To get to Machu Picchu, you pass through Aguas Calientes which was renamed Machu Picchu to confuse everyone. From Aguas Calientes you still have to get to the hilltop site by bus or 3 hour hike (unless you pay $1000/night for a room at the Belmond). The three methods of getting to Aquas Calientes are; 1) hike the Inca Trail, 2) bus ride to hydro dam and walk 3 hours -US$60-1o hours from Cusco, 3) train from Ollantaytambo-US$140- 4 hours bus and train). After seeing a number of backpackers covered in bug bites (rainy season), we decided to take the train and stay the night in Aguas Calientes before going to Machu Picchu.
We spent the day in Ollantaytambo touring Inca sites, eating anticochos (chicken skewers). We repeatedly ran into a friendly Jewellery hawker with the improbable name of Angelique “want some rings? bracelets” …. “no thanks we do not need any”… “for your wives, girlfriends?”… “no thanks do not need” …. “for your mother or aunt?” …”not now”… “maybe later?..”maybe never”, all in perfect English.
As we were sitting in a cafe watching tourists on the Inca steps scatter in a rain squall, the song Babe by Styx came on. I was suddenly 13 years old again slow dancing with Stacey Bernstein at Andrew Merling’s Bar Mitzvah on the Saturday Night Fever dance floor. I had David Cassidy hair a beige suit (bought wholesale on St Laurent) and was tipsy on a swiped whiskey sour. Back then, I could not have imagined myself 36 years later sitting in a Cafe in Peru with my red headed Colombian husband. I wondered where I would be if I heard the song again in 36 years. Would I be seated in plasticized chair in an old age home slurping jello or would I be in rags listening to the song on a walkman found while scrounging for food in a post-global warming planet of the apes world? Only time will tell. However, I did not have time to ponder as Eliot nudged me to go and the spell was broken.
The two train options are Inca Rail and Peru Rail. We opted for the former which uses diesel powered passenger cars similar to the ones my dad would take to commute from Montreal West to downtown in the 60’s. The train rocked from side to side so hard that it was almost impossible to drink our tea. The track goes along a river swollen from the rains. At one point we slowed down to cross a point where a stream crossed the tracks as the staff looked out nervously.
It was dark and wet when we arrived in Aguas Calientes and the attendants were using their cellphone flashlights to guide us out of the station. Aquas Calientes is at the point in which the Alcamayo and Urubamba rivers meet. Both were raging from rain and we saw workers moving sandbags in wheelbarrows. There is a town square with restaurants and cafes and hotel. There are no cars, and the only way in is by train or foot. The place has a bit of a whistler 1980’s feel with all the backpackers and the restaurant lined square with loud 80’s music.
We were met by a woman from our hotel who took us to the box office for tickets to the Machu Picchu site where we waited in line for 30 minutes to pay for tickets to Machu Picchu (120 soles -$48) and to hike Machu Picchu mountain (30 soles extra). The woman told us that the power had been off for three days. As we waited, I could see Eliot’s anger level rising.
The hotel was located on a hill about the town. It was pitch black “it is an eco-lodge” explained the receptionist we do not have a generator. However, the next door building did have a generator and the deafening noise easily penetrated the thin wooden walls of our two story loft. At this point Eliot had had enough. The hotel managed to email us to confirm our stay that morning but had said nothing about a power failure. Eliot asked the receptionist why they did not inform us so that we could at least had brought flashlights and ear plugs. He was full on angry red headed Colombian and I think he scared her because when we came down to speak to her later, her boyfriend was there glaring at us. I asked her if it is reasonable to expect that guests at an ecolodge would have to listen to the sound of an industrial generator? We were met with shrugs, 2 sets of earplugs and a lantern with batteries that fall out. David and Tilo took it in stride as they were happy that they did not have to share a double bed.
Eliot persisted and threatened bad press from our blog (he failed to indicate our low double digit daily visit count) and we were offered a 20% discount.
All that made us hungry and we went for dinner to a restaurant that had power figuring the food would not make us sick. We ate at El Tunqui which turned out to be a tourist trap that charges an illegal 20% service fee. After dinner the power came on and everyone cheered. We played Jenga with British guys and were able to get a good nights sleep at our now quiet eco-lodge. With the power on, I was able to read on the internet about how tourists were stranded for days in 2010 because of the rains. I decided not to tell Eliot. We had a long day ahead and the rage of the rivers was enough to deal with. Click here to see the story on Machu Picchu