The ride in the collectivo from Cusco to Ollantaytambo was just shy of two hours. As you might expect, the views were fantastic. We were driving across a high plateau of rolling hills, tucked in among the snowcapped peaks of the Andes. It is agricultural land, so there were endless fields of wheat, potatoes, quinoa, and other crops.
The high farmlands
A dusty existence
The road to Ollantaytambo
Peeking down on one of the towns along the way
The van ride had Mila miserable with motion sickness; I know she was greatly relieved when we rolled into the main square of Ollantaytambo and piled out of the van.
Unloading in the main square
The main square in Ollantaytambo
Jette in the main square
A good portion of the town is made of of stone buildings connected by a network of narrow cobblestone streets too narrow for cars. The town and many of the buildings in it date back to Inca times. Over the years, much of it has been reconstructed and reconfigured, but there are many elements that are original. Here’s how wikipedia describes the layout of the town:
The main settlement at Ollantaytambo has an orthogonal layout with four longitudinal streets crossed by seven parallel streets. At the center of this grid, the Incas built a large plaza that may have been up to four blocks large; it was open to the east and surrounded by halls and other town blocks on its other three sides. All blocks on the southern half of the town were built to the same design; each comprised two kancha, walled compounds with four one-room buildings around a central courtyard. Buildings in the northern half are more varied in design; however, most are in such a bad condition that their original plan is hard to establish.
Ollantaytambo dates from the late 15th century and has some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America. Its layout and buildings have been altered to different degrees by later constructions, for instance, on the southern edge of the town an Inca esplanade with the original entrance to the town was rebuilt as a Plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial and republican buildings. The plaza at the center of the town also disappeared as several buildings were built over it in colonial times.
Typical buildings and street in Ollantaytambo
The street leading to our guesthouse
From the main square, we started the short walk uphill along the cobblestone streets with our luggage. Mila was moving slowly, a bit wobbly from the residual motion sickness, which a nice local man happened to notice. He offered to carry one of our bags for us, declining to accept payment, but we insisted and he finally accepted a nice tip.
Casa de Wow
View from the kitchen window
The guesthouse was on the edge of the old Inca settlement and faced the Inca terraces and structures carved into the adjacent mountainside. The views were fantastic.
The view from in front of our guesthouse
Mila decided to stay at the hostel to recuperate, while Jette and I went out to find some food.
A nice lunch of soup
One of the really cool things in Ollantaytambo is the elaborate and robust water system that runs through both the town and the ruins on the mountainside above. Even after hundreds of years it is still functional.
You can see much more about the history of Ollantaytambo here. One cool thing that we didn’t know about at the time, and therefore didn’t notice while we were there, is the giant face carved into the mountainside above town:
Mila tried to take it easy by resting and going to bed early. Thankfully, she woke up early the next morning feeling like herself. We were all up early as this was the day we were headed to Machu Picchu.
Boarding the morning train to Aguas Calientes
Most visitors to Machu Picchu take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. From Aguas Calientes there are busses that shuttle people up and down the mountain. The train trip from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is a very short 24 miles. The shuttle busses up the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu take about a 35 minutes on slow, winding roads. The transportation is monopolized and very expensive. The short train ride, the shuttle bus, and admission to Machu Picchu cost more than $600 USD for the three of us! Visiting Machu Picchu was by far the most expensive one-day sight we’ve seen in our months of travels.
Many people go to Aguas Calientes the day before they visit Machu Picchu so that they can be at Machu Picchu for sunrise. We opted not to do this for two reasons. First, we figured most people would do this and that morning would be the most crowded time to be there. Second, the mornings had been foggy and we assumed our day at Machu Picchu would be no exception. No point in being there for sunrise if you can’t see anything! Our plan was to leave Ollantaytambo early in the morning, spend the day at Machu Picchu and return to Ollantaytambo that same evening. That’s what we did and it worked out very well.
Morning fog and clouds as we arrive in Aguas Calientes
Statue of Pachacutec in Aguas Calientes
We walked from the train station to the shuttle bus stop
Aguas Calientes is a tourist dive. It is just a bunch of simple hotels, restaurants and shops catering to the 2,500 tourists that visit Machu Picchu each day. We’re really glad we just passed quickly through and didn’t spend the night. From the train station we walked to the shuttle bus stop and got in line. Before long, one of the shuttle busses took us up the mountain and into the clouds.
Foggy, rainy entrance to Machu Picchu
Everything was shrouded in foggy clouds and a misty rain was falling. We entered Machu Picchu and made our way up the foggy paths to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is thought to have been the main entrance to Machu Picchu in Inca times and would have served as a gate and checkpoint. It is a good bit above the main Machu Picchu complex and though some guides suggest that the hike up and back takes 3-4 hours, we did it comfortably in about two.
A foggy path
Cloudy with a chance of llamaballs
Up the Sun Gate trail
Exploring some nooks and crannies along the trail
Pretty flowers at the trail’s edge
At a bend in the trail
At the Sun Gate
Sun Gate – note the classic Inca building techniques of small stones stacked with mortar.
Sun Gate handstand
Clouds obscure Machu Picchu
When we got to the Sun Gate, clouds still obscured everything below and the Machu Picchu complex was not visible. The clouds were moving quickly though, and after only a few minutes there was a brief moment when the clouds broke and we had a good view of the main Machu Picchu complex. The wide angle camera on my phone didn’t capture much. To the eye, we could see the main complex peeking out of the clouds below.
The clouds part long enough for a quick photo
We relaxed at the top for a bit, then headed back down the trail to the main complex. It was a pretty quick hike down the trail, and as we descended, the clouds really began to clear.
Terraces along the trail
As we got down close to the main complex, the fog and clouds had cleared and visibility was good.
Approaching the main complex – again note the classic Inca construction technique of walls built with small stones and filled with mortar.
While there were a only a handful of people who had hiked up to the Sun Gate, the main complex area was full of tourists. As we got closer, we got the classic view of Machu Picchu that gives a sense of how, amazingly, it is perched on a mountain top. To me,this placement is the thing that makes it so incredible.
Carved out of a mountain top
A llama lover at Machu Picchu
Tourists snapping photos with Machu Picchu in the background
Another view as we get closer
A nice man took three photos of us, all of them with his finger over the lens. Maybe we need a selfie-stick!
Making our way down into the main complex
Machu Picchu inspired Jette to do the splits
Must be the thin mountain air
Integrating a massive stone outcropping. Note the mortar filled walls.
Mila and Jette with terraces in the background
Standing in front of the amazing terraces
Jette and me at Machu Picchu
The whole area is full of rock and boulders – lots of building material
As we explored Machu Picchu, one of the most striking things was the different building techniques used. The most common technique used small stones stacked into walls using mortar. Often these walls appear to have been built hollow, and filled with mortar too. A second technique used large stones, roughly cut, and stacked dry, without mortar. Smaller stones were used to fill in gaps, as in the photo above. The most impressive technique used large or very large stones, precisely shaped, and stacked with great precision, using no mortar, as in the photo below.
Look at the size of these stones and the precision of assembly.
Huge, precisely shaped stones, perfectly joined without mortar.
Even the edges are beveled.
Only a few of the structures in Machu Picchu use this technique and show this level of precision. Most of the structures are built with small, roughly shaped stones and mortar:
Typical structures at Machu Picchu, using small stones set with mortar.
The difference in building techniques is striking and incongruent. It seems difficult to imagine that all of these structures were built by the same people, at the same time. As we mentioned in a previous post, one alternative theory is that the large, precise structures were built by an unknown culture long before the Inca arrived on the scene, and that, years later, the Inca discovered these and built around them. I don’t know enough to accept or reject this hypothesis, but I can see how common sense might lead to this conclusion. The construction techniques and craftsmanship are strikingly different, and suggest the use of very different technologies.
Consider the fact that the Inca had only Bronze-Age technology. They had no wheeled vehicles, and had only stone, wood, copper and bronze tools, all of which are softer than the stone used in construction. How in the world could they have quarried these huge stones, moved them to the building sites, cut them so precisely, and lifted them into place? There seems to be much speculation, disagreement, and debate about this.
Above and below. Were these built by the same people at the same time?
Another example of contrasting building techniques.
Here’s a video that gives you a view of the central buildings built with the large, precisely cut and placed stones, as well as the more common buildings built with the small stones and mortar.
National Geographic has a great photo gallery showing Machu Picchu as it looked when Bingham found it and after excavation: Pictures: Machu Picchu, Before and After Excavation. For example:
In 1997 after excavation
Some of the most amazing structures at Machu Picchu are almost invisible. Apparently, the Inca engineered excellent foundations and drainage systems, which are hidden below the ground. NOVA has an interview with an engineer who investigated this.
As in Ollantaytambo, they also had a well engineered system of fresh water delivery that still functions today!
Jette the animal lover had lots of fun with the llamas and alpacas at the site. Most of them were pretty tame and if you held up a tuft of grass, they would eat from your hand. Towards the end of the day we took a break on the porch of one of the reconstructed structures while Jette joined the llama herd.
Llamas (and alpacas?) grazing on the terraces
Hanging out with new friends
After 7 or 8 hours of exploring Machu Picchu, we took the shuttle bus back down to Aguas Calientes. We were hungry, and we had some time to kill before the train back to Ollantaytambo, so we had dinner at one of the many tourist dives in town.
Back in Aguas Calientes
OMG! I love roodles! They’re totally my favorite!
Some interesting choices
I was really tempted by “Guinea Pig the furnace” but in the end settled for some chips and guacamole.
We often try to avoid really touristy places and given the costs and hassles associated with Machu Picchu, we seriously considered skipping it. In the end we were glad that we went. The setting in the mountains is truly spectacular. The ruins are too, but if they were plopped down in the middle of a big, flat field somewhere they would be much less so. As they are, it is a magical place.
06/05/2106 EDIT – Just found these photos and wanted to share them:
Fun with the llamas
Inca style handstand at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu hug
We’ve decided to take a couple of rest days here in Koblenz. We need break from riding. Mila is sore and Jette has saddle sores. I’d like to get a replacement bellcrank for my bike if the bike shops here have one. Today is Sunday, so all the shops are closed. But the castle is open!
After breakfast at the hotel we caught a bus to Stolzenfels Castle in a slow, steady rain.
A little work
On the bus to the castle
At the castle, we climbed 101 stairs and walked up a winding road to the castle complex.
Dance break on the hill
The original castle dates to the 12th century, but was in ruins by the 1800’s. In 1823 the city gave the castle to the Prussian crown prince Friedrich Wilhelm. Over the next 40 years he restored and constructed “the most beautiful and most important architectural complex of Prussian Rhine Romanticism.”
Slippers inside the castle
I had only snapped a couple of photos inside the castle when they told me that photography was not permitted. It’s too bad as the interior was pretty amazing. Beautiful wood floors, paneled walls, ornate ceilings, furniture, frescoes, stained glass, paintings…
In one area they had crafts for kids. Jette made a bottle cap fridge magnet.
Around the castle grounds, they had little food stands set up offering bratwurst and various sweets, which of course we had to sample.
All these dudes in armor are short! Lance and shield?! Check out these guns!
After the castle, we took the bus back to town and found a dinner of thai food for Mila and me and avocado “sushi” for Jette – something she had been craving for a long time.
Wishes do come true
Smiles in the rain
Another sidewalk playground
Today we rode 41.83 km from Sankt Goar to Koblenz.
Sunrise at camp
This morning we packed up camp and I decided to do some quick bike maintenance. The trailer arm had bumped my rear wheel and knocked it out of alignment a couple days ago and I had been procrastinating fixing it. So, we ate some bread and butter, packed up camp, brushed our teeth and I broke out the bike tools. Five minutes later the wheel was aligned, but there was a problem.
When I reattached the bellcrank, the anchor bolt simply kept turning, it was stripped. The bell crank is the mechanism that links the shift cable to the hub of the rear wheel. When you twist the grip shifter, the shift cable moves and the bellcrank translates the movement of the cable to a push rod in the hub, causing the gears to change. In the photo below, the bellcrank is the big silver thing. The shift cable is coming out of the top, the wheel is on the left and the anchor bolt is on the bottom. When tightened the anchor bolt pushes agains the axel lug nut and holds the bellcrank in place. Without the tension of the anchor bolt the bellcrank just falls off. Not good.
Shimano Nexus 3 speed bellcrank
I have seen this happen before from the anchor bolt being over-tightened. The body of the bell crank is cast from a soft metal and if the bolt is tightened too much, the threads in the bell crank body disintegrate. Some years ago I did this on another bike and have been very careful ever since. It’s possible that I am to blame once again, but I’d like to think it was either the guy who swapped cogs on the bike in Amsterdam or the one who replaced the spoke in Switzerland. Regardless, I was stuck now. I had two wrenches, a multi-tool, and no spare parts.
Clearly it was MacGyver time…
I went into the little shop at the campground to see what I could find to improvise. They didn’t have much. In terms of hardware it was mostly spare parts for campers and RVs. Lightbulbs, hoses, fuses, and things of that sort. A little package of hose clamps caught my eye, and I picked up a roll of duct tape for insurance.
My MacGyver impression
Hose clamps to the rescue
I joined two hose clamps to each other to get the length I needed, then wrapped the hose clamps around the dropout of the frame and the body of the bellcrank. I snugged them up and the bellcrank was held nicely in place. I was ready to roll!
As good as new
Off we went, past castles and cruise ships.
Cruise ships and castles
Taking a water break
We stopped for lunch in very touristy Boppard. I think we hit town just as the river cruise ships dumped their human cargo for lunch too. We had some yummy omelets and it began to rain. We were tucked safely under the umbrellas and of course our panniers (bike bags) are waterproof.
Lunch in Boppard
Silly guy eating a farmer’s omelet
By the time we finished lunch the rain had stopped. While Mila and Jette waited (forever) for the check I pulled out some tools and made some adjustments on my bike. While I was working a group of about 8 spandex-clad cyclists in matching jerseys pulled up on fancy road bikes. They were clearly amused by our bikes, the amount of stuff we were carrying. I think they were even more amused to see that I was strapping hose clamps on a three-speed. They were speaking Dutch to each other and it wasn’t long before one of them wheeled over a little closer and asked me where we were going and where we were coming from. They had a good laugh. We chatted about our trip our bikes, and one of his friends pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of his fancy touring bike with a BOB trailer. While we were talking even more of their group pulled up. They said that twice a year they come to Germany or Switzerland on a big ride. A few jokes about us joining their pace line and they were off.
We hit the road again. It was a nice ride. We had the river and the cruise ships on our right, there was lots of pretty scenery and a good number of old castles on the hills. One has to marvel at how they were built. With the technology of the past it must have required massive amounts of human labor.
Stopping to check out the wildlife
As we got to the edge of Koblenz we stopped at the Koblenzer brewery biergarten for a refreshing heffeweizen. While we were there I searched online with my phone to see if I could find and book a hotel. I couldn’t find any that would allow me to book online. They were either fully booked or didn’t have online reservations. I called a couple and they were full. For some reason my phone wouldn’t connect to some of the numbers. We decided the easiest thing would be to ride into town and just find a hotel.
At the Koblenzer biergarten
The trail into town went through a pretty, wooded park.
Coming into Koblenz
As we came into town, things seemed eerily quiet. We didn’t see any people at all. Had the zombie apocalypse finally arrived?!
We’d found a few promising hotels on Google Maps, and we stopped at the first one, the Hotel Hamm. They were fully booked. I asked the friendly woman behind the desk if she could recommend another hotel nearby and she said that virtually every hotel in the city was full. She checked some sort of online hotel booking system and called about 8 hotels to see if they had any openings. None of them did. She made a final call and found one that “might” have an room available, but wouldn’t know for half an hour. It was called Hotel B&B and she said that she was not familiar with it and couldn’t vouch for it. She said that they local tourist information office had been calling her looking for rooms and suggested that they might know of some hotels with openings. She drew us a map, gave Jette a candy and we were on our way.
The tourist information office was right in the middle of town, it a very modern new complex surrounded by lots and lots of retail.
At the tourist information office
Funky modern building
At the tourist office, they just laughed when we asked if they knew of any hotels available. Really. I told them what the nice lady at Hotel Hamm said about the possibility of an opening at Hotel B&B and asked if they could call them on our behalf. They did and there was one room available! Obviously we said we wanted it and would be there as quickly as we could. The woman at the tourist information office marked the location of Hotel B&B on a map for us and we were on our way. It turns out Hotel B&B is not a B&B at all, but rather a motel on a busy highway called B&B Hotels. Hey, they have showers, beds and electrical outlets! They even have an internet connection. The Holy Grail.
Cartwheels in B&B Hotel
We checked in to the hotel, locked our bikes up in the parking garage and walked into the city in search of dinner. We hit one of the main shopping streets just before most of the stores were closing. Mila and Jette couldn’t resist going into the local T.J. MAXX which in Germany is called T.K. MAXX.
Transatlantic discount shoppers
Twilight on Koblenz shopping street
In the almost every town and city we’ve visited the main shopping streets are pedestrian. It is so nice to have quiet streets with sidewalk seating and no traffic or traffic noise. In this regard, the quality of life is so much higher here. In one of the plazas off the main shipping street, there were a number of restaurants. We choose an Italian place and enjoyed a nice dinner under the huge umbrellas. I’d love to get one of these twenty foot umbrellas for our back patio at home!
Restaurants on the plaza
Italian for dinner
On the way back to the hotel, we giggled at the Oktoberfest outfits for sale in the shop windows.
Oktoberfest here we come
Mila said she would pay good money to see me in the men’s outfit above. Even with the offer of renumeration, I think this is highly unlikely. 😉
Back to the hotel and to bed.
Today we rode 37.48 km from Rudesheim to Sankt Goar
We packed up camp and rode into Rudesheim proper. Rudesheim is siad to be the second most visited tourist destination in Germany, after the Cologne Cathedral. Smack in the middle of the wine country of the Middle Rhine, it is a cute little village, but very, very touristy. In fact, I don’t think there is much in town other than tourist-focused businesses. It’s cute little streets and alleyways are packed full of little cafes, trinket shops, wine bars, beer gardens, and B&Bs. A tourist ghetto, but a nice one. We poked around town and had a tea and some sweets while we waited for the next ferry across the river.
One of the many cute little alleys
Jette in the cafe
Stealing a bite of strudel
The main street along the river
Looking back through the village to the vineyards in the hills
I happened to snap the following photo in Rudesheim, so I’ll go off on a quick “gear” tangent… Somewhere along the way someone stole my handlebar bag. Or maybe we left it in the hotel in Strasburg. We’re not sure. All we know is it went missing (it was empty at the time). Anyway, I bought a cheap 20 Euro bag at a bike shop near Mainz. Here’s a shot of the front of my bike with the new handlebar bag and Mila’s new sleeping bag which now lives on my front rack.
New handlebar bag
The new bag is much bigger. All I had in the old bag was my camera, so this one allows me to stash a few other things in there too, and provides easier access to the camera, which is nice.
So. We hopped on the ferry and headed across the river to Bingen, where we picked up the route along the West shore of the river.
Waiting for the ferry to Bingen
Bikes on the ferry
On the ferry
Looking back at Rudesheim from the Ferry
We landed in Bingen, which had a great view of the terraced vineyards across the river. The hand-built stone retaining walls were pretty amazing. They have certainly mastered the art of hillside farming.
The view of terraced vineyards from Bingen
Terraced hillside vineyards
We rolled into town and found the main shopping street where we stopped into the mobile phone shop to buy more credits for our prepaid SIM card. We use Google Maps on my phone for navigation and for searching for campgrounds and other things that we might need along the way.
Stopped to buy more cell phone credits
Credits “topped up” we found the path and hit the road. The path followed the bank of the river and we had nice views of the passing ships as well as the terraced hillsides and little villages along the opposite bank. Along the way we passed more jetties with little sandy “beaches.” We stopped for a beach break.
Jette and Mila on the jetty beach
While we were stopped an older man on a bike stopped and told us that he had a boat and that the water levels were really low in the river. That was something that we had been noticing for a couple of days. From the look of the water lines on the shore, the vegetation and even the floating docks, it looked like the water level was as much as 2 or 2.5 meters lower than “normal.”
Little village tucked in the valley
The trail along the river
Oh, did I mention there were castles? Along this section of the Middle Rhine there are many castles and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with all of the cargo ships, we’ve started to see lots of big river cruise ships too.
Super cyclists with castle
Jette on the Middle Rhine with castle
In many of the towns and villages we’ve passed through, they are getting ready for Octoberfest with town squares, main streets and river fronts morphing into soon-to-be-open biergartens!
Getting ready for Octoberfest
As we got closer to Lorelei and St. Goar the trail hugged the edge of the river and was often high up above the river. Immediately to our left was the two lane highway, so it was noisy with passing vehicles. When the big river cruise ships passed we rang our bicycle bells and waved, trying to get the all the old people (there seemed to be nothing but grey hair!) on the boats to wave back. Some of them did.
Do you remember the story of the Rhine Maidens? We told you about them when we were in Disentis, Switzerland. Well, this section of the Rhine has The Lorelei.
Here’s how Wikipedia describes the Lorelei:
The Lorelei is a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine near St. Goarshausen, Germany, which soars some 120 metres above the waterline. It marks the narrowest part of the river between Switzerland and the North Sea, and is the most famous feature of the Rhine Gorge… A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there.
Lorelei is also the name of a feminine water spirit, similar to mermaids or Rhinemaidens, associated with this rock in popular folklore and in works of music, art and literature.
There are a number of stories and myths about the Lorelei – from a beautiful siren who lures men to their deaths to dwarfs living in caves on the cliff. We didn’t see either, but we did stop for the night and set up camp in a beautiful spot on the bank right across the river.
Our tent and the Lorelei
Our camp was right next to a house and Jette had a fun time climbing the stone walls. At a couple points a girl about Jette’s age walked by, checking us out. The second time she came by I said hello and told her our names. She said her name was Sophia. I asked if she lived in the house. She said yes and with a shy smile she was gone again. We didn’t see her again but in the morning we left her a note thanking her for letting us camp next to her house and giving her Jette’s email address and asking if she wanted to be pen pals.
View from our tent
We had dinner at on the patio of a nearby restaurant. Jette had some fun on their trampoline.
Restaurant patio with trampoline
I enjoyed what has become a typical dinner for me in this part of Germany – a green salad and a margherita pizza. Yum!
After dinner we hit the sack and slept to the sound of many, many boats and ships passing the Lorelei in the darkness.