Moving on to Calca

This morning when I asked for breakfast, Pierina told me that it wasn’t included in the price of the room, which I had understood it to be. Consequently, I had a slight disagreement with her as I felt that she was already charging excessively. I had heard her mother telling someone yesterday that the single room price was 30 soles and the double 50. I was paying the equivalent of 80 soles through Airbnb. According to her, I got extra services for the price, these being a blanket and a bar of soap! I might not have been quite so annoyed if I had not just stayed around the corner for the same price and had a private bathroom, probably the best breakfast I had so far had in Peru, and wifi, none of which were included here. It is a lot of extra to pay for the privilege of staying in an old Inca room!

View from my balcony in Calca
View from my balcony in Calca

I packed up and left without breakfast. I was lucky enough to get a collectivo headed for Urubamba straight away and then a bus to Calca that was just pulling out from the collectivo station. Consequently, I arrived in Calca by 11am. Once there, I hoisted my far too heavy pack and walked up to David and Mabel’s house, where I had booked a room, buying a croissant and bread along the way.

On arrival, I was shown to my accommodation and then sat and chatted to them in their very attractive and private garden for quite some while. He is American and she Peruvian and they have two small children, who are younger than his grandchildren back in the States.

The garden in Calca
The garden in Calca

They were going to lunch at a cafe down the road and Mabel invited me to join them, which I did, and had a very delicious ceviche. After lunch, I trailed after them to the plaza where we all had ice cream and then I left them in peace. I had to go to the ‘supermarket’ (mini store with 2 small isles) for the basics of wine, water, milk and cereal, and then the fruit, vegetable and everything else market for avocados. The market was thronging, it being Sunday, and there was not another gringo in sight!

Calca people, so far, have been very friendly, almost going out of their way to try and catch my eye to say ‘Buenos Dias/Tardes’, which makes a very pleasant change. I think I have got a bit travel weary lately and fed up with being regarded as a cash cow.

The gardens in Plaza de Armas
The gardens in Plaza de Armas
The street from the house to the main plaza in Calca
The street from the house to the main plaza in Calca

Back at the house, I attempted to connect to the internet before giving up and joining the others in watching Peru lose to Brazil in the Copa America. (No, not rugby, but soccer!) The others were Tim and Jill from the Netherlands, Bill from the States, (all guests), a couple of David and Mabel’s Peruvian friends and 3 small children, who got a little excited, so it was all quite cosmopolitan.

Once the game was finished, I retired to my room, having declined to watch the X Men!

Lazier and lazier

I had a somewhat spartan breakfast of bread, jam and instant coffee with a late offering of some sweet bread. Afterwards, I sat on the deck reading until I had finished the book, by which time Lauren and Jason had appeared, so I spent a bit more time chatting to them. It appears they have a few mental health issues in their respective families with one bi-polar mother, who provided an entertaining childhood, and one schizophrenic brother who caused many problems.

One of the main streets in Ollantaytambo
One of the main streets in Ollantaytambo

When they went to work at 2 o’clock, I decided it was about time I motivated myself to do some thing so went for lunch at the 8 soles cafe. It wasn’t brilliant but perfectly reasonable for the price. Whilst I was eating, one of the local guides came in for lunch and proceeded to tell me about his tours, in a mixture of Spanish and English, to some of the Andean communities in the area. A 4 hour car tour was $90 so I politely declined! It seems to me that the locals in this area certainly know how to exploit the tourists.

Traffic in Ollantaytambo
Traffic in Ollantaytambo

After lunch I visited the Choco Museum where Lauren and Jason were working. To be fair, I only went to taste the chocolates and have coffee and a brownie. The museum, such as it was, didn’t really feature on my agenda! I also tried to use the wifi but, as per usual, it was very slow.

Table set up for a birthday party in the Sacred Heart cafe
Table set up for a birthday party in the Sacred Heart cafe

Next stop was for another coffee but this time at the Sacred Heart, where they know how to make it without drowning it in milk. I wasted time there for a while before having a short wander, visit to the market and then back to the room. It was a decidedly lazy and uninspiring day!

Nothing like a good book!

Some extremely loud Americans woke me up this morning. My room is on the ground floor next to the reception area and I have now heard a lot of American children but have never actually sighted them. Apparently, they were all off to Machu Picchu today, hence the early start.

I had wanted to stay an extra night or two in Ollantaytambo but, unfortunately, this guest house was full, so I had booked another Airbnb place. Consequently, I had to pack up and move this morning. My new room is in the old Inca part of town, where the buildings are all made of stone and there are narrow, pedestrian streets, most of which have channels of water, built by the Incas, running down them.

The courtyard of my accommodation
The courtyard of my accommodation

My room is very pleasant and Pierina had put candles in the niches that the Incas used for ornaments and there were 2 Peruvian chocolates on the pillow. The bathroom is outside and fairly basic, so, for the same price that I had been paying, I was getting a lot less. I found out afterwards, that had I not booked through Airbnb I would have paid about 1/3rd of the price and, if I was Peruvian, even less. I was not impressed!

My reading corner on the verandah
My reading corner on the verandah
Cacti growing out of the roof?
Cacti growing out of the roof?

My lack of motivation to do anything continued so I sat on the balcony and read for a while until an English couple, Jason and Lauren, returned from their work at the Chocolate Museum and I had a long chat to them. They were pleased to exchange the book I had finished for one of theirs. I realised I had already read it when I was about a quarter of the way through but, by that time, was well into the story and kept reading.

I eventually went out again at about 3pm, sat in the Sacred Heart Cafe (some of whose profits go towards one of the projects assisting women and children) and had a sandwich whilst applying for more housesits. Afterwards, I went for a walk down to the railway station, hoping that I could do a loop around the town, but it was a dead end street so I had to turn around and come back again, accompanied by scores of buses and mini vans who were dropping off and picking up tourists from the station.

Then it was back to the room for a bit more reading before going out for a drink in the early evening. The bar was too noisy for me though so I didn’t stay long before returning to my room, where I continued with the book until bedtime. There is nothing like a good book!!

A walk along the river

The guest house seems to be full of Americans. At breakfast today, I was talking to 2 University Professors of Nursing who were here to set up a programme for students to come and stay for a month next year to assist with Community Health and Education. There seem to be a number of organisations and projects here that are trying to help Andean women, in particular, as they have especially harsh living and climatic conditions to contend with in the mountains.

One of the main streets in Ollantaytambo
One of the main streets in Ollantaytambo
Motor bikes obviously don't count as vehicles on the Inca Bridge!
Motor bikes obviously don’t count as vehicles on the Inca Bridge!

Having been given the password for a faster internet service, I then spent the morning updating the blog and applying for more housesits. Wifi internet in Ollantaytambo is notoriously slow and therefore frustrating. Outside of the guest house, most of the cafes advertise wifi but the service is no faster. It is just how Ollantaytambo is!

I eventually went outside and walked along to the Inca Bridge over the river and then along the river on the other side. The path climbed steadily upwards and I was afforded good views of Ollantaytambo in one direction and the glaciers (under the clouds) in the other. I intended to walk to the first Mirador or lookout but, for some reason, my legs were feeling like lead and I was noticing the effects of the altitude, so didn’t quite make it.

The river from the Inca Bridge
The river from the Inca Bridge

Back in town, I went to the same cafe as yesterday for lunch. The service was still good as was the food and I could watch all the people streaming up and down the steps of the ruins. It seems that the afternoons are when all the tour groups visit.


I stayed in my room then for the rest of the day. I hadn’t slept well at all last night and didn’t feel like going out again. Having bought an avocado at the market place, I had sufficient food so half heartedly watched some really bad television and read for the rest of the evening.

Clouds hanging over the snowy mountain tops
Clouds hanging over the snowy mountain tops

Americans, men dressed in red and yet more ruins

Local lady resting her load in Ollantaytambo
Local lady resting her load in Ollantaytambo

I got up fairly late and had the best breakfast I have had for some time. Henry even made proper coffee and not the normal Peruvian variety, which is a thick, strong syrup to which hot water and evaporated milk is added. I had to have two! Whilst eating, I started talking to an American lady on another table. She was travelling with her 16 year old granddaughter. Apparently, as her husband didn’t like travelling, she had taken her 7 grandchildren on trips of their choice when they turned 16. Consequently, she had visited places, such as Ghana and Peru, that she would never have chosen herself.

Looking down on part of the Ollantaytambo ruins
Looking down on part of the Ollantaytambo ruins

Her granddaughter eventually appeared and I had a long conversation with her as well, after the grandmother had returned to their room. From this, I learned a lot about growing up in Utah as a non Mormon (you don’t have many friends!), about Utah itself (very varied scenery and excellent for outdoor activities) and about her plans for the future (Double Major in Psychology and Sociology, followed by a Masters in Maths and a career as a Psycho Pharmacologist, studying the effects of drugs on children with such conditions as ADHD.) I was impressed with how well she had planned out her life. She was also a homebody but wanted to travel, which was a little paradoxical.

My tourist ticket for the sights of Cusco and the Sacred Valley expired today so my first port of call had to be the ruins of Ollantaytambo. These had the usual terraces, water fountains and a view up the valley in both directions. I made the mistake of passing a comment to a Peruvian/American who seemed to be struggling to climb the steps. He was short, fat, on his own, retired and dressed entirely in red. He became familiar very quickly, pointed out his shiny new car in the car park far below and seemed to think that, as I was on my own as well, I would welcome the opportunity to walk around with him. Needless to say, I didn’t and made my escape.

View from the main Ollantaytambo ruins
View from the main Ollantaytambo ruins
View of Ollantaytambo and the valley from the ruins
View of Ollantaytambo and the valley from the ruins

However, having wandered around the ruins, sat on top and admired the view, I then encountered him again at the bottom. Consequently, I was forced to climb another mountain in order to avoid lunch with him. (Note to self: do not make flippant comments to strange men, dressed in red and sitting on Inca terraces, unless they are Father Christmas!)

Terraces at Ollantaytambo
Terraces at Ollantaytambo
Roof construction is very different here
Roof construction is very different here
Old Inca walls in the old part of town
Old Inca walls in the old part of town

I strolled around the old Inca part of Ollantaytambo until I found the steps up to the ruins on the opposite side of the valley. I had studied the track from the main ruins but was still unprepared for the steepness and narrowness of it.

Normally, I do not suffer too much from vertigo but definitely prefer to have more than a foot wide path between me and a sheer drop! It was not a comfortable climb. However, I reached the top and the ruins appeared to cling to the mountain side very precariously. I kept well back from the edge.

The ruins clinging to the side of the mountain that are reached by a vertical path
The ruins clinging to the side of the mountain that are reached by a vertical path

Having arrived, I immediately forgot my previous note to self and made a comment to another strange man who appeared. However, he wasn’t dressed all in red and did have a wife with him. They turned out to be Australians, although he was of Polish extraction. His father had been the Polish Ambassador in Mexico and Cuba when he was a child and consequently he was fluent in Spanish. And French (half French mother). And Russian (learned in school). And English. And, of course, Polish. How I envy people that can speak multiple languages but I don’t think that is ever likely to happen for me now. I had a very interesting conversation with them and ended up with an invitation to stay at their home, 100kms north of Sydney, whenever I liked. Of course, the invitation was reciprocated.

Ruins blending well into the rocks
Ruins blending well into the rocks

I sat and admired the view for a while and summoned up the courage to descend. There was a turn off to another part of the ruins, which I hoped would be easier. It was, marginally, in places, but I was still very relieved to be back on the flat. I don’t know how those Incas built where they did but you would think that if they had such good building skills they could have made better access tracks!

It was nearly 4pm by this time and I was starving. I found another restaurant that, while not as cheap as last night’s, was still good value and I had a 3 course lunch and freshly made lemonade with a view of the ruins. There seemed to be many more people clambering over the steps now so I was glad that I had gone this morning. Afterwards, I went to another cafe for a coffee before wandering back to my room to try and use the internet. This is diabolical, particularly on my ipad for some reason, and, as I wanted to apply for more housesits and book accommodation, I went to a bar, which, of course had Happy Hour, and had a couple of pisco sours whilst waiting for the web pages to load. Ollantaytambo has very bad internet in the whole town.

I didn’t bother with dinner this evening as I had had such a late lunch so, after my drinks, I returned to my room and read for a while before bed.

Lazy days

I have had a couple of very lazy days. On Monday, I spent most of the morning tucked under the duvet (for the room was very cold), researching and planning what to do next. I have decided that I have had enough of developing countries for a while and didn’t want to be on the move all the time. Consequently, I made a lot of applications for housesits and booked a flight to Madrid for the end of June. Hopefully, something will come of the applications and I don’t just receive messages that say they have hundreds of applicants and I am not on the short list!

My room was at the far end of the balcony and round the corner
My room was at the far end of the balcony and round the corner
The red flag indicates chicha is for sale
The red flag indicates chicha is for sale

In the afternoon, I took a collectivo into Izcuchaca in search of food, there being a limited choice in Huaracondo. Basically, if you don’t like roast pork, there isn’t anything! I had a little wander around the busy town, bought bread, avocados and cake and caught a collectivo back.

The collectivos are always entertaining. I just wish I had enough Spanish to understand the conversations, although, at one point this afternoon, the accent was so strong that I wondered if they were actually speaking Spanish or whether it was Quechua! (It was Spanish, I decided in the end.) As usual, I had dinner on my lap and watched television with Lyle for a while. It was just like being at home.

Corn and quinoa drying on the patio
Corn and quinoa drying on the patio

On Tuesday, I had every good intention of going for a walk but that didn’t happen either. I haven’t felt like doing very much on either day and came to the conclusion that this was because I have been quite busy lately and haven’t had a day of doing nothing for some time. I obviously needed a break and Huaracondo was a good place to have one.

Looking over the wall at the house next door!
Looking over the wall at the house next door!
The neighbour's yards at the back
The neighbour’s yards at the back
Quinoa ready to be harvested
Quinoa ready to be harvested

I spent some time on the phone and then sat and read on the elevated patio (for want of a better word, although it was more like a platform with a table and bench seats). At about 4pm, we set off for Ollantaytambo where I was staying for a few days and from where Lyle had to pick up another guest.

The drive was beautiful, on a back road that cut off Izcuchaca and Poroy and emerged on the main road past Chinchero. It is an agricultural area so there were large areas of quinoa, in various stages of growth, and a variety of grain plantings. The road was quite rutted and the drive was much more attractive than going along the main road.

On the back road
On the back road

Lyle dropped me off as near to my accommodation as possible and I was warmly greeted by Henry and his wife, who both, I realised after I had struggled with my Spanish for a while, spoke English. It was still just about light when I arrived so I had a short stroll around town, which is extremely touristy, as it houses the main train station to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu.

Lake Huaypo
Lake Huaypo

I had been looking forward to a pisco sour and, as several of the bars were offering Happy Hour (price obviously fixed!), I adjourned to the nearest one to the guest house and sat and read whilst enjoying my drinks. There was only one other person there, so I felt quite comfortable. I think I will make it a mission to sample the various pisco sours in town to see which bar makes the best!

Afterwards, I walked up the street to find somewhere to eat. All the tourist places were more than I was prepared to pay but I found a Peruvian restaurant in a back street and had a good 2 course dinner and tea for 8 soles (as opposed to the 20 – 30 soles for a main course that the others were charging). I ordered chicken but apparently they had run out, so I was offered ‘dulca’ instead. Not having the slightest idea what this was, I agreed. I was served fish and chips with rice. Dulca must be the local name for trout. This was preceded by an excellent bowl of soup. The only others in the cafe were a Peruvian family, which is just how I like it.