After bumming around Cusco for a week or so (and acclimating to the altitude), we started our obligatory trip to Machu Picchu. At the suggestion of our first AirBnb host, we took a tour of the Sacred Valley and jumped off for a night in Ollantaytambo, which let us visit more Incan sites and also arrive in Machu Picchu early the next morning, two hours before most of the tourists coming directly from Cusco.
As we crested the final mountain range, we were greeted with awesome views of the valley, where the Incans grew much of their food. Apparently the corn with the largest kernels in the world is still exported from here.
Not content with just farming the valleys, the Incans made extensive use of terraces to grow more (and different) crops on the mountainsides. Nearly all of the mountains showed some sign of terracing, but the first dramatic example we saw was in the Pisac Incan ruins.
After a mediocre lunch at the tourist trap the bus dropped us at (possibly the only mediocre food we had in Peru), we headed onwards to see more Incan ruins in Ollantaytambo. Here there were more terraces, as well as huge storage sheds perched precariously on the side of the adjacent mountain (where, our guide said, the constant wind would keep food fresh).
At the top of the site, there was a Sun temple where observations of the sunrise on the adjacent mountain were used to signal times to plant and harvest. The stones up here were enormous — many tons each — and in the distance far below you could just barely see the quarry from which they were taken. It was extremely windy so we couldn’t hear our guide’s explanation for why the temple was never finished, but just looking at the size of these rocks gave us a pretty big clue.
The hike consisted of more than 2000 vertical feet of stairs, but thankfully between acclimating and the slightly lower elevation, we were able to power through to the top in about an hour, rewarding us with a beautiful panorama of Machu Picchu and the surrounding peaks and valleys.
Then, we headed back down and spent a few hours exploring the site itself, and all its amazing stonework and views of the surrounding countryside. Tired out, we went to catch the bus down the rest of the way, and were greeted with a line that stretched farther than we could see. So we traded our bus tickets for some postcards, and proceeded to hoof it the rest of the way down, back to the train station in Aguas Calientes. Here’s a view from the bottom — the highest peak in the center is Machu Picchu mountain, but you can’t quite see the post marking the top where we were standing just hours before.
The train ride back was uneventful (besides the “fashion show” / sales pitch from the crew) and we managed to catch a little shut eye. The next day back in Cusco we were so sore, every step was excruciating and our antics of walking sideways must have been amusing to those who saw us try. We mostly stayed in the next two days, catching up on work and preparing for our last few days in Peru, a tour of the Amazon.