Saturday, June 14, 2008

Aguas Calientes

5:00AM in the morning I was attaching my backpack and heading downstairs to catch the train to Aguas Calientes. The tiny town is at the foot of Machu Picchu and is the jumping off point to catch the bus and see the impressive ruins. Nevertheless, the normally 4 hour train ride turned into 6 1/2 hours.

First of all, the train had no heat. When you are traveling on a Vistadome train which had windows on both sides and on the top through mountains you may think that the engineers of this contraption would have considered the winter months. So now wearing like 7 layers, we are off. In my experience with trains which is rather limited to European countries, when the tracks need to changed there is usually some rail personnel that is stationed at that location and has some sort of schedule to know when and which train is on the way. Still Perurail figures that it is best not to hire any additional assistance when there is perfectly good employees already on the train. So when leaving Cusco we would drive a bit forward, pause, then move a bit backwards then head forwards again. Over and over did this occur. Just to get out of town it was 45 minutes. The Japanese tour group thought this was hilarious. Everytime we would go forward, pause and then go backwards they laughed heartly surely thinking to themselves that this part of the fun. I, on the other hand, not so much. I was just getting impatient.

Thankfully the gods reward impatience. We make it to our first stop. 6 people join the train. We don´t move. Time passes. We still don´t move. We are served breakfast by the train equivilent of stewardesses. We still don´t move. It is so cold as soon as the coffee is poured it is also cold. Still there. A guide on the train finally asks what the hold up is and of course the engine isn´t working. So they are trying to fix it. We sit. The train inches forward. The Japanese cheer. The train moves back to the station. The train launches itself like a children´s story chugging slightly along. The Japanese cheer. The train moves back to the station. Sigh. New plan. We are hooking up a whole new engine train. Great, I think. We are finally using our knoggins rather then our caboose. We wait. The Bolivian women that I am sitting with are turning slightly purple. They have no additional gear with them because this was supposedly a nice day trip for them. Through the frostbite on my innerlobes, I can hear the Japanese cheer...we are on our way! Hooray!

We chuckle, now that the issue is resolved. We rationalize that at least it happened at a train station, wouldn´t it really stink if we were on the side of a mountain somewhere. Guess what? We spoke too soon. An hour from our debaucle we stop. Granted at this point the sun has begun to creep out and I am down to only 4 layers, so at least this is good. The train stewards have dressed up as conductors to sell us train souvenirs and later as native Peruvians to sell us hand made crafts by poor children. It´s like being trapped on the homeshopping channel, though admittedly entertaining. We stop on the side of a mountain. Literally. There is about half an inch to the left of the track where you can see many meters down a lovely rock filled rushing river and to our right another inch from a hard rock mountain. We sit.

In good tradition of ALL countries and of ALL transportion types. They tell us nothing. I swear that no one got the memo that communication is the best option in 99% of situations. Its like no one is reading any ¨The World is Flat¨or ¨Who moved my Cheese?¨in these industries. The Japanese are now wearing vests, hiking hats, all with the Perurail logo on it and reading their commemorative Machu Picchu Then and Now books. They are comfortable, clearly, just not cheering.

Eventually we make it. We saw breath taking scenary and mountains of every type. I never knew there were that many type of mountains. The only thing that when we arrive at the train station every train that left after us to head to Machu Picchu is also behind us. So 5 trains are unloading at the same time. A total cluster.

This town is quiant. Tiny tiny tiny, but it feels warm. Matter of fact it is warm, down to only one layer. The only thing that kept me sane on the train other than stories of Bolivia was my new book: A Thousand Splendid Suns. If you read Kite Runner and loved it, go get this book. If you care about female rights, go get this book. If you have any understanding of geo-politics, go get this book.

Okay. I am off to explore a little more before heading back to a very traditional backbackers hostal, so I can wake in the morning and meet Eliot at the top of Machu Picchu. Sounds pretty romantic huh? I am sure that everything will slow down, cheesy music will be piped in and we will run to each others arms in slow motion.

1 comment:

  1. i do not believe that you did not buy any perurail souvenirs for me. i could have really used a good perurail vest.

    i am happy that the train ride i experienced was more like a fashion show than the home shopping network. sounds very twilight zone.