Friday, July 3, 2009

Life in Ollantaytambo

We began our first full day in Ollantaytambo learning about regional history at the local museum. Our home base for nine days, Ollantaytambo (or Ollanta, as the locals refer to it) is today a town of 2,000 inhabitants whose history is disproportionate to its size. Ollanta functioned as an important agricultural production and storage centre during Inca times, serving the large urban population in nearby Cuzco, capital of the Inca Empire. In addition, it was (and still is) a stop-over on the route between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, and its temple/fortress served a defensive role when necessary. Ollanta is famous as the site of a rare Inca victory in a battle against the Spanish Conquistadors in 1537. Today the town is known as the “living Inca city” because little of the its layout and character has changed since Inca times. After finishing up in the museum, we spent the rest of the day exploring the Inca-era streets in On Assignment groups.

On Sunday we switched our walking gear for wetsuits and spent the morning rafting down the Urubamba River. The Urubamba winds its way through the Sacred Valley, past Ollanta and Machu Picchu before ending in the Amazon! We didn`t make it that far, but we had a great time navigating Class 2 and 3 rapids and getting to know our local guides. After a sunny river side picnic lunch we again spent the afternoon in On Assignment groups, photographers solidifying their manual camera skills and archaeologists taking a preliminary look at Ollanta’s famous Inca ruins.

On Monday we were lucky to be in town to witness Ollanta Raymi, a local festival featuring a performance at the Inca ruins. The performance included over 450 local participants dressed in traditional costumes to re-enact the story of the Inca general Ollanta’s doomed love for the daughter of the Inca King. Photographers were thrilled to get a chance to cover such a colourful event while Archaeology students were lucky to get a chance to see how the locals interpret and have pride in their Inca heritage.

In the afternoon we had our first meeting with Peter Frost, our National Geographic Expert. He arrived with an Andean shaman who blessed our journey by burning a package of local goods as an offering to Pachamama. Our final activity of the day was listening to Peter introduce us to the history of Peru and of the Inca Empire. His presentation was a great overview and gave us a lot to talk with him about over dinner.

Tuesday morning we again met up with Peter, this time for a tour of the Inca ruins. It was a treat to be able to be shown around this complicated and mysterious site by such a knowledgeable expert! When we finished exploring the ruins Peter walked us through town and showed us to a Chicharia – a house where local women brew a popular concoction made of fermented corn. Though Peter was the only one whose stomach was strong enough to try it, we appreciated the opportunity to see inside a local home and to learn about the chicha making process. Inspired by our visit with our expert, we spent the rest of the day working on our On Assignment projects.

One of the interesting features of Ollantaytambo is that Inca-era canals still run through and around the town. Though a fine example of Inca ingenuity, the canals require regular maintenance and cleaning so we thought it only appropriate to incorporate the canals into part of our community service component. We were impressed by our students' willingness to get dirty in order to give back to the community! The students pulled a lot of plastic out of the water and were reminded of the importance of limiting our use of plastic bags and bottles.

Having spent the morning hard at work, we were rewarded with an afternoon soccer game at the local field. The group was proud to introduce the game of yoga ball soccer to Peru, which was fittingly chaotic and hilarious and attracted a huge crowd of local kids who were all too happy to join in the fun!

We have a lot to look forward to in the next couple of days, including a day trip to a textile centre in Chinchero and helping to paint a local school here in Ollanta!

Hasta Luego

-Lindsay and Michael