We thought our days of terrifying bus rides were over after leaving South-East Asia but we stand corrected. From Cusco we had two choices to get to Ollantaytambo, the first being a private taxi for about $40 or a colectivo, a jam packed twelve seat van that apparently can hold twenty three. We made our way to Ollantaytambo from Cusco by way of the road through the breathtaking Andes Mountains. The trip was an hour and a half, but with our drivers determination and sheer stupidity we made it there in less than an hour. As you pull into the town plaza, you are greeted by colorfully dressed women, cobblestone walkways & streets, and ancient Inca ruins on almost every mountainside that surround the entire town. That last one is no exaggeration, literally everywhere you look there are mountain shooting straight of the ground with some beautiful temple placed perfectly on top with the town of Ollantaytambo right in the middle on the only flat surface for miles.
We stayed at the newest addition to town, The Kamma Guesthouse. Walking in with all of the camera gear the hostess at the front desk immediately walked us up to the rooftop which had the best views in the whole town excited to show us the great photo opportunities. We started talking about the treks and different Inca ruins that we could see around Ollantaytambo. We had looked up a trek before we left to a place called Inta Punta (The Inca Sun Temple). She pointed up the mountain right across the river and told us it was a 7 hour trek to the ancient Sun Temple ruin and the surrounding archaeological site. We thought we should do it and both agreed tomorrow we would get up early and head out. The rest of the first day and night we explored the old streets, cobblestone alleyways, and Inca stone work that most of the modern buildings still used as foundations. The town of Ollantaytambo is pretty small so within the hour we had pretty much seen it all. After being in the bustling city of Cusco this quiet and welcoming town was a nice change for the second leg of our trip.
Starting out on the hike was actually quite pleasant. The weather was a perfect 73 degrees with a slight breeze. Ollantaytambo sits at a pleasant elevation of about 9,200 ft., much less grueling than Cusco’s 14,000 ft. elevation. None the less 9,200 ft still has its difficulties, especially when on a hike… in the glaring sun… with tons of camera gear… while wearing too many clothes… and with no real knowledge of where we were going. We’re adventurers right? We can handle it. About an hour in of straight uphill trekking we still had hopeful spirits thinking, ‘any minute now this will flatten out for sure’…. No. That never happened. A few hours later the sun really started beating down, and that lovely breeze was a thing of the past, and for the first time since arriving in Peru I was starting to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness. I couldn’t see straight, I felt dizzy and my whole head started to feel like it was pulsating. Dylan whom I’m now convinced could take up a 4th job as a life coach somehow got me to keep going even as the ascent got steeper and more treacherous. “This is the last switch back! I can see the top! Look there’s a cow! If he can get up there we can too!” We passed some beautiful ruins, a few old tombs of the Incas, some swimming holes or water storage areas they had created, trenched waterways lined the hills many of which were still being used by the locals for irrigation, and finally arrived to the half way point of the ascent – the Inca rock quarry. This is where the Inca got the stones and carved them to make the ruins we were seeing in town. This baffled me… We just hiked for 3-4 hours straight uphill away from town and this is where they bring all the massive stones from? We were told only an hour after we reached the quarry we would make it to the Sun Temple. Following the only path we saw we headed what felt like straight up to the peak of the mountain. After a few water breaks and attempting to chew cocoa leaves to alleviate some of my symptoms we made it to the top of the mountain, to what we believed was going to be the Sun Temple. Alas, no Sun Temple. We walked around through small Inca ruins for about an hour and couldn’t find anything that looked like the Sun Temple. We walked around every path we could find, looked over every cliff-side, scanned the surrounding mountains and didn’t find anything. We walked around for a bit exploring the small ruins we could see but finally called it a day and started heading back down the mountain. The walk down, the part I dreamed about during the hike up, was just as difficult. By this time we were out of water, my bare shoulders were starting to bubble up in the sun, and our legs felt like wet noodles. We laughed through most of it, although looking back we could have just been hallucinating. When we got back to town we looked up a GPS location of the Sun Temple and realized we still would have had to go an extra 1/2 mile across a completely different ridge. Oh well, it was a beautiful, peaceful hike none the less. We were all alone for 7 hours allowing us to really take in the beautiful scenery and majestic country that we were visiting.
We both agreed no more hikes until our trek to Machu Picchu. The rest of our days in Ollantaytambo were going to be spent exploring the ruins, trying every restaurant we could, enjoying some R&R time on our hotel’s rooftop, and befriending local stray dogs. It’s been a recurring theme during our travels to find the friendliest local dog, name him “Jake”, and proceed to buy as much cheap food as we can for him before our time ends in that city. Jake in Ollantaytambo was like Dylan reincarnated. Happy as a clam, on the edge of his seat excited at all times, and always getting into everything he possibly can because his curiosity overpowers his logic. Jake followed us to the ruins, he followed us to all of our meals even joining us in the restaurants and eating out of their scrap buckets in the kitchens, he followed us to our hotel, and even into a backyard bar where he wandered into the owners home and then chased their cat onto the roof. When we would wake up in the morning our first stop was always the main square where we’d call for Jake and he’d pop up out of somewhere within a minute ready for another adventure. It was pretty awesome to have a little local travel companion.
The quaint cute little town of Ollantaytambo Peru wasn’t the easiest place to say goodbye to. We knew another adventure was awaiting us somewhere and another Jake needed to be feed. We ate one last amazing breakfast from our wonderful hotel hostess’ and headed off for the train to Aguascalientes and the long awaited Inca city of Machu Picchu.