Megan & Katherine
I joined Alana, Katherine, Megan and Rupert and a few of the others in the morning and shared the fresh ground local coffee I had bought the night before. We just put it in the hot water and let it steep and it tasted oh so good. Breakfast was not up to the usual standard, just some stale bread and jam with some cheese. We ate lightly and then got our things together and were on our way. The treat of this morning was waking up much later than the previous ones since we didn’t have as far to go. Just past the village to the edge of the hill, we took the road down towards the valley and overlooked some ruined buildings near the river that Juan explained were the remains of the old town that was washed away by the extensive flooding of El Nino some years ago.
Remains of the washed out old town
The newer town is more safely located on the bluff. Another feature of the landscape was the brand new brightly painted bridge, the controversial bridge that links Santa Teresa village with the other side of the river. What makes it controversial, and I remember reading about this in the paper a couple years ago, before I even had the thought to come to South America, was that it enables many tourists to skip the costly Inca Trail or train to Machu Picchu
, and essentially come in the back way, as we were doing. One could take a bus directly to Santa Teresa from Cuzco or do the Salkantay trek, and by means of the bridge, easily cross over to the other side and walk to Aguas Calientes
Waiting for the basket
The monopoly on access to Machu Picchu was broken. The villagers defended their right to the bridge against many international organizations who are worried about increased tourism to Machu Picchu compromising and eventually destroying the site, because the bridge shortens their trip to Cuzco and other towns and markets by many hours as well as provides them with important tourist dollars and gives them a slice of the pie. I believe they have a valid point. If there is a concern with the stability of M.P. then UNESCO should deal with that directly at the site by limiting tickets and entrances. The villagers should be allowed to improve their lives. The basket on a cable is still there and we all went across on it just for the thrill. Obviously to walk across the bridge would have been a lot easier but it wasn’t as fun.
The road led on through the Urubamba valley and the groups split up as we slowly trudged on and on. Walking was not fun today. We just wanted to get to our destination. After a few hours we finally arrived at the hydroelectric power plant, the signal to stop for lunch. The hills began to rise higher and higher by this point and they were covered with green. Waterfalls fell dramatically from the heights to fertilize and irrigate the tropical vegetation. I hadn’t realized Machu Picchu was in the upper tropical rain forest. After lunch Juan asked who would continue walking and who would take the train to Aguas Calientes, our terminus. At first I was for taking the train but then I realized that it was a cop out and that I should walk.
Karen & Sarah
So we all agreed to keep going the extra few hours by foot. Our route led along the railway for much of the afternoon and it was more difficult walking on the ties or the gravel of the track bed. The Urubamba was always nearby and we had to step aside a couple times for oncoming trains, but overall it was a pleasant afternoon because the end was in sight. I had heard that Aguas Calientes was not a nice town at all, but the first view of it belied those reports. We rounded a corner and saw the first buildings of the lower town surrounded by beautiful green mountains whose tops and ridges were hidden by clouds and fog. The town was almost wedged between the lower slopes of the hills and the river and it was a dramatic approach. But once in the town, I realized that there was a basis for the reports.
The new bridge
Much of the town seemed hastily built and it was obviously a major tourist hub. Every building was either a hotel or a restaurant it seemed, and there was a big crafts market right in the center with the usual trinkets and souvenirs and handicrafts. I realized that almost every tourist to Peru comes through this town to get to Machu Picchu and that accounted for the shock of seeing so many foreigners and tourists in one small place. I think I saw more tourists in one evening than I had seen in five months of traveling through Peru. And the “ugly” tourist was out in force too…the obese, wearing shorts in the cold weather, with super white skin, etc. I hadn’t seen any of these people in five months of travel. They fly in to Lima
and get a connecting flight to Cuzco.
From Cuzco they take a private bus or train to Aguas Calientes and see Machu Picchu and then retrace their path and leave Peru. This is what the average and majority of tourists to Peru do and that’s why I hadn’t seen this kind of tourist in all my time in Peru. It was fascinating to see them here, and so many too.
We met up with Juan and were distributed around the town to various hostels. There was some mix-up and the room I was supposed to have wasn’t available. After an hour wait Juan finally took me to a small hostel and the room was really nice, probably the nicest I had stayed at in all my time in Peru. Obviously the snafu turned out to my advantage. The shower was super hot and very strong, again, the nicest shower I had had in Peru.
What a pity that we had so little time to sleep because the matrimonial queen-sized bed was wonderfully firm with crisp, clean sheets. We would have to be up at 4:30 in the morning the next day. We were all expecting a dinner of pizza or hamburgers or something like that but instead our cooks put together a last meal of soup, and then trout with rice and fries. I ate the soup and trout but had no appetite for more cold fries, plain rice and veggies. You get tired of trail camp food after four days of that. It was the last meal and we tipped the cooks and cheered for them because all in all they did a great job. I think it was the best food of any of my treks.
Everyone went back to their lodgings to sleep but I went out for a drink with some of the others from the other group. We chatted for awhile and then turned in to get at least a few hours of sleep before our early morning rendezvous at the bus station to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu in time for the sunrise.