South America 2015, Part 3.

Ollantaytambo! A place! With terraces. And stairs. Omigod, stairs. Pre-Columbian stairs can SUCK IT. I, for one, am thrilled the Spanish came and conquered and destroyed an ancient culture because you know what they brought with them? Stairs with uniform height and depth. And railings. Magical magical railings. Hooray for European oppressors! (I seriously hated the stairs.)

But before the nightmare stairs we shall visit a local village. Unlike most cities, the major cities we visited were nowhere near a major water source. What they did have was very fertile land and melting icecaps on mountains that made rivers. A neat thing is sometimes they would build the town so the water could flow through the town in channels on the sides of the streets.


That’s not for trash or waste, that’s fresh water that one could dip one’s pot into and use for cooking or cleaning. And remember I said there was old ruins all over place and I was not kidding, they are seriously everywhere. And wisely everyone decided ” Waste not want not” and built new village components on top of the old ruins. That’s why the bottom part is stone and the top part is stucco.

We went into a typical home interior. It was amazing. I loved it. I was the only one. We’ll get into why in a moment. It had a cement floor and the walls were leftover Inca ruins. The roof was corrugated iron sheets with panels cut out for skylights. If I had to sum up my trip to Peru it would be: A new appreciation for skylights. They are in 80% of the buildings and it immediately improves everything. Places that would be glum and dark are bright and spacious. I am now firmly on the skylight camp. Anyway, back to this house. It was just one big room with no windows, only stone niches for storage, about 50 feet by 50 feet and about 12 feet high. And everything a family could ever need was inside. One one side of the room was two beds:


On the other side was an oven-stove thing built into the wall (so far, fine, totally normal):


Hanging from the ceiling is dried fish, dried alpaca meat and corn (it didn’t smell therefore still okay):


Here’s where it takes the turn and only Jessica is happy about it: Under the antique sewing machine is where the guinea pigs hang out eating alfalfa, no cages or anything, free-range (remember, this is a one-room house):

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Next to that is the family’s religious shrine with the skulls of Great-Grampa, Great-Great-Grampa and Great-Gramma sitting in the niche above the table of religious accoutrements. Yep. This is directly across from the beds so while you go to sleep you’re staring at your dead ancestors’ empty eye sockets. Sleep tight.

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See those white-ish things off to the side? I thought they were giant radishes. Nope! Dried stillborn llama babies. Always a good choice in home decoration. Beautifully paired with Granny’s skull. I think this is in the Crate & Barrel collection this season.

You’ll notice that the religious elements on the table are not Christian. That’s an interesting thing. 85% of Peru’s population is Catholic, but most of them consider themselves really fluid in that regard. They will go to mass on Sunday, but they will also go to a faith healer and worship the ancient gods. Ergo the pre-Columbian religious elements. In the pumas and llamas there there are holes in the top that look like they should be for candles, but they are filled with llama fat. The belief is that if you put the fat of an animal in these figures, they come to life and can help you communicate with the gods.

Okay, off to Ollantaytambo. Big ole terraced ruin. I don’t think people lived there, they farmed there and there was a sun temple but no homes.


Beautiful, huh? LOOK AT THE SLOPE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Look at it. I climbed that. At 9,000 feet. If I could breathe I would have been non-stop moaning.


Oh God whyyyyyyy stairrrrrrrrrrrs so many so uneven so lumpy ehhhhhhhhhh

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This was my first foray into Inca architecture. I learned so much. Let me see if I can recall all the things I was taught.


All the stones were brought from somewhere else. That means that people dragged these monsters from whatever valley they originated up this steep mountainside. And in the picture below you’ll notice that the quality of the stones show the importance of the building. The terraces have meh rocks, the higher levels have large hand-cut stones that have been fitted and the top level where the temple was has giant, beautifully hewn and fitted stones. THAT means that the big beautiful stones had to be dragged up even higher. Wow.


Double doorways delineate building entrances. So when you see a doorway nestled in a doorway that means building entrance, not just room entrance. When you’re walking around ruins with no roof or any furniture it helps you figure out how the floor plan was laid out.

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No mortar was used in the buildings because of earthquakes. It allowed the stones to shift a little bit. That’s the same reason the niches and windows are trapezoidal and smaller on top. Smart, those Inca people. You think, being so smart, they would BUILD A DECENT SET OF STAIRS okay I’m done.


Those nubbles sticking out is how archaeologists think they stones were moved. The builders would wrap ropes around those and pull. Then, when the stones were in place the nubbles were buffed away using other pieces of granite.


In order to match the stone shapes exactly they would lay out the entire bottom layer, then put clay on top of that. That made a mold they could follow exactly while carving. They also made tongue-and-groove joints inside the wall for added structural integrity.


If stones fell off the walls (or were pushed off by the Spaniards, let’s be real here) the archaeologists didn’t try to put them back, they simply lined them up in neat rows on the terraces below. Cool bit of info about the terraces – there is no drainage on them. That’s because the bottom layer is rock chunks, then there’s ash and on top is soil brought up from the Sacred Valley. The water on the top terraces drain down to that rock-chunk layer and that feeds the terrace below and so on and so forth. That means no flooding or stagnant water pools.


The wind up in the mountains is pretty intense. I think this picture really shows how non-stop it is, with the tree and the sitting area. And there are government-owned alpacas! Most of the ruins we went to had government-owned alpacas or llamas on them. The government thinks they enhance the places and Lord knows I ain’t complainin’.

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These are examples of that Incan cross I spoke of earlier with the three steps. It references the three planes of existence. It’s a common theme and we saw it all the time.

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This is the view from Ollantaytambo to the storehouses across the way.


Since it rains so infrequently there buildings can be built out of mud. I would be concerned all the time about every cloud but another reason I found to not be on Team Adobe was when I saw all these holes and asked our guide Henry what they were. “Bee holes,” he said.

After Ollantaytambo we had an opportunity to actually see how the adobe bricks are made. A team of men were adding water to the dirt and incorporating straw into the mix, then smooshing it into a mold with their feet, gently removing the mold and letting it dry for about four days. The Moomins was delighted about the chance to assist with the smooshing. That shoe came off so fast and her foot was in there.

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I’m still not feeling the “building the house out of mud” thing, but if it works for them, more power to them.

Next entry: Pre-Machu Picchu. With maybe a sprinkling of Machu Picchu, we’ll see.

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