Tuesday, October 04, 2016

15 in the Peruvian Andes – Ollantay Tampu

When we arrived to Ollantaytambo (Ollantay Tampu in Quechua, and Ollanta when anyone felt it was just too long to pronounce), the van had to leave us just outside the city, as there was a celebration going on because of the national day (which had turned into a multiple day thing). There were numerous schools, bands, a template in the middle of the square where speeches were being given in Spanish and translated into Quechua (how cool is that!)...

So, right at our arrival, a taste of culture!

The town

Ollanta is probaby the prettiest town we stayed at (we spent some 3 days there). I think I can honestly say I liked it way more than even Cusco. It's from just before the Spanish conquest, and it preserves numerous ancient Inca dwellings, it even seems it qualifies as having some of the oldest inhabited dwellings in the continent! 

Here we were at just 2,792m above sea level, way below Cusco. Not that it made any difference to us, but I kept checking the altitude of the different places we were at.

But back to the town. The oldest part, where we were staying, was a grid of narrow, cobblestone streets, a few of them with tiny canals in the middle or deeper ones (with gushing, freezing cold water running through), slanting walls, heavy solid blocks of stone, gorgeous doors... Honestly, you could come to Ollanta just for the old part of town itself. You've never seen anything like this in your life!

Our hotel

And since I mentioned our hotel... We stayed at the Parwa Guest House. First off, I had mentioned we were visiting because of our anniversary – I mean, these are really special trips for me, I love dropping that info, and sometimes it is useful just to double-check if the owners have anything against same-sex couples. But what this triggered was a heart made from rose petals on our bed! Corny? Maybe. But given the place? Totally romantic! We loved it!

But also, I had read the room had mountain views. What it failed to mention – how on earth could they forget to mention this! – was that it was views of the mountains where the ruins were! We actually had views of the town's ruins! Gorgeous views of fantastic ruins!!!

I mean, look at this early morning sight! 

The views

And those were just the views from our huge second-floor windows. Just by walking around town you'd turn a corner and there you'd have it, another sight of mountains and ruins. 'Cause Ollanta is right in the middle of the valley, there's ruins on both sides, and a river nearby. This was a magical place.

The people

Yes, I'm attempting to cover everything about Ollanta in a single post. Sorry! 

So, you had nature, you had ruins, you had an ancient wonderfully preserved town. What else? Well, of course, the inhabitants! As in Cusco, you also had people dressed specifically to charge for a photo. But you also had people traditionally dressed just because that's how they dressed and went about their daily life, right? So colourful!

The food

Naturally, the culinary exploration had to go on! I was on a mission to try everything I could! I mean, if I was putting veganism on hold to experience new stuff, I'd better make good use of that break, right? And bar one single foul experience (more on that below), it was unbelievably good!

We had ceviche, which is raw fish – in this case, mountain trout – cooked by lime juice, with onion, ají (Peruvian chile), accompanied by sweet potato. It was impossibly delicious. I never thought I could enjoy ceviche this much.

We had more anticuchos (skewers), with beef heart, alpaca, veggies... Again, super tasty, cooked to perfection...

We had another fish and sweet potato combination, I think it was called envuelto, with trout wrapped around a sweet potato filling, with cheese on top.

And... to finish the super delicious Ollanta food tour: alpaca filled ravioli with an ají sauce. Superb!

Now, we soon realized it was not just that Peruvian food was indeed out of this world, but that we had been really lucky in choosing a very good place in Ollanta for all the dishes I mentioned above: Uchucuta. Because on a different night we decided to give cuy (Guinea pig) a try. Now, Uchucuta did have cuy, but only whole ones, and we thought that was too much food for us. So we went to another place which offered half cuys. Huge mistake. This was probably the only awful meal we had in our two weeks in Peru. The mashed-whatever was meh-to-yuck, the cuy looked horrible sliced in half, the meat was slightly rubbery... Sure, the aesthetics didn't help, but the taste was just not good, especially after comparing with heavenly Uchucuta. But at least we tried, right?

Now, no, we didn't eat cow head, but we went to the local market, and amongst the colourful corn varieties and the countless kinds of potato, we came across this. And how could we not take a picture? And I'm sure this must have made it to some very tasty broth! (there, that last comment sealed my excommunication from the vegan community, for eternity)

The night

Finally (well, at least when it comes to the town, I haven't talked about the ruins yet! nor about some nearby sites!) there was the night. This was the first time in Peru I saw the Milky Way. Can you imagine wandering around this ancient town, through its old narrow streets, and looking up and seeing an arch of stars all across the sky? It was awe-inspiring. It was unbeatable, being able to see such a wonderful display of nature standing right there, in Ollantaytambo...

Like I said, I'm not done with this part of Peru. But really, if there was nothing else, if you couldn't climb up the ruins, it would still be so worth visiting this magical, beautiful place.

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