Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

February 26, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 5:55 pm

We find ourselves with a little unexpected time on our hands in this really fascinating town. So we climb to the incomplete Temple of the Sun, which, in spite of the aborted construction, is such an exemplary piece of classical Inca architecture, that it’s billed as “second only to Machu Picchu” by some.

Decided to rent a guide, which was a good move. He was a handsome Quechua guy, very well spoken in Spanish, well educated in the history, and obviously proud of his heritage. Both Sarah and I felt we learned more about that 500 plus year old culture here than we did in M-P.

Three notables:

One – Ollantaytambo is laid out in the form of a tree (the Sacred Tree of Life). Not obvious from the ground, but very evident from mountaintop or airplane (Inca era Quechua had only one of these). Similarly, Cuzco is laid out as a Puma, Pisac abuts a mountain sculpted by terraces into a condor, and a mountain in Ollantaytambo is terraced and stone-sculpted into the constellation of the Llama (we plan to climb the adjacent mountain to get that view, if the airline wrangling doesn’t use up all 48 hours).


Here’s the Llama:


Two – the (very) incomplete Temple of the Sun is breath-taking (in two ways). Only six slabs, but they are MASSIVE, even by M-P standards. They are PINK (rhyolite, not granite). They were quarried and carved on the mountain across the river, then each piece (up to 50 tons) was brought down from that mountain, across the river, and up this mountain to be placed at the top. Stone workers from Tiahuananku (near Lake Titicaca – no snickering) were “enlisted” in the work. The slabs not only have the classical ‘can’t fit a credit card between the joints’ tightness, they have male-and-female fittings carved into the abutting (hidden) sides. Moreover, they have carved receptacles on the abutting sides into which was poured molten brass. Earthquake-proof. The astronomers had it perfect, of course, the rose-colored stones catch the rising sun and glow. There is conjecture that the Inca had learned to “vidrify” the stones’ surface with glass for enhanced reflection (echoes of the Maya).


Three – in 1537, Manco Inca, wise to Pizarro’s deceit (he witnessed the previous Inca’s public murder after the requested ransom of an entire room filled to the ceiling with gold was fulfilled by the people), escaped Cuzco, the Inca capital before the “Spain-people” came. He retreated to Ollantaytambo, knowing Pizarro would hunt him down.  But Ollantaytambo is strategically placed on a narrow plain at the confluence of three valleys.


He turned the agricultural terraces above the city gate into fortifications. He turned the unfinished temples and/or buildings of Pachacutec into fortresses. He amassed an army.

Pizarro’s brother came with cavalry, footsoldiers, and their European armaments.

Manco’s men rained down on them rocks, boulders, bolas, spears, and, from the Inca of the forests beyond Machu Picchu, arrows. Hand-to-hand combat was with clubs, and a kind of battle ax with multiple points.


Pizzaro was losing. He turned to retreat to Cuzco. Manco was ready for this. His men diverted rivers (and may have dammed the Urubamba) which flooded the narrow plain below the city gate. The horses floundered in mud. Manco’s men persued. Pizzaro nearly lost all his men.


The Spanish eventually returned. When they did, it was in such numbers, that Manco knew he couldn’t defeat them. He retreated to Vilcabamba in the jungle, and burned the storehouses of Ollantaytambo to leave no food (we saw the black layer on the interior stucco of such a building).

The rest of the history is known, and tragic.

But Ollantaytambo, impacted by tourists mostly en-route to M-P, is not an Aguas Calientes (the tourist destination town at the foot of M-P, recently re-constructed from flood and ramshackle). The 500-plus year old town here of narrow streets, stonework houses, and running water for all is largely unchanged. Just behind the little town square and its increasingly numerous pizza parlors, only a one block walk takes you back 500 to 1000 years, and if you look up, the rose colored wall of the Temple of the Sun glows in Inti’s light, reminding the people who speak Spanish with Quechua intonation, that this is their Earth. Their Pacha.


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