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Full Circle

Day 189: Cuzco to Machu Picchu

Cuzco, Peru 
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Inca granaries, built into the mountainside to keep the grain dry, cool and safe.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAs we set off across the high plains once again, life on board becomes more hectic by the minute. The corridor in hard class is now so congested that in order to move from coach to coach the vendors have to climb out of the door and swing along the outside of the train clutching their trays of food, drink, watches or whatever. Opposite me one woman feeds a baby at her breast, another has a baby fast asleep in her arms, which is pretty remarkable as, right beside her, two boys are fiercely strumming charangos, small ukelele-like guitars, while a third bangs two stones together with equal intensity. At the first station no one gets off and a lot of people with bags of onions get on. A huge woman with the classic Indian high cheek-bones, wide nostrils and swept-back, middle-parted black hair is somehow passing through the crowd with plates of fresh-prepared salads. She bulldozes by with rock-like serenity and never drops so much as an olive.

After three hours we come to the town of Ollantaytambo which marks the end of the Sacred Valley, a rich and fertile strip in which the Incas grew corn and maize. Being the efficient administrators they were, they kept the grain stockpiled in stone walled granaries which can still be seen on the precipitous sides of the surrounding mountains. The massive 200-foot stone terraces, of Ollantaytambo from which Manco Inca won a rare victory against the Spanish conquistadors in 1536, still exist and can be climbed.

Sweetcorn is the local speciality and sacks of it join the onions, leeks, carrots and sheaves of coriander and basil which make this quite the most fragrant train I've ever ridden. The lady with the face of an Indian chief is now bringing round jelly and ice-cream, and something is moving about in one of the bags on the seat in front of me.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 189
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Ollantaytambo
  • Book page no: 254

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