruins, we also encountered a couple from Hawaii that had just visited Ayacucho (small world alert!) and chatted with them for a bit. Then, we exited into the market and, as it was about 2 p.m., decided that we should explore the possibility of getting a ride back to Cusco. The journey is a two-hour trip that generally costs about 10 soles per person in a colectivo — a 15-passenger bus that fills its seats with as many travelers as possible. On our previous trip, Kathy Collins simply pulled up to the restaurant we were eating at in a van and told us to load up, so Meg and I weren’t sure exactly how to wrangle our ride.
It turned out finding a ride was pretty easy, as the desk clerk at our hotel was able to line one up before Meg and I had finished fishing our luggage out of the storage room. The driver wanted 20 soles a person, claiming he was not a colectivo (he did have three other passengers already), and we countered with 10 per person. Eventually we agreed to pay 15 each, assuming that he would take us directly to our hotel in Cusco with a relatively empty van. He repeatedly claimed that he was not a colectivo, and could not accept the low rate of 10 soles a person because that was the colectivo rate. This would be an important point later on.
So we boarded the van, greeted our fellow passengers and settled in for the relatively quick trip back to Cusco. Our driver did park in the city center of Ollantaytambo for about 20 minutes in a futile attempt to drum up more customers, before finally heeding to the obvious and heading out of town. While parked in the square, Mom, Meg and I were amused to see an old Toyota minivan jam-packed with llamas — including two tied town on a roof rack. Our van wasn’t the height of comfort, but we were glad we weren’t sharing our ride with that group of cameloids.
Shortly after we left town, our driver pulled off to the side of the rode and requested a “consulta” in which he proceeded to ask us all for an additional five soles per passenger so that he wouldn’t have to stop along the way and pick up additional fares. Meg, Mom and I were pretty upset by this turnabout, as we already were paying 5 soles above the standard rate for this very service. We were further perturbed by his waiting until we were five minutes outside of town to spring this on us, effectively eliminating our ability to say no thanks and seek out a more honest driver. As it was, we stuck to our guns and insisted we weren’t paying any more, and that he would do as he saw fit, but that he had promised us he wasn’t a colectivo. (Note: we didn’t care if he was or wasn’t a colectivo, but we didn’t appreciate being asked to pay more because he wasn’t, only to find out that he was in fact going to operate as a colectivo).
As we wound through the countryside between Ollanta and Cusco, we made several stops to pick up locals seeking passage from one village to the next. Eventually, we wound up with a full van making it’s way back to the big city. So it was that the three of us decided that, come time to pay, we were only offering the guy 30 soles (10 each) as that is the rate for a colectivo, and we were clearly aboard a colectivo. We also decided that we would not wait to be taken all the way to the hotel, but would simply disembark in the plaza (a mere two blocks from our hotel) where the rest of the passengers were being let out.
Our change of heart did not amuse our driver, but ultimately we prevailed when Meg stood strong and threatened to report him as dishonest to the local government (a fairly severe admonishment in tourist-centric areas of Peru). Comically, when we offered our reasoning, he countered that he needed more than 10 soles each because he WAS a colectivo, and the colectivo rate was 15 soles each. Meg pointed out his duplicity, handed him 30 soles while I pulled our bags off the top of the van, and we headed up the street to the hotel. Meg felt a little guilty about the whole thing, but I slept just fine that night.
Certainly the difference between 30 and 45 soles is not too big (about $5.50), but to me it was about principle. Too often drivers or other tourism operators like this guy see tourists and get dollar signs in their eyes assuming we’ll just pay whatever they say. We knew for a fact — having been told by our hotel’s staff and taking a colectivo from Ollanta to Cusco in December — that the rate for the service we received was 10 soles a person, and I for one, was not going to cave just because the amount of money was relatively trivial. I’m sure our little gambit did little to stop this cabbie from attempting to fleece the next set of tourists in his van, but I do like to think that he at least will remember that it doesn’t ALWAYS work to treat tourists like mindless ATM machines. Rant concluded.
Back in Cusco, we returned to our hotel and mapped out our next 36 hours of activity, which was to include a visit to the Qoricancha Inca Temple in downtown Cusco, visits to a series of Incan ruins on the outskirts of Cusco and a tour of the Los Ninos (our hotel in Cusco) children’s program operation — a set-up that is similar in philosophy, though much larger in scale, to what Kids at the Crossroads is doing in Ayacucho. Stay tuned.
Catch up on all our adventures with Mom: