In an internet cafe, Aguas Caliente, outside Machu Picchu
temperature: 20 C / 70 F
elevation: 2,020 m / 6,627 f
It turns out I have another day to wait to see Machu Picchu, but I´ve waited this long...
Last night it was Allan´s turn to get the serious altitude sickness, his complete with fever and chills. Insomnia is still running rampant, but we managed to doze off before sunrise. You can imagine the scene when I looked at the clock and saw 5:10 - and our cab was coming at 5:30. A little mayhem, packing and flying into the cab (and of course I cut my finger and was bleeding all over the place, just because we were in a rush), then more mayhem at the train station, where every taxi is met by a throng of sellers hawking water, batteries, postcards.
For this trip, we opted for a higher-priced ticket, in order to ride the "Vistadome", a more scenic train with a set of upper windows. Leaving Cuzco, the way is so steep that the rails are a series of switchbacks - the train goes forward up one, then backwards up the next. Next to the tracks there are sprawling barrios, hovels jammed one upon the next, strewn with trash and chickens and dogs, tin rooves, graffiti. Further away you can see nice little adobe houses, and the whole Cuzco valley a blanket of red tile rooves, surrounded by dramatic green mountains.
Slightly further out, the sprawl finally gives way to farm land. Cows, sheep and the occasional burro are tethered to stakes as they graze near the train tracks. Dogs are everywhere, relaxing in the sun and watching the train go by, or trotting on their morning rounds. Groups of kids in uniforms are making their way to school, people are riding their bicycles to work.
As the train makes its way northwest, alongside a river, the surrounding moutains grow steeper and more dramatic, until the train is chugging through a canyon. It was breathtaking - even with all the other tourists leaning all over each other to take pictures. The front of the train was a Spanish-speaking group, the back was a group from Italy. The guide for the Spanish-speaking group was an Andean man with that perfect Inca face. (Can you tell I like these faces?)
The train went past a few smaller Inca sites, and you can see (approximately) the entrance to the Inca Trail, the famous four-day trek that ends at Machu Picchu. The trip is a little under four hours, alternating between just plain beautiful and spectacular.
Between the train station and the town, arriving tourists run a gauntlet of stalls. There´s an unbelievable number of people selling an unbelievable amount of crap. Here, at least, it really is mostly crap with Peruvian designs. I don´t know how they all manage to make a living. Maybe they don´t.
Looking for our hotel, wheeling our suitcases behind us, we walked off the main drag, following a security guard´s directions, down an alley, up a hill, down another alley, up some steep stone steps, until we finally saw the sign for Rupa Wasi.
It didn´t seem that it could be worth the climb to get to this room. Allan waited halfway up, and I went ahead to check on our reservation. The owner sent a kid down to help Allan with the bags, but it still seemed insane. Until I saw the room.
The "Eco Lodge," as they call themselves, is like a series of cabanas or bungalows, built right into the mountain. The office and the dining area look like log cabins. When I made the reservation online, the person asked me if we´d like a regular double room, or, for twice as much, one with an "awesome view". Allan said, Take the view. I was skeptical, but hey, it´s the most expensive room of the trip, and it still comes in at only $60 US (though twice as much as its nearest competition, in Lima). But while I was climbing the uneven, steep stone steps, I thought, this had better be a good view.
Oh. My. God. The room itself feels like a treehouse, perched in the woods, surrounded by jungle plants. There´s a little balcony, and it looks right out onto an enormous green mountain, without a single obstruction. It´s terrific.
Tired and hungry, we were rapidly realizing that we shouldn´t go to Machu Picchu today. Our guide picks us up tomorrow at 5:30 - to catch the sunrise at the site - and damn, we need a day in the middle. So we had a little lunch at the lodge, then climbed down into town to get some money, buy a few postcards, make a call and such.
The town of Aguas Calientes exists only as a jumping off point for Machu Picchu. It´s a jumble of hotels, restaurants, souvenir stands, internet cafes and international calling centres. There´s a grade-school in the centre of town, and the area residents actually look out of place among the tourists. Weird.
This afternoon we´re going to drink cervezas, or anything else we can find cold from a bottle, on our balcony, then have dinner at the lodge, which they make just for the guests. I´m hoping to fall asleep right after dinner and be ready for our guide before dawn.
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I called my sister to see how she´s recovering. Poor thing, it´s very hard. She told me our brother called her from Ecuador. It´s the Kaminker South American tour!
A few photos of Aguas Caliente here.