The small and truly ancient town of Ollantaytambo was an unexpected joy. The tight alleyway grid of the old town is at the bottom of steep sided slopes up to Inkan ruins on both sides of the settlement. The town was originally laid out six hundred years past as a mid-sized agricultural community and temple site. Remarkably for the age, the residential zone was cleverly equipped with a water management system that diverted the nearby river course into a series of small street canals which provided highly efficient water supply and drainage. The valley bottom was intensely cultivated taking advantage of the same water source while the sharply rising slopes were terraced with the nearest mountain culminating in a sun temple at the summit. The ruins are still formidable installations relying on massive stones precisely carved and fit. They have withstood five centuries of weathering and earthquakes and remain imposing testimonials to the skill of those who crafted them. Though considerably more modest in form and elevation than the towering 400m ruins of Machu Pitchu, Ollantaytambo is a living town that is home to 2000+ residents (and on any given day thousands of passers-by). The townsfolk live busy lives in their beautiful mountain valley building on the foundations and paved streets that their ancestors laid down prior to contact with Europeans.
We had decided to stay in the charming town for several days, resting from constant travel and enjoying the laid back feeling of a much smaller community. Cusco, though dense with museums, pretty streets, impressive churches and restaurants lacked the quiet and human scale smaller towns offer. On that note, Ollanta proved to be entirely in synch with our hopes. We were treated with warm hospitality and kindness. We were especially touched by the efforts extended by staff in our hotel to assist us securing a suitable proxy for birthday cake on the occasion of our daughter’s 14th birthday. She was feeling a bit blue on the anniversary of her emergence into this world given that the her birthday was always a BIG event at home. Here, there would be no friends, no cross city treasure hunt and almost certainly no hefty gifts, given our need to keep our luggage at a severe minimum. As a result, it was really touching when Tatianna, the ever efficient and helpful hotel manager, immediately understood our desire for a birthday cake and literally took us by the hand to the nearest bakery and helped us purchase a suitable torte (as cake is known in Peru). Armed with baked goods and candles we now just needed some wrapping paper for the small locally made item we found for a keepsake gift. After trying to purchase this exotic item and being shown writing paper, newspaper and toilet paper it was a wonderful feeling when Tatianna jumped in to assist and within moments had secured wrapping paper from the small bodega next door. With pleasant wee gifts in hand and tasty cake to consume the modest birthday event made us all feel warm and happy to be tucked away in a lovely valley surrounded by enchanting ancient cliff faces and kind hearted people.