One question has been burning in my mind ever since starting this blog: How do you write about travel when you aren’t travelling? Although I try to travel as much as possible, the fact is that I am not a travel blogger and take off only a few times a year if I am lucky. While I do have upcoming travel plans, I won’t be away for a few more months. Faced with this problem, I’ve determined that the only solution is to go back in time and revisit the places that I have already been. So with that, I am going to start from the beginning. A “throwback Saturday series” if you will.
Back in 2013, my now husband and I went on our first backpacking trip. The destination: Peru. As an anthropologist, I naturally gravitate towards places of cultural importance and historical significance, so Machu Picchu was obviously a huge draw to the country. But we will talk about Machu Picchu another day.
The place I really want to write about first was my favourite in Peru. It is a little village with a not-so-little name: Ollantaytambo. Now, this was six years ago so I have to rely on pictures and memories, but I will try to do it justice.
Wikipedia has reminded me that Ollantaytambo is 72 km northwest of the city of Cusco, and is located in what is referred to as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Apparently the village is en route to one of the most common starting points for the famed Inca Trail hikes to Machu Picchu, but we were visiting in September and there were very few other tourists in the village.
Nestled into the valley, Ollantaytambo is surrounded by hills, mountains and impressive Inca ruins. When people think of Peru, I would guess that most automatically think of Machu Picchu. While it is an incredible site, there are fascinating and impressive ruins all over Peru that deserve attention as well. The two Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo are absolutely worth seeing, as they are not only massive but miraculously well preserved.
As much as I appreciated the ruins, my favourite part of Ollantaytambo was the village itself. In addition to being literally surrounded by centuries-old history, the village itself is a living, breathing historical relic. Ollantaytambo continues to survive on the original stones that it was built upon in the 13th century (!!). The narrow cobblestone streets are lined by homes and buildings that look straight out of…well…the 13th century. I also remember hearing a distinct sound everywhere we went: trickling water. Ollantaytambo has an extensive aqueduct system running alongside streets, transporting fresh water from the mountains throughout the village. It is amazing to me that this Inca invention continues to be useful to people centuries later.
As far as food, a couple places still stand out to me. The first is Hearts Cafe, where we had a lovely breakfast. Proceeds from the cafe go to supporting the health of children in the Sacred Valley, who I learned suffer hunger and nutritional deficiencies. Due to the remote location of many villages, environmental challenges, and high poverty, many disadvantaged families subsist solely on potatoes. I remember reading that in their menu to this day, and in the back of my mind I still imagine going back one day to get involved in nutrition health promotion programs in the area.
The second place that I remember is a restaurant called Puka Rumi because my husband and I shared a massive bowl of guacamole there. This guacamole was so good that we still bring it up six years later. How can something with so few ingredients be so hard to master on my own!?
Overall, what I remember most about Ollantaytambo is the peacefulness I felt being there. Although I am someone who hates being still for too long, being in this village just made me feel calm and at home. I am thankful that we made it a destination, rather than a place to pass through, and would definitely recommend that anyone traveling in Peru spent at least a night in this sleepy village.
Stay: Mama Simone Hostel
Eat: Hearts Cafe, Puka Rumi.