After leaving Machu Piccu we spent some time in the small town of Ollantaytambo, located about 50km up the Urabamba River in the Sacred Valley. The Inca fortress ruins located here are probably the next most significant in the area after Machu Piccu. This was the site of the only battle defeat of the Spanish by the Incas. The old town itself was originally built by the Incas, and has been continuously inhabited in more or less the same configuration since the 1300's. The original town was organized in blocks, each block is surrounded by stone walls with a single impressive Inca doorway for access to the internal courtyard and buildings. Some appear to be in near-original condition (filled with near original trash, too). The town also has an interesting system of channels that distribute water through the streets, something the residents find very handy for washing clothes, sidewalks, etc. The town and fortress are surrounded by large areas of Inca terraces, still in use by local farmers. In small villages outside town (and actually some people in town) life continues fairly similarly to the way it was hundreds of years ago. Many people in the area speak primarily, I not exclusively, the Quecua (Inca) language, and not Spanish. All in all a very interesting and scenic place, we wish there was more time to explore the area.
In addition to vitisiting some of the sites in the area, we were treated to a small bit of local culture, as on Saturday there was a ceremony and celebration to bless the start of the agricultural season. (I am not sure how this works, as the dry season is just starting and essentially no rain is expected for 6 months). First, there were a couple of small parades that ended at the Catholic Church. Then some local farmers gathered outside the church with their teams of oxen, whose heads had been decorated with produce and ribbons. The priest came out and sprinkled holy water over the animals and the men, after which the men and their teams started to parade through town. At first some of the animals were not cooperative and it looked like we might also see a local version of the running of the bulls. Then a procession started from the church, with the priest out front followed by three statues, each on a platform surrounded by cornstalks, being carried by festively costumed men, and finally the brass band. They went around town, joined up with the blessed oxen, and the united group took a few laps. It was all quite festive and fun, and we were sure to be extra careful where we stepped as we walked around town for the rest of the day.