I’ve been staying at Casa de Wow, in Ollantaytambo and the heart of the Sacred Valley, for a couple of nights now. I’m drawn by the sparkly green and pink fairy lights and the dimpled and smiling Patricia who greets me, a Chicago born teacher who I later discover is volunteering here.
I already love it - they serve eggs and homemade marmalade for breakfast and don’t charge extra for goodness sake!
Stephen the bushy haired 18 year old son of the owner asks if i’m going to visit Puma Maku, and to sit on the Incan throne. I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“Oh Puma Maku is a real beautiful walk” says Patricia, who has the air of an outdoorsy person who knows what she’s talking about.
“Its considered to be an even more sacred site than the main ruins here but the Peruvians don’t let on because they don’t want tourists to know about it.”
I head off optimistically along the road out of town, it looks simple enough on the map.
Hah! Famous last words for me.
Patricia has drawn me a rough map, apparently you can either get a taxi or collective out of town and up the hill, hike straight up the sharply ascending slopes (for the very fit) or do what I decide to do, and take the scenic route along the river and then head up at the last minute.
Apparently it only takes 2 - 3 hour round trip. The rest of this article is probably my advice on what NOT TO DO on a day out for a hike.
I set off at 2pm, far too late in the day. Patricia has estimated its a 3 - 4 hour round trip. But she doesn’t know my fitness levels or indeed, tendency to just “amble along” or take regular breaks.
I leave with little water, as she’s said there are shops along the road. There are not.
The thing is these aren’t official ruins, they haven’t been got at by the tourist board of Peru, there are no swing door Banos (toilets) or people selling water and hawking fizzy drinks and popcorn either at the ruins or along the way and just one, large sign at the main road pointing up the hill.
Still i’m in a joyous mood when I do head off, ignoring the toots from taxis and follow the road along the bright green gushing river. I feel like i’m deep at the heart of the Sacred Valley now, the soft, green mountains loom high on either side, beautiful yellow butterflies bounce in the hedgerow and the only people I pass are the odd shepherd with his sheep, donkeys and cows.
After about an hour or so I pass the deeply stepped Incan fields that are raked high into the mountain peak with a tiny little staircase winding precariously up the middle. I can just make out the bright, blur of farmers working there.
On spying a patch of thick grass interspersed with bright white stones. I detour off the road and down for a quick break taking off socks and shoes to feel pacha mama beneath my toes. Its bliss, i feel nothing that i can describe better than unbridled happiness. the sound of the Rio de Patanchaka roaring below me, the hot sun on my face, the tranquil hum of bees and butterflies. I lie happy and complete eat my banana, drink some water and then get up to go.
I carry on walking for about an hour, occasionally checking with the odd passerby i’m going in the right direction and follow the sign that directs me off the main road and up the hill.
About an hour and a half later and I have absolutely no idea where I am. I ask a shepherd and he points to a winding goat track above me, after a 20 minute detour I realise this may well be a short cut but i’d be safer to keep to the main road.
I pass a woman high in the branches of a peach tree and shout out to her to check i’m in the right direction, she nods.
I’ve realised that my timing has been a little optimistic and that really this should be a morning hike.
After a couple of hours its 4pm and I make an excutive decision to turn back at 415. I know that the sun sets around 6pm and I don’t want to be stuck in the hills in the middle of nowhere when it does.
Eventually I flag down a passing motorbike and ask the way, God bless the man, he turns his bike around and offers me a lift up - I estimate it would have been at least another 45 minute hike. When we arrive he gestures to the setting sun and urges me to look at the ruins very quickly then take a shorter route back for safety.
Its sound advice but having struggled with finding the bloody place I’m a little nervous relying on my skills to fathom out the short cut!
I start striding up the hill towards the rusty coloured ruins. It truly is the most beautiful place, surrounded by mountains as far as the eye can see. I look back down the hill and he is still there. He gestures that he will wait for me and give me a lift back into town. The man is a saint.
I’m so worried he may leave I literally do a quick whizz round the bricks and a flurry of snaps and start fighting my way down the hill again through chest high ears of corn and furrows thick with weeds as i lose sight of the path in my haste.
When I get down again he is waiting for me on the path, his helmet is off and he has the deep, dark skin of the native Q’echuan and is wearing the typical alpaca Peruvian hat with tassels in fetching shades of pink. He has a strong nose and deep set dark eyes.
It doesn’t even occur to feel afraid al alone in the middle of the Andes with this man, that i’m now hitching a ride back into town with. He has kind eyes and women’s intuition goes a long way on the road when it comes to making spur of the moment spontaneous decisions as to who to trust. I’d rather take my chances with this chap than be left to the elements at any rate. But I can tell he’s got a good heart.
He introduces himself as Freddy and gives me a business card. He performs San Pedro ceremonies, the man isn’t just a saint, he’s a shaman!
If I enjoyed the walk here then I love the short, 20 minute ride back into town. Tearing down the mountain paths on the back of a motorbike belonging to a Shaman seems to be the perfect way to have visited the ruins. We pass the woman in the peach tree and the shepherd with his cows lazing by the side of the road. The sun starts to cast shadows deep up the mountain side as eel hurtle down the road passing tinly little red farm houses and fields and fields. He stops a couple of times to gently point out sights to me, the dizzying raked Incan steps I walked past on the way here, a rushing waterfall, a rock that looks like the face of a man.
When we arrive into the centre of Ollantaytambo he brings his hands to his heart in a thank you and I repeat the gesture and give him a hug. And he’s off in a cloud of dust, my shamanic knight in leathers on a motorbike.
I crawl in the door, dusty and aching to Casa de Wow and Patricia says “Ooooh I wondered if you’d find it, because its quite tricky to see, and only really known to the Peruvians…”
Yeeeeeees so i’ve discovered! still I may not have spent as long as i would have liked actually seing the ruins but whizzing through the Sacred Valley on the back of a Shaman’s motorbike has made the trip well worthwile.