July 26, 2009

Peru, Week 5: “Is there any efficient way to get there?”

Last night we went out to an Italian restaurant that had an Inca wall as part of it. Apparently this is a big thing in Cusco, and Jenny’s group did an Inca wall pub crawl this week. Afterwards we went to a bar that advertised a Rolling Stones cover band, but I had an altitude headache and they weren’t very good (nor did they play Rolling Stones songs) so we went to bed at 11, which was still much too late as we had to wake up at 6. I couldn’t sleep all night because I was worrying whether the travel agency woman would actually be meeting us with our tickets; she did, 15 minutes late, and gave us only the briefest explanation before putting us on a bus. Turns out there are two ways to get here: take us to Ollantaytambo, a tiny town two hours away, then get on the train; or take the train straight from Cusco. I have no idea why the travel agent chose the first option, as it was inconvenient and confusing. There was a Quechua singer on the bus who demanded to be tipped. Also, it started to rain when we were on the platform waiting for the train, which was late. Apparently train is the only way to get here (besides walking, which Veena and Leila are doing – in the rain, while Alice and I napped in a cozy hotel facing the river) because the river valley is so steep and narrow. There are buses to get to Machu Picchu from this tiny town (Aguas Calientes, named such for its hot springs – swim suit rentals upon request), and they had to be carried in by train too. The mountains are amazing though – they’re like the erupting rocks from “The Rite of Spring” sequence in Fantasia, but covered with multigreen lichens, shrubs, and small trees, steep-sided, craggy, folded in mist so you can’t even see barely three hundred feet up, let alone all the way to the top (and I know they´re ridiculously tall – I saw a break in the clouds.) A mountain on the way here (seen from the bus) had fog clouds wrapped around its shoulders like a scarf made of sheep.

Besides looking at the scenery, though, there’s nothing to do but eat, sleep, and remain frustrated at the travel agent. A guide to Machu Picchu was supposed to call to arrange things, but they haven’t yet and we’ll probably just have to take ourselves. (Which may be better, as Jenny said she saw a tour guide telling a group to rub a “sacred Inca rubbing stone”. We´ve decided that if they try to tell us anything remotely untrue-sounding we’ll pool our archaeological knowledge and cross-examine them.)

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