We left Cusco by colectivo, basically a taxi acting like a bus, and headed to Ollantaytambo. Despite its expansive name Ollantaytambo is a relatively tiny town. It sits at the confluence of the Urubamba and Patacancha rivers. Of the five towns and cities we visited Ollantaytambo was definitely my favorite.
One of the advantages of this tiny town is that everything is nearby. The largest set of ruins was only three blocks from our hotel. That easy access allowed me to make three trips to them, including one pre-sunrise excursion, even though we were only in town for two days.
The ruins here were well preserved and have been further restored. There are several large expanses of terraces with their associated buildings.
Above the terraces is the partially finished Temple of the Sun, so called because it is oriented to catch the first light of dawn. This part of it is made from eight foot tall, 30+ ton blocks of rhyolite that were quarried near the top of the mountain across the valley, moved here and then fitted together nearly perfectly. They actually have fittings you can't see that hold them together through Peru's relatively frequent earthquakes. The structure is almost 500 years old, but I doubt you could get a sheet of paper into the seams.
Further up the hill is the Incahuatana ("lashing place of the Incas"). Researchers speculate that prisoners were lashed into the west facing doorways here. It's perhaps a 20-minute climb to get here so it's much less crowded than the Temple of the Sun. I saw only two others even try to get here.
The valley floor is covered in farms now. I'm told that the Incas rarely farmed the valley floor even when they could have because terrace farming was actually more productive.
Due to their higher altitude the terraces receive more sunlight than the valley floor. The sun shining on the sides of the terraces warms them, speeding the growth of nitrogen fixing bacteria as well as plant roots. The warm earth also keeps the surrounding air warmer, protecting the plants from frosts. Finally, could be irrigated easily using channels fed by mountain steams while remaining immune to flooding.
It took quite a bit of knowledge to build the terraces effectively. The Incas used multiple layers of gravel, clay, different soils and even imported topsoil to promote drainage, protect from ice damage and achieve optimal yields.
There were other ruins on other hillsides which we didn't have time to explore. I wish we had had another day here. Maybe next time.
While I was off looking at piles of old rocks, Wendy was off exploring on her own. We got surprisingly different photos, considering that we went nearly everywhere together.
What she was primarily doing was indulging her fascination with llamas. They are kinda cute, I guess, but holy cow do we have a crapload of llama photos.
Llamas look rather odd when scratching their heads. This one has hid head turned sideway so he can scratch his jaw. Sometimes they their head on the ground so they can scratch their ears.
Wendy also observed the locals a bit. This little boy demonstrates that some facial expressions transcend language and culture.
He appears to have recovered quickly though.
This posts has gone on long enough, but there are more photos up on my SmugMug site. But credit where due, even though they're on my SmugMug site a lot of the photos are Wendy's, particularly the photojournalistic ones and anything involving cute animals.