Our alarms were set for 4:30am today so we would have time to check out and get in our 5:10am car to the Ollantaytambo train station so we could catch the 6:10 train to Aguas Calientes. That all went very smoothly and we were off on our 90 minute train ride from the sacred valley. We were sitting with a group of 3 young women from Sacramento traveling together and an older woman from Virginia traveling with her cousins. They were fun to talk to and we all shared our experiences running into the protests and blocked roads trying to get down into the valley yesterday. One of the young women is also planning to visit Sydney later this year so we shared some tips for that. Also this particular train, the lowest class backpacker train, still offered free muffin and beverage service during the ride. Totally unexpected.
Right around 7:45am we pulled into Aguas Calientes and set about finding out where to buy the bus tickets to Machu Picchu. We had kind of wanted to buy them in advance in Cuzco, but the protests made that impossible. We only wandered a little before we found the hut selling the tickets and easily purchased two round trip passes on the bus. We picked up some small snacks from a shop and got in line for the bus. The ride up is very switchbacky but only 20 minutes or less. Once at the top we quickly went inside, passing up dozens and dozens of individuals at the gate offering to be our guide. In hindsight maybe we should have hired one, but at the time we were happy to explore on our own with the help of an app to tell us about some of the sites. The weather was overcast which kept us cool, but not so foggy as to block any great views. We spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins on our own and finally came to the very back at around 10:15. This area is the entrance to the hike up Huayna Picchu, that big peak you see behind the ruins in all the photos.
I had been on the fence about doing it. It looked really scary in the pictures online and reports called it difficult. I was already tired from wandering the ruins and unsure if I would get scared and panic on the trail. Eric was having a snack to charge up for the hike while I encouraged him to do it alone. We had both already paid to hike it, though. They only allow 2 groups of 200 people each to do it each day and we had the chance. A very nice woman and her husband had been sitting nearby during all this discussion and finally said something. The wife told us they had gone up earlier in the day and that they are both terrified of heights, but they survived just fine. They ended up giving me a 5-10 minute pep talk and encouraging me to do it. I am very glad they did. It was really not as scary as the pictures make it look, it was mostly just stairs. And you are so focused on the stairs that nothing else can bother you. We also ended up running into our friends from the train! We summited the peak with them and just as we were finishing out photos at the top there it began to pour down rain. Suddenly I was glad I had brought my rain jacket and that my pack has a rain cover. I got to use those bulky items and not feel like they were wasted weight. We made our way down in the rain and basically made a beeline out of Machu Picchu. Our legs were jello after that hike. It was not easy by any means, but not really scary and definitely worth the views. So we exited quickly and got a bus back down to the town. (Our hike on Huayna Picchu)
Our first thought off the bus was what is the closest place that is warm and will feed us? We wandered into the nearest establishment and had some very good pizza. We scarfed that down quickly and then went in search of something sweet. We found a nice little dessert spot along one of the plazas and had some pretty decent cake. Eric’s was obviously chocolate, but I’m still not sure what flavor mine was supposed to be even after eating it. It was good anyway. Since we were now stuffed full of food and still had an hour before our train out we headed to the markets. We actually had a rather successful experience buying some fun gifts and haggling a bit. Annnnd then it was time to take the train back. This time we faced a 3.5 hour train ride all the way back to Cuzco for the night. This train was the mid level service train. Not because we required more luxury, the time schedule was just more convenient. They began to put place mats and silverware out and brought around a beverage service and a tray of snacks including some kind of candied peanuts, goldenberries, a cake thing, and a warm tamal with a mild chili pepper inside. A bit of a step up from the free prepackaged muffin this morning I guess?
The real excitement came when there was suddenly onboard entertainment. I suppose the Peruvian music and the staff entertaining us was the real upgrade. We heard some information about a native Quechuan something or other. One of the attendants came out dressed in bright colors with a staff and the face of a lion maybe? He danced up and down the aisle making noises and dancing with passengers. He was very entertaining and I wish I could remember the story or tradition behind what he was representing. After that some other staff used the aisle as a runway to show off clothing made from alpaca and in some cases multiple ways to wear it. It was fun for me but I don’t know how fun it was for the employees. After the show they brought out the clothes in case anyone was inspired to purchase some. Honestly, if I hadn’t just bought a new wool coat, and maybe if I lived somewhere colder than California I would have been on some of it. Some of the things were very beautiful and well made. But unfortunately it would not have been the most functional purchase for me right now.
It was after 9pm when we pulled into the station near Cuzco and we needed to locate a taxi to get back to our hotel. As always there were a million drivers and individuals offering to drive us places. One very nice man with a badge around his neck approached us calmly and showed us he was an official taxi driver. We asked how much to our hotel and he quoted a price we were willing to pay. We said si! He was a very nice man and we had a pleasant drive back from the train station as he asked us about our day, our time in Peru, and where we were heading next. Truly everyone here is sweet. We have really enjoyed meeting everyone that we have worked with so far, and taxi rides seem to be a great time to practice our Spanish. One interesting sight we saw on the drive was a young man saying goodbye to a young woman as she got into a taxi in the city. He gave her a kiss and then made the apparently international gesture for “text me” with this thumbs. I found that very amusing.
The hotel fetched the bags we had left there last night and showed us to our room. We showered, reshuffled our packing, ate a chocolate covered coca leaf (the chocolate does help with the flavor), and tried to get some sleep for yet another early wake up.