Sunday 24 June 2018

Day 70 Ollantaytambo!

June 9th, 2018

Cool, occasional light rain, occasional but not much sun, heavy rain in the afternoon

Dogs barking, cockerels crowing, people talking and vehicles passing. I am awake at 5:00 a.m. I read the eBird list of birds seen at Ollantaytambo, the village I will be staying in tonight and wonder where have the birders who have contributed to the list seen their birds. The list is stated to represent the 'pueblo' of Ollantaytambo and my adaptation of the full list, which has species that I have already seen deleted, has sixty eight species named on it. Now I know that I will not see all of the species on my adapted list, far from it. If only I did! Yet I would love to know where from the village the birders saw their birds. I have been here before, to Ollantaytambo I mean. 

It is a beautiful village despite being the last stop for coaches, minibuses and taxis for the throngs of tourists on their way to Aguas Calientes, the village at the foot of Machu Picchu. There is no road to Aguas Calientes but there is a train track and the train to Aguas Calientes, the concrete and corrugated iron mess, is expensive to non-Peruvians. The thirty mile journey will cost cost over a hundred pounds there and back. One gets a cup of coffee and a cake, each way! The views, if one is lucky to go on a day when there is little or no cloud, are superb and the train has windows in the ceiling so that one can see the snow-capped mountains. So the village can be very busy, especially in the morning when tour companies take their customers to the train station early in order that they can get to Aguas Calientes and, once there, take the bus up the long-winding road to Machu Picchu. In the afternoon that journey is reversed.

The first occasion I came to Ollantaytambo I stayed here for three nights before carrying on to visit Machu Picchu. I arrived on January the first, 2014 after a night of partying with thousands of others in the main square in Cusco. Seeing in the New Year in such a setting was fabulous. Health & Safety be damned, people were carrying ten foot high firework sticks that, once lit, burnt down slowly and intermittently shot a small rocket into the air. Beer bottles and cans were all over the floor and the crush was tremendous. False and huge, bright yellow plastic glasses in the shape of 2014 were popular and there was an equal mass of local Peruvians and tourists. A large stage had been put up in the south east corner by the cathedral and a Peruvian pop band, replete with two scantily clad female dancers were giving their all, Vamos Peru! As a large TV screen to the left showed a countdown to midnight. At the New Year moment more fireworks lit the sky and the crowd started to march around the outside road of the square. Moving slowly around due to the throng, the crowd went round and round again. Someone told me they had to do this fourteen times, once around for each year. I dread to think how long it took in 1999!
The next day, January first, I took a small minibus for six Soles, around £1.50 to Ollantaytambo and after birding in the fields and by the river Urubamba for the morning, I joined in with a most unusual celebration. I was coming back from the river when I heard loud music coming from an enclosure. Going inside I found a brass band, of sorts, practising and a group of people preparing food. I was beckoned over and I found myself helping with the peeling of a variety of vegetables with a group of women whilst the men cooked chunks of some sort of meat in large, rounded clay ovens. The peeling of the green beans was great. Large broad beans removed from their pods and then the green outer skin had to be scraped off before being thrown into a large metal pot. No problem. Peeling beetroots, carrots and large potatoes was a problem though. Peruvians cook them before peeling and each woman sat blowing their hands to combat the heat as they peeled. I was given a chink of meat and a big bowl of stew for my efforts. It was a fantastic morning with some new birds seen and a hell of a lot of fun with the ladies peeling vegetables.

In the afternoon, once everyone had finished their lunch, masks were put on by the musicians and together everyone marched to the village square. A local told me that they were going to choose some new councillors and what better way to do that than by having a skittles match. The village square had a badminton court-sized rectangle of plastic chairs set up in it and ten skittles, yard high poles covered with fresh cut flowers, were arranged at on end. Bands arrived from different directions, each from a different outlying village and I, with the group arrived with, mingled with the growing crowd. The villagers, all wearing beautiful clothes of many colours with red being the most dominant, gathered and drank liberally the free alcohol-laced fruit punch. I had a few glasses of it myself. There was only one other foreigner there, a Canadian lady. The two or three hundred others were laughing, smiling, colourful Peruvians. Each round of the competition was proceeded by a young man from each of the outlying villages blowing loud and long on a conch. The large pale orange-white seashells making a loud drone that echoed around the valley. The competitors, always a woman against a man, would then throw the large round wooden ball at the skittles and the winner would, so I was told, be elected. I wonder of this was true. The cacophony of sound, the rainbow mass of colours, the hilarity of the occasion and the sheer fun enjoyed by all made a change from the serious, dour process of local elections back in the UK.

The next day there was a bullfight in the local bullring at the foot of the huge Inca ruins. The proprietor of the hostel I was staying in and she had assured me that no bulls were hurt. I hate bullfighting but I went along as I wanted to see for myself what happened. I found a space in the crowd and sat with four young Americans who had just returned from Machu Picchu that morning and had heard about the event. A part of the terracing had been reserved for the village brass band but people had ignored the tape and sat down on the steps there. This caused chaos when the band arrived and with people arguing, shoving and complaining, a trumpeter fell down into the arena and had to be taken to hospital!
The first bull was small brown bull, if only it had been white, and the four sparklingly dressed matadors teased it and flung their capes around in the usual fashion. After each had taken their turn with the tired little bull, the bull was lead off quietly out through the gate on the far side of the ring.
The next bull was up for it. A large black and angry bull, he tore at the dirt with his front hooves and charged around menacingly. With the bull tossing his horns and charging, each matador took his turn to show the cape and receive the cheers of the crowd as the bull was persuaded to career around the arena. With the final matador though the mood of the crowd changed and shouts of “no, no!” filled the air. I would say that half of the crowd shouted this command to the matador but he ignored their cries and picked up two spikes, long sticks with ribbons at the less disgusting end. He then paraded them around showing them to the crowd before plunging them into the neck of the passing bull. Blood ran from the wounds in the neck and the bull reared and bucked in obvious pain. I was livid. The cowardly nature of the whole event was exemplified by the cruelty of this horrible act. I threw my baseball hat at the matador in disgust, which raised a cheer amongst some of the people near me and left.
My other visits to the village have been more serene and I have explored the ruins, the immense towering ranks of terraces and the reconstructed houses on the high, steep slopes. I have seen the altar where they say human sacrifice was carried out. I have been here with my daughter, Rebecca back in August 2014 and last year, 2017, I came in April with my birding buddy, Jason Oliver. Jason will recall his visit hopefully more for the displaying Andean Condors than the painful and extremely bloody fall over a barbed wire fence.
In the past I have walked up the long valley searching for birds yet I have never seen sixty eight species. Maybe I will today when I arrive in a couple of hours time. I get up and pack. I have a short cycle to do, around six miles to get to Ollantaytambo. It is now light and I need to get there as soon as possible. I need to find some new birds.

The cycle ride to Ollantaytambo is quickly done. Wonderful to come around the corner and see the large terraces that show the boundary of the village. Interesting to pass beneath the four pods attached to a sheer cliff face. These metal ovoids are unusual beds, an expensive hotel for the adventurous and to reach them there are a system of ropes and pulleys. The approach road to the village is cobbled and the stones are large and I therefore have to push my way up. Traffic hasn't been as bad as I expected until a large line of white minibuses, mostly empty, come out of the village. One of the expensive tourist trains announces it's departure for Cusco by sounding it's loud horn. It comes from behind the village and crosses the Quillabamba road crossing slowly.
Once in the village I find the hostel I stayed in the first time I visited here, Full Moon. There is room for the night and I may leave my bike here together with any baggage I don't require for the walk to and stay at Aguas Calientes tomorrow. How I remember all details of this delightful hostel and how I marvel at the price when Wilma, the owner says $25. Now that is seventy five Soles and the room is superb and there is breakfast, which if I remember correctly from last time, consists of eggs, bread and jam, coffee with condensed milk and fruit. Last night's hostel was nowhere near as beautiful as this one and it cost five Soles more for a night. Speaking of price differences, if one is an Ollantaytambo villager it costs four Soles for the train ride to Aguas Calientes. For a person from Urubamba or Cusco the same journey costs ten Soles. For any non-Peruvian it costs around 250 Soles each way!
With light rain falling I leave to get some breakfast from a restaurant in the main plaza of the village and am soon eating omelette and chips with a large cup of milky coffee. The young boy, Herminez, who serves me speaks some English and tells me that he is from the city of Puerto Maldonado. That city will be my finish point on the 30th of September. A small green and white hummingbird feeds from some red flowers on a small shrub in the plaza gardens and indeed, on closer inspection, is exactly that, a Green & White Hummingbird, a new bird for the Green Year list. I photograph it to get the diagnostic dark undertail with the triangular-shaped white undertail coverts.

Another bird pierces the flowers of another bush nearby, a Rusty Flowerpiercer and gives excellent close views. How lovely to watch the birds in a village square and for them not to be Eared Doves and Rufous-collared Sparrows. I sit and eat and feel strange to be amongst tourists once more. I have seen very few Europeans and no Americans in the two months in Peru and to see so many now seems inappropriate to my travels in some way. I prefer to watch the local people, especially the ones dressed in the local traditional costume with it's capes of many colours and interestingly shaped hats.
Breakfast over and feeling replete, I answer a few emails in an internet shop across the way and then set off for the dirt road that leads to the Choquechaca conservation area. Going through the narrow cobbled streets I see businesses and hostels, hotels and shops that I had never seen before. Ollantaytambo is a fully thriving tourist village.
I go past the hostel where Jason and I stayed last year and notice that my favourite birding fields opposite are now blocked off by strings of barbed wire and a padlocked gate. Also I notice that the large American Bird Conservancy sign has gone. No matter, I am sure that the birds are still here.
After taking the pathway adjacent to the fast-flowing and very noisy stream, I hear loud and fast dance music emanating from somewhere ahead. Coming around a corner I see that a few fields have marquees set up and a ornately green coloured stage where the paraphernalia required for such a cacophonous din stands before a few bouncing much younger than me people. A music festival, a rave in Ollantaytambo, in fields I had always found so peaceful in the past, is a big surprise. I ask three men standing outside a few questions and hear that at around three in the morning the beat will change from the monotonous constant and that there is no live music played by musicians, just taped stuff by DJs. The three men include two who have come from southern Brazil just for this event and at $50 entrance fee I hope they enjoy it. As light rain is still falling I can see that the long beer tent is well filled.
Carrying on further along the road I meet a young man, David, from Southern Chile. He has also come here with his girlfriend and three friends just for the rave but needs a rest from the noise so has gone for a walk. David asks about the identity of a large eagle he had seen early in the morning. From his description it sounds like a Black-breasted Buzzard eagle. I wouldn't mind seeing some raptors but in this weather that seems unlikely.
Birds appear, mostly Rufous-collared Sparrows but also Band-tailed Seedeaters. Better birds include Rust & Yellow Tanagers, Black-throated Flowerpiercers, Golden-billed Saltators, Peruvian Sierra Finches and especially the very smart Chestnut-breasted Mountain Finch. There are the expected Giant Hummingbirds, Eared Doves, Olivaceous and Hooded Siskins, Spot-winged Pigeons and White-browed Chat Tyrants to grow the day list and lots of Chiguanca Thrushes.

I reach the Choquechaca entrance by crossing the noisy brook. Choquechaca has Spanish ruins high on the hill and as it is a conservation area supported by The American Bird Conservancy, The Macarthur Foundation and ECOAN I am hopeful of some birds. Nine Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants are searching for food on a ploughed field and dozens of Rufous-collared Sparrows are doing the same in a maize field. As rain gets steadily harder, around twenty Black-bellied Swallows hawk over the brook and land on a protruding branch by a muddy cliff. Two White-capped Dippers feed on the fast water edges of large rocks. Walking some way up the hill a spinetail species doesn't allow me to get enough detail on it unfortunately.
Turning back as the rain gets harder still I stop counting the birds seen as I don't want to duplicate any of them for the eBird list I want to post later. Despite the rain I manage to see a Rufous-breasted Chat Tyrant.

Green Year list : 219 birds average new birds to list per day : 3.13 birds

Distance walked, pushed and cycled : 9.72 miles

elevation : up 879 feet, down 987 feet

altitude : 9,321 feet

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