Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ten Days - Day Eleven

You thought I had forgotten, that I had left you hanging on day three of our ten-day touristic splurge. But ah! You get more than what you bargained for with eleven days of tourist revelations where there should have only been ten!

How, you might ask, does one get eleven days out of a ten-day ticket? How did I work this magic, you ask? It wasn't hard. People in Peru have been all around very friendly with us and willing to negotiate. The security guard at the Pisac Archeological Site - aside from being very charming and handsome - was patient as I fumbled with my broken Spanish, and was very accomodating.

After the long voyage back from Moray and Pikillacta the weekend before, we spent the following weekdays going to Spanish class and visiting a few museums that were included on our ticket. We saved Ollantaytambo for the second weekend because it is another long bus ride from Cusco. We had pretty much decided to save Pisac for later when we live in the city with the same name. Besides, the ruins are within a few hundred yards of the girls' school - we are bound to visit multiple times.

On Friday, we set out to accomplish a number of very important errands in the Pisac area. First, we had to find a place to live; we also had an appointment with the director of Katie and Georgia's school. An added bonus was we got to spend two (or in my case, three) nights with the lovely Rocio at Casa de Mama Gloria in Calca. On Saturday, we were lucky enough to find a place to live that pleased us. On Sunday, we took the girls for their stamp of approval and sealed the deal with payment of the first month in advance. Then off we went to catch a bus to Urubamba on the first leg of our journey to Ollantaytambo, an historic and rare Incan town. Most Incan sites were built for religious or military purposes, so the fact that this one was also a city is unique. The first leg to Urubamba was via our typical mode of transport - a dirty, broken-down, overcrowded bus. But we had grown accustomed to this mode of transportation and didn't bat an eyelash. It was nothing like the jam-packed bus from Pisac to Calca the night before, where the girls were so stuck in amongst the hoards of people trying to get home, that, after Matt and I elbowed our way off, I had to reach back in to the jumble of arms, legs and packages, and pull my daughters out of the maw of what seemed in the dark to be a people-eating, deisel-spewing road monster. No, for this bus ride, we even had seats.

Thirty minutes later, the bus dropped us off at the Urubamba bus station, where we caught a combi - or collectivo. The combi concept is much like a bus - each person pays less than a private taxi ride, sharing the expense, but it is a minivan. This one took only the number of people who could fit in the seats. However, along the way, others were welcomed in if there was enough standing room. Luckily, it was not a busy hour, and we only had about 4 or 5 extra riders along the way to Ollantaytambo.

Although it had been drizzling throughout our journey, as soon as we alighted in the brick-paved central square, the rains got serious. It poured. We decided that then was a good time for lunch in a nearby restaurant. We ordered minimalist meals - the chicken sandwhich consisted of two slices of wonder bread with a slice of grilled chicken for five soles - and it came with a side of faux-Motley Cru blasted at near-deafening volume from the kitchen below. By the time we had eaten our lunch and listened to the best of no-name bands that cover famous heavy metal songs, the skies had cleared and were beckoning to us.

We walked the 400 yards to the entrance gate of the archeological site. It was right at the edge of the small town, with many colorful vendors lining the path. Up along the walls of what coud be called either a very small, very steep mountain or a very large rock, were terraces and stone structures leading up several hundred feet. We hiked up the ancient stairs while the sun generously warmed the backs of our necks. We climbed through the farming terraces and up to a temple for the sun where one wall appeared to be a single carved rock of about 20 feet long by 5 feet high and I don't know how thick. I looked down from the temple remains to see a small stadium filled with people - not tourists. An open-air concert or a party of some sort was going on in the modern town of Ollantaytambo below, despite the recent torrents of rain. But now the sun had evaporated half of the dark stains on the stone floor of the stadium and the umbrellas were put away.

A long, narrow path, lined with a 1-foot tall rock wall - apparantly put in place so that weary tourists would not plunge to their deaths 600 feet below - wound away from this face of the rock pinnacle, around the contours of the hillside to another group of structures and terraces. As I walked along it, I imagineed modern US standards for tripping hazards and thought this wall would qualify, making it as dangerous as if there were no wall at all.

The other face of the mountain held a few odd, parallelagram-like storage houses for grain. The mountain face was so steep that the wall of the house on the uphill side was about 5 feet tall, while the wall on the downhill side was more than 18 feet tall. As I peered in through what was probably an opening used for dumping grain into the silo-like facility, I caught a glimpse of the young Peruvian family who had preceeded us to this site. A man of about 22, his equally young wife and their three-year-old daughter were grouped in the corner of the dim, earth-floored facility. The woman was squatting down, I assumed to rest or to take in the view through one of the low windows on the downward side of the building. When I hiked around to the door through which, by then, they were just exiting, I discovered a small river of liquid staining the earth, its origin the place where the three had been grouped. The smell was not the fresh clean smell of rain.

Go figure: a people who claim in all of the cultural literature to respect the earth and live in tune with it, but who pee inside of national monuments instead of in the great outdoors (or in readily available toilets conveniently located at the nearby visitiors' center). In fact, I can't count the number of times I have seen someone urinating or deficating in public - man, woman and child. Mothers in the busy streets of Cusco often take down the pants of their young children and instruct them to poop right there in the street or gutter. Little boys, without guile, send their yellow arc over the public lawns they were just picnicing on moments earlier. Dog poop is everywhere: no one picks it up or sweeps it off of their own front walkways.

The new (to me) pervasiveness and public nature of this otherwise private and, by US standards, foul bodily process, flummoxed me. I thought again about what it means to be in touch with mother nature. Peeing and pooping is natural. Animals do it, people do it. When in the forest or countryside, animals and people alike do it where they happen to be. This custom appears to have followed Peruvians into their cities to some extent. At least people don't appear to think of it as much of a problem. These body processes are just another part of the natural world.

My musings aside, Ollantaytambo was beautiful, our favorite site out of all of them to date. Our ride home was via a rare (for us) taxi cab, and this driver knew how to get places fast. He passed every car and truck and bus on the road in front of us, bringing us back to Urubamba in record time. Matt and the girls returned to Cusco, while I took a separate bus to Calca to sleep another night at Rocio's. I had another appointment on Monday morning to finish up paperwork at the school.

On Monday, I took care of business and then wandered (slowly) up the very steep path from the school to the Pisac site entrance - a 150 yard journey that took me a good 5 minutes! There, I met my friendly park official.

Pisac was the only unpunched site on my Boleto Touristico, and here it was, one day past the ten-day period. I explained to the very patient guard that I was about to set up residence at the foot of that hill and would want to visit frequently. Eventually, I figured out what he was saying: he told me that I could enter the park for a reduced rate. I was grateful and expressed it gratuitously, then set out to see this last punch on my all-around tourist experience.

This hike was by far the most grueling, but the first segment was such a treat, with waterfalls and beautiful greenery, cows grazing on the Incan terraces and hummingbirds fluttering at flowers that I could actually name from my gardening days in Portland. The botanical similarities between the Cuscenian Andes and Portland are striking! This place is as pristine and lovely as any natural space in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Northwest (but sans cows). I sat on a sharpish rock at the edge of the trail, not feeling the ridges digging into my thighs, and looked out across a valley, lush and beautiful in its natural flood-prone state, but made even more satisfyingly bucolic with miniature red-tile rooftops laid out in grids and curves, far below. The juxtoposition of the untouched green, giant mountains over linear patterns of crops, curling into swaying, corn-colored brushstrokes along the contours of the mud-flush river, represented perfectly our place as humans in nature. The scene below me coelesced humanity, living in harmony with the earth; development dependent upon the land; and nature in her powerful and generous form, providing for creatures with two, four and more legs.

From high up, there is no poop on the street, no diesel exhaust, no overcrowded busses. With the roar of the Pisac cataract in my ears and the smell of sweet Black-Eyed Susans in my nostrils, Pisac was the crowning glory of my Boleto Touristico experience. The sun warmed me, the butterflies fluttered gently across my fingertips. And I had only just begun exploring the amazing and awesome site way high up on the rock against which the modern-day city of Pisac rests.

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