Saturday, August 2, 2008

Living in History

Okay. Now that I got that vent out of my system in the last entry, I can give a more accurate picture of our recent travels. I last left off at Cuzco where our sufferings from the altitude and varied standards of cleanliness had melted into rainbows of pleasure and group unity.

In Cuzco, we caught a taxi to the bus station, which turned out to be the wrong one, but we took a bus anyway to the chagrin of the smug driver who had been hoping to charge a double fare. That bus took us to a town where our only choice was to cram into a dusty minivan which alreadyheld 17 passengers. With three of us smashed into a single small seat, double-lapped, and Kiwi hunched over an old Quechua man trying not to crush him, we travelled 40 minutes to Urubamba. From there, we made a quick transfer to another minivan and reached our final destination as night fell... Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo was originally an Incan stronghold hidden deep in the Sacred Valley (the same one as Machu Picchu). To my knowledge, it was the only site where the Incans routed the Spaniards in a major battle. With 700 year old original cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and melodious waterways, it reminded me of a miniature Venice (pop. 2000), just as romantic, but without the smell. We decided to unpack our bags here for a week or so on a tip from my friend James who has spent his past 30 years or so travelling (and is well into his 60´s in case any of you feel you´re too old to backpack! And if one of you is actually BEYOND your 60´s and has the technological capability to be reading this right now on the internet, I´m sure you could still travel also).

Our first night here was bittersweet. Everyone agreed the town itself was beautiful and romantic, but our guest house was rather the opposite. JooYeon, with an ever-growing confidence, survived the initial dismal assessment of the room, and even held her patience when our bed collapsed into a cloud of dust...

...but after an ice cold shower (and we are in the chilly mountain nights now), and listening to the sounds of her brother sniffle from allergies on one side of the room and her cousin scratching and swatting at armies of bedbugs on the other, it was clear she had had enough.

So we awoke early the next morning and roamed the rainy streets (why does it always seem to rain when a desperate traveler is seeking a room? I can almost guarantee you there was a downpour when Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem that night...) After a couple failures, in a far corner of town, we stumbled upon Inti Wasi. Shoulders drooping as the owner Irma led us up the stairs, we held our breath as she turned the key.... and SCORE! JooYeon´s face broke into a huge smile causing a domino effect on me. We bargained the price down out of habit, but we both knew that the price wasn´t an issue. We quickly ran back, splashing around the puddles and dodging mangly dogs, to collect the boys, both raccoon-eyed from poor sleep, and settled into our new home.

Not long afterwards, we found our next treasure... Hearts Cafe. Sonia Newhouse, a British woman in her 70´s (one of those few that can probably use the internet), had travelled to Ollantaytambo a couple years back and was moved at the sight of poverty and disease among the locals. So she began to raise funds to bring warm clothes, water treatment methods (98% of the water had parasites), dietary education (the local diet had consisted mostly of potatoes, causing much malnutrition), and several other things. But like a good Mennonite, she was also immediately aware that her work would recede unless she could make it sustainable for the villagers. So she started a cafe and transferred it to local ownership, bringing in friends from around the world to train the local chefs.This was a major plus for JooYeon and I who are now vegetarians and have been struggling to find supplements to our diet of french fries, eggs, and rice. And knowing that the proceeds go towards Sonia´s projects make the food (and coffee!) all the more savoury. Incidentally, if you want to read more about the cafe and projects, go to or which both show more info.

All that to say that we´re truly enjoying our time here... when we´re not on the roof or in the cafe, we´re usually roaming the labyrinth of streets, hanging out in the local market (JooYeon has a favorite little girl vendor she´s befriended to get all her cooking supplies), or hiking around the remains of the Incan fortress on the mountainside. Machu Picchu may be more majestic, but actually living and hanging out in a living Incan stone village is much more my style. The locals are nearly all descendents of Incans and so their first language is Quechua, but they speak enough Spanish to get by as we begin to wade through the very basics of Quechua.


  1. The food looks wonderful. I also checked the web site on the cafe. Looks like they have done alot in a year's time. Mom

  2. That plate of colorful veggies, etc. looks too pretty to eat...almost! -Dad

  3. I am a little behind but I just thought I'd let you know that Grace and I are reading your blogs. Grace wants me to read them to her sometimes and enjoys the pictures. Grace says "Thank You."