Where Mortals Feared to Tread
Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, is one of those Peruvian towns you immediately recognise as having good vibes. It happened as our group crossed the busy, colourful square and single-lane rickety bridge to find our accommodation. However, as much as the town intrigued me, I was by now seriously troubled with stomach cramps and diarrhea that had started as we departed Cusco, leaving me weak and with a hot and cold fever. In the middle of the afternoon I went to bed and stayed there until the next day – a full 17 hours.
Earlier our group had stopped in the town of Shio on the way to Ollantaytambo, where we were invited into the courtyard of a local house where all the women weave and dye llama and sheep wool. The demonstration was presented by one of two teenage sisters whose English was extremely good; she even cracked a few (in)appropriate sheep jokes. As she explained, all the traditional designs and techniques are passed down from mother to daughter – and if you’re wondering – they were all of a similar short stature and looked alike. Traditions are strong, and like all before them, their patterns are committed to memory, with dyes sourced from nothing but plants, leaves, seeds, cactus beetles and black corn.
In Ollantaytambo, in the early light of a Peruvian morning I slipped out of the Hotel Tika Wasi alone, still feeling delicate and with slight stomach cramps, and into a side entrance of the town’s nearby Inca ruins. It was almost deserted as I wandered alone through pre-Inca and Inca ruins dating back more than 500 years. As the Inca Empire expanded it became normal for the Incas to build adjacent to or on the foundations of pre-Inca buildings.
After breakfast our assembled group headed off on a steep, rubble strewn trail hiking up to the roofless