Ollantaytambu, Macchu Picchu, and a needed break

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Almost five weeks into our time in Peru, we both woke up last Saturday and turned to each other and said ´we need a holiday´ The obvious place to go is of course to see Macchu Picchu. Following the gringo trail isnt always that bad, so we followed.

The insuing overnight bus trip took us 18 hrs in total and climbed some 13,000 feet into the Andes. Cusco is in a cold, touristy, glamorous, high up and surrounded by jungle. We immediatly reacted to the contrast to Pisco. Rarely have wee seen buildings taller than one story that havent been destroyed and in additoin Pisco is dry, desert, cheap and lacks amenities.

The first order of business was to forget about our shovels, wheel barrows and concrete busting tools and embrace our much needed respite by assimilating into the tourist life of coffee drinking, internet browsing, hippie pants wearing, occasional ruins site visiting gringos. Check.

Next on the list was the world famous Macchu Picchu. The site itself has some interesting ancient and modern history. Currently, the only way to get there by means of transportation other than your own two legs is to get on a train. There is no road. The train company is owned by a Chilean company and 0.00% of the proceeds from the ticket sales go toward any local economy. It would not be difficult to build a road, and I have a hunch that this Chilean company pays millions of dollars every year to ensure that the Peruvian governemnt does not allow a road to be built. Thus the monopoly on transport to Macchu Picchu ensure that the tickets fetch 160 bucks a pop. This is out of the price range of most backpackers, and thankfully, there is a long but sketchy way around this rediculous extortion. Our trip involved a 7 dollar overnight ´colectivo´ bus which barely clawed its way through the jungle on tiny dirt moutain roads in the middle of a torrential downpour. The bus trip began unnervingly when I stepped onto the bus and the driver told me that I was crazy for taking this way to Macchu Picchu, and he proceeded to ask me where I was keeping my money, in my bags or in my pockets. As far as the safety and state of the bus, it seemed on par with most of the rest of the busses we have taken around the world. The seets are so close together they force you knees into your face, people sit on people, and the transmission appears o be completely shot. Every time the driver had to shif between second and third, or from third to fourth, he would pop it into neutral, rev the engine between shifts and get it ready for the jump into the next gear, then throw it into gear and the bus would laboriously crawl up the road constantly straddling the fence between stalling and barely moving. Another staple of these bus trips is when another large vehicle comes in the opposing direction. On some of these occasions, the solution is resolved by a silent stand off which each driver simply waiting for the other to reverse or perhaps some divine intervention.

Arriving in the middle of nowhere at 3 in the morning we found our way onto another bus that creaked its way another two hours into the jungle. We were dropped off at some train tracks and told to follow the tracks on foot for a couple of hours until we reached the town of Agas Calientes at the base of historic Macchu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is larger and dirtier than we expected. We arrived at 7.30 in the morning looking for food and a place to sleep. I know we were all in a state of tired induced delerium, but so did the residents of Aguas Calientes. Showing up at a hostel, the owners appeared to be stunned that we had come looking for a room. In addition, upon requesting brekfast at several restaurants that were open and advertising breakfast, the owners seemed dumbfounded that we wanted breakfast. Aguas Calientes has all the characterists of a tourist trap. As the gringos start streaming down from Macchu Picchu in the early afternoon, all the restaurants advertise ´happy hour´ and 4x1 drinks. We should know better by now, but were were sucked in. We ordered 4 beers and when the bill came it cost us 15 soles. Mind you, a beer in a tourist town in Peru usually runs about 6 soles. Confused, I asked our waiter what happy hour was. ¨Senor, 4 for 1¨ Yes I saw that, ¨well how much does one beer cost?¨ I asked. ¨Six soles Senor¨ Hmm, ¨Well, 4 beers for the price of one beer must be six soles then¨ I aked. ¨Quince soles Senor¨ was all I could get back from our waiter. It appeared to be the same situation when shops have visa and mastercard signes painted on their windows. When the owners are presented with credit cards to make purchases, many stare back blankly as if they have never seen such a thing before.

So many things in these tourist towns are to lure in the gringos and advertising menus in english is no exception. Some of the translations from spanish to english were simply to hilarious not to make fun of. In the sleepy town of Ollantaytambu, we stoped for coffee after visiting some ruins and checking the internet in our hippie pants and just seeing the menu was worth the gringo price tag for the coffees. The menu had such delicacies as:

Loins to the gridiron with vegetable and I went fishing
Chop of beast to the plate
and of course: Plates of the bottom (fund)

Kristina was up to the challenge of eating one of the highland specialties of Peru, guinea pig. Im not quite sure if guinea pig goes in the ´chop of beast´category or if its loins were fried on the gridiron, but it was an experience none the less. The flavor of the little beast was good, but there wasnt much meat and it was served with some terribly dry potatoes. Appently squeezing all the juice out of the potatoes so that they are like little balls of cardboard is a specialty.
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