Well now, i’’m not advocating finding ways to scrimp and save and cheat the Peruvians out of some hard near earned tourist dollars - but once you’ve done the main sites you may feel, like me, that having a tourist guide hawl you around the bricks is less important than just getting up close and personal with Pacha Mama and feeling round the bricks of these mystical cultures to your own pace and pocket. If so, here’s how
….I’ve had a calling to come to Ollantaytambo since I was sitting in a tiny little travel agency in Findhorn, Scotland at Christmas time, flicking through brochures of women in brightly coloured shawls and fedoras. Then the Sacred Valley seemed a million miles away from the soft sun-lit beaches and pine forests of the North Scottish coast and yet now I’m here there is something so simlar about the looming, soft, green velvety hills of these highlands and the incredible majestic energy they charge you with. The bright blue skies, rushing streams and sharply sloping mountains of the Highlands back home are closer than i thought to this little tranquil spot in the Andes.
My first attempt at the ruins in Ollantaytambo (one of the last footholds of the Incan Resistance to Spanish Invasion in the 16th Century) was when I first arrived into Cusco. Answering the heart’s call I’d had all those days ago shivering in Scotland; I hopped in a taxi with three boys from Lima who were holidaying as well. It costs 15 soles (about $5 to go straight, or $3 in a shared minivan.) and the journey is 2 hours of absolute beauty driving straight into the heart of the Sacred Valley.
Once the Cusquena started getting passed around (big bottles of the local beer - a dark, brown, sugary concoction) I realised that this visit wasn’t going to be quite the spiritual experience I was expecting and after looking around Temple Hill and the irrigated fields the Incans used for their agricultural experiments in microclimate and fending of a few marriage proposals in the meantime, I made my way back to Cusco.
I hadn’t realised that I need to pay for a Boleto Touristico to view the main ruins the full 10 pass to all of the major attractions in the Sacred Valey costs 120 soles about £24/$35 or you can buy a partial ticket for 70 soles that lasts only 2 days and gives you access to the main four - Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Chincherro and Moray Marinas.
When I arrive a second time into town i’m charmed by the summery weather into staying four nights, having already “done’ the main attraction i’m at my leisure to eat and wander my way around the village and see what else I can discover.
There is a sign for Pinkayullu close to my first hostel, Andean Moon. A small weather beaten sign pointing off one of the little cobble stoned alley ways and up the mountain opposite the main ruins. Its free to explore. The name means “flute like instrument” and was so called for the long narrow shape of the roofs of the buildings - the grain store where the Incans used to keep their harvest.
I follow the cobblestones path up into the mountain. Its a gorgeous day and i’m bowled over by the flowers that grow wild in the hillside, bright yellow daisies, dark indigo blue bells, tiny little violet stars, deep crimson bells with minty smelling leaves.
After looking at the main area of ruins I spot what I think is another path that actually turns out to be a little goat track and end up at a dead end right at the top of the mountain. I don’t mind too much as its a great view from the little village from up here and a perfect place for some mindful breathing and a little meditaiton.
I sit down, take off my socks and shoes and promptly step on a cactus thorn. Pacha Mama is brutal and her bushes can be untended in these parts! I push my feet and hands into the bare earth, undeterred and listen to the sound of bees and birdsong and watch the sun drift over the hills.
I’ve already been up the mountain for an hour when I see another part of the ruins on the hillside next to me so I head back down and towards them. I have an uncontrollable sneezing fit and start to shiver. Whereas in my travelling days of old I would have stolidly plough on determined, to prove mind over matter and push myself out of my comfort zone. This time, I stop and decide - no, I’m going home and i’m going to bed. Enough’s enough. Who do i need to prove anything to? and for why?
Sometimes its ok to be in the comfort zone, sometimes comfort is exactly what I need.
I’m at a place right now where rather than push myself to do things I didn’t think I was capable off (Shaolin Kung Fu anyone?) i need to relax into what feels good and right for me in any given moment, that’s self validation and acceptance, thats honouring and trusting my feelings.
I sit down to take a break my legs dangling off the hillside, the sun is blazing and all around me are yellow flowers. I start humming to myself. Its a tune from an old musical called Me and My Girl about South London cockneys that my nan (a bonafide South London cockernee herself) used to love.
A huge well spring of grief comes up. I was 23 when she died and i'm not sure that I ever eventually grieved her passing, I just stuffed my feelings down inside and didn’t let them out again.
The indigenous people of the Andes the Qu’eros often ask Pacha Mama to take their negativity. Like any good mother she wants us to give our difficult feelings to her, so we don’t have to deal with them by ourselves - to take away our pain. So there as everything wells up inside me, I let it go into the earth, a big, silvery blue ball of grief and sadness and anger.
And there somewhere on a sunny hilltop in Peru, stinking with cold i feel, I bawl my eyes out and feel much much better. That instinct I had to visit Ollantaytambo from the beaches of Scotland was right after all.