…a breakfast of oats & quinoa with a mug of coffee in the plaza at Ollantaytambo sorted me out well for the climb back up out of the Sacred Valley… 20km gentle climb back up-river by way of a warm-up to the scruffy little cross-roads town of Urabamba and then a further 30km of steep switchbacks that took me all the way back up to 3900m ASL. My plan was to go only as far as Chinchero, 50km from Ollantaytambo.. I was there in less than three hours just in time for a lunch of steak (of what I am not sure…), rice and chips :-)
The climb from Urabamba was superb, starting off through switchbacks cut deep into the pink rock of the mountainside it eventually opened out into heavily farmed countryside.. the hillsides a patchwork of small-holdings backed by the mighty peaks of the Cordillera Vilcanota.
I had good legs and with a healthy dose of adrenalin thanks to the fabulous location I pretty much flew up the climb, only really feeling the altitude and the steepness once higher than around 3600m I suppose.. I did enjoy the climb on my relatively lightly loaded bike but also not really envying Pete who went in the opposite direction to me in his bid to get to Machu Picchu via the back door.. i.e by bike.. while I was enjoying myself up the climb from Urabamba he would have been slogging his way up to the 4315m Abra Malaga… and welcome to it I think given he has to come back that way… ah, glad I ticked that particular box a few years ago :-)
Chinchero is a very pretty little pueblo sitting at just under 3800m. The Spanish here built their colonial buildings on top of the existing Inca stonework, as they did in many other places, but here the blend of old and older is particularly picturesque. It’s a beautiful spot with the high mountains all around, steep cobbled streets and a mix of adobe and stone buildings. It’s not far from gringo-saturated Cuzco but might as well be another planet.. the streets are very peaceful and the few folk around in the afternoon all seemed very friendly, even the farm women in their traditional dress who are usually very wary of a gringo with a camera. I didn’t spoil it by trying to take any pics.
After a pleasant wander round, post-climb legs complaining on the steep streets, I dozed in the shade on a handy piece of Inca masonry by the church by way of recovery from the mornings ride while eavesdropping on a group of daytripping American women… “geee Mary, do you think I should take a photo of that good looking guy sleeping on the big stone..“
.. ah, Ok, you can ignore the good looking bit, she didn’t really say that..
There are a couple of places to stay in Chinchero (that I could see), I figured it’d be cheap with most folk just visiting on day trips from Cuzco.. but not so, I ended up paying 3 times the cost of an admittedly quite cheap bed in Ollantaytambo… even had I not left my tent in Cuzco I think camping nearby would have been impossible – all farmed/occupied. Having said that the hospedaje was rather nice – a balconied colonial house on two levels with rooms facing inwards to the central, open air courtyard complete with a tall cactus adorned with drying tea-towels… and it was well worth it to spend a quiet afternoon exploring. I seemed to be the only guest which was great.. the wife of the jolly old duffer who runs the place is a fantastic cook so I was well fed… she must have thought I looked hungry or something :-)
The following morning my initial attempt to leave Chinchero was foiled by some minor excitement.. I was 5km out of town, flying along nicely in the early morning mist when the hospedaje owner came past in a taxi yelling at me out of the window to stop and go back… apparently the 50 sole note I gave him earlier was a fake.. and he certainly had a fake in his hand.. no watermark. So I went back, I had just 50 soles left so gave him that note in exchange, and then he wanted another 20 soles for his taxi ride… hmm, decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and gave him a few US$ as no legitimate soles left. Bit of a waste of £18 or so… I prefer not to be suspicious of everyone I meet, it ruins the fun, so I choose to believe his story.. I had no idea if the note I handed over intitially was fake or not. The other possibility is that he needed to get rid of a fake he already accepted elsewhere in error and a stupid, relatively wealthy gringo presented the ideal opportunity to get rid of it… Hmm, if that was the case then good luck to him.. karma and all that. I prefer the first version, lesson learned in accepting larger denomination Soles… la vida.. es la lucha and all that ;-)
I passed a field on the way into Cuzco with a big sign saying “bungee jump from the highest field in the world”… yep, not the highest bridge or the tallest crane or the deepest canyon… the highest field… and not actually a very high field at only 3600m. It all looked a bit crap, forty feet of scaffold in the middle of a field remarkable only for being particularly unremarkable. Brilliant.
Anyway, a few pics for ya: