Ollantaytambo to Socma

Trip Start Oct 01, 2009
Trip End Oct 27, 2009

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Sunday, October 18, 2009

Good morning world, it's the morning after my first night in a tent at high altitude.  I was warned the night before by Ben (one of the medics) that one of the common symptoms of altitude sickness was restless sleep and did I know it this morning, 12 times I woke up in the night feeling like it was morning just to find that I had been asleep for only 20 - 30 minutes.  Another excellent experience of altitude was the need to wee, apparently your body flushes out more at altitude, so it was a joy to make my way across a dark campsite 3 times throughout the night to go to the loo.  Anyway I am not feeling negative, in fact I feel on top of the world (this have something to do with the amount of coca candy I had eaten to prevent altitude sickness), it was 4am and I could see a faint light in the distance, beyond the vast mountains, it was the beginning of sunrise, I laid in my sleeping bag for a while before waking Dee with my movements.  When she woke she also said that she had a bad nights sleep but felt good, it was at this time the child in us came out...  It was now 4:15, the perfect time for a sleeping bag fight we thought, the aim was to wrestle each other without the use of our hand, it was so funny, rolling about and giggling until we realised that others in the group may still be asleep and ended the game with a childish gleam in our eyes.

It was now 4:30 am and the distant light beyond the mountains was getting brighter, we decided that we wanted to go down to sit on some rocks and watch the full sunrise, we sat there for a few minutes and then the sky became a spectrum of colour, first a dull blue, then yellow, then orange and finally a full flash of red, it was amazing, the dark black silhouette of mountains framing the fiery sky.  I snapped a couple of shots and drank in the beauty of my surroundings, I could hear the rushing water below, where a river wound it's way through the valley, "WOW, life is so good".  The sky remained multi-coloured for around 10 minutes after which it was replaced with the most magnificent blue.

It was now 5am and the rest of the group began to rise from their tents, the first Sarah, came over to myself and Dee and said you guys were up early, we smiled and told her the story of the amazing sunrise, she was gutted to have just missed it, but she was then treated to the appearance of a small hummingbird flying amongst the trees below.  I am sat there thinking to myself how different this is to the UK, how wonderful everything was and how appreciative I was to be in Peru.

After breakfast (around 8am) we headed off on our second trek, this was to be a short 1 hour journey down the mountainside to the main road, again we passed a few mud huts and watched the local farmers collect in some crops, using only primitive tools, replacing tractors and trucks with machetes and horses, a very humbling sight but this was not to be my last taste of life without machines and materialistic technology.

We arrived at the main road and were loaded on to 2 buses for a short 15 minute transfer to Ollantaytambo, it would be here that we would have our first chance to take a look at some Inca ruins and learn a little about this lost civilisation.

In Ollantaytambo we were lead as a group to the entrance of the ruins, a huge complex of terraces and buildings stretching high up on the mountainside.  We were split in to 2 groups, the Puma's and the Condor's to make the experience less crowded, I was to be a Puma, something I quite liked, it had a good ring to it.  We walked amongst the ruins for a couple of hours, climbing very steep terraces and walking along exceptionally high paths, not good if you have a fear of heights, and until this point I did, but very quickly I realised that if I was to enjoy this trip I needed to get over this and get over it fast.

The ruins were spectacular, they did not look like they had been vacated for hundreds of years, some of them appeared only need a little repair work (such as having a roof) and they would then be habitable.  We wandered around fountains that had been channelled through hard rocks creating bathing areas, obviously there was a level of etiquette in Inca times as there were separate areas for men and women, these areas were clearly marked with symbolic rock shapes, for women there were 2 bulges in the fountains representing the breasts and for men there was one bulge representing the penis.  Basic and yet very easy to understand, not too far from the pictures we now see to distinguish male and female toilets...   (ok I might be pushing it here).

As we walked around, the realisation of how magical this place really was came when the guide (Max) advised us that all the rocks had been carried approx 3 miles, from one side of the valley to the other, without the use of wheels.  No one knows how the Inca's managed to move huge rocks around, transfer them across rivers and raise them up hundreds of meters, however they did it and with true craftsmanship. 

Surrounding the site there were many natural wonders, the very reason the Inca's had settled in Ollantaytambo, on one rock face there was a natural image of a god (sorry I can't remember the name of the god), who was said to look over the crops and protect them.  There was also a huge area that had many platforms carved in to the granite, above this there was a natural rock formation that appeared to look like a condor, a sacred animal to the Inca's.

This place is so well preserved as are many of the Inca ruins, it is well worth a visit.

Following on from the ruins we were then treated to a visit to a traditional Peruvian house.  The first thought when I walked in was "oh my god, how do they live like this?" The room was dark, sooty and smelt of smoke, there were dozens of guinea pigs (a local delicacies) running around the floor, corns hanging from the ceiling and a young boy peeling potato's in the corner.  After a few minutes I begin to realise that these people had everything they needed in one room, they didn't need large open spaces filled with plasma tv's, PS3's, dishwashers etc, they were content with what they had and who was I to be judging them.

After the house we were then given some free time before setting off on our second trek of the day.  We wandered around the town of Ollantaytambo where there a few shops selling Peruvian goods, mostly hats, blankets and bags, I stocked up on coca sweets in preparation for the increasing altitude we would face over the coming days and set off with Dee for a cup of real coffee, we knew this would be our last chance for a few days.

Once our free time was over and just after we jumped back on the bus and headed for the start of our trek, we witnessed the most bizarre sight, a dog came strolling by with a monkey clinging to it's back, there appeared to be no owner of the dog and they were just happily walking around, it was very funny and very strange, if it had not been for the pictures I took I may have thought that I had eaten one too many coca sweets or drank one to many cups of coca tea. 

After approximately 20 minutes of leaving Ollantaytambo we arrived at Puente Pacher where were dropped off at the side of a river and told this is where we would eat lunch.  This was also the first time we would see our toilet facilities for the next few days, as I said in yesterdays blog the luxury of a flushing toilet was now a thing of the past.  There were 2 small tents and inside white plastic buckets lined with a plastic bag, that was our loo for the duration of the trek.  Anyway enough of that I am sure that you can picture how awful it was for yourself.  We were then treated to lunch, the best I could say was slop! it was a nice curdled cheese, egg and potato mix with a portion of plain rice, I can tell that your taste buds are going crazy at the thought of it.  I ate a small amount and decided that at the moment I had enough energy to complete the day, or at least until meal time without subjecting myself to it.

Lunch over, on with the trekking.  We now had a steep climb up to Socma, a small (very small) isolated village high up in the mountains, there was a good vibe in the air and the energy levels were high.  We started at an altitude of 2,600 meters and would make our way up to 3,200 meters, it was a tough challenge and the effects of height were beginning to take effect on some of the group, some struggled for breath and others felt like their heads were going to explode.  All the group carried on up the thin path into the mountains and amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.  

After an hour or so heading up we came across a group of men and boys making adobe (mud) bricks for the building of a new house, it was fascinating to watch, they literally took the earth, mixed it with water, straw and some form of cactus and moulded it into large bricks, it looked like large versions of mud pies that you would make as a child, however these guys were using them to make their homes. 

Another hour of walking what felt like directly up at times went by and we arrived at a small school with the welcome sight of our yellow domed tents ready for us to take residence for the night, it's amazing how attached you can become to these things in such a short period of time.  Everyone in the group felt the exertion of the relatively short walk, but believe me nothing at altitude is easy, taking one step feels like walking ten and every gulp of air feels like your face is being covered by a pillow, it is a strange feeling and yet one that is rewarding, you know that you have achieved something.

After arriving at camp and regaining our energy we had some free time before dinner, a group of us decided to use this to explore the village of Socma.  Now when I say village please do not picture anything like you would see in the UK, this was more like 5 or 6 houses sprawn across the mountains, no roads and no electricity.  As we walked through the village we were met by donkeys, pigs and horses, all roaming freely and without a care for our invasion on their space.  The buildings were very basic, all made out of the mud bricks with the exception of the local church that had been treated to a lick of white paint.  It was an exciting and humbling experience to be someone that was so far removed from the western way of living we were all so used to.  To sum it up there were 2 young girls standing on a rock, huddled together in a brightly coloured blanket, they looked so cold and yet so happy, they smiled for the group as nearly all of us grabbed our camera's to take pictures of the locals.  The point was they were happy, you could see it and they had all they needed, it was us that had it wrong, wanting more and more and more.  Life in the mountains is not about keeping up with the Jones', it was about living, taking from the land and giving back in return, it was about community and working together, everyone looking after each other and this was shown as one of the girls wrapped the blanket tightly around the other to keep her warm.  Visiting such places is good for the soul, it is cleansing and I knew at that time it was just the medicine I needed.

The final part of this day was natures own gift to us all, we were treated to a lightening storm, this was awesome, moving and a perfect end to the day.  Watching the flashes in the sky, lighting up the mountains and creating patterns out of the scattered clouds was memorable and a most fitting way to say good night.

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Sarah J on

That sunrise picture is my most favouritest picture in the world ever !!!
This is so fab you should write a book - I'll do your proof reading for you !! xx

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