First glimpse of Machu Picchu and first step in the Peruvian rainforest

Aguas Calientes Travel Blog

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Early morning train to Aguas Calientes
I woke up a few minutes before the alarm clock rang with a splitting headache.  Mate de coca, biscuits with jam and cheese for breakfast; headache gone, but I still had a stiff neck.

In the hotel atrium, we met with Adelqui, our guide for Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.  He seemed very gurff, and places a lot of empahsis on repeating instructions.  I found out later that this is because he is unsure of his English and wants to make sure his instructions are clear.  I think he speaks very good English, somewhat moreso than many native English speakers I know.
Glacier shot, from the train

Back up in our room, Tara and I throw the next day's clothes and toiletries in our day packs.  I checked my duffel bag at the hotel.  Now I could travel light to Aguas Calientes.  In hindsight, I probably could have brought my duffel bag with minimum hassle (and it would have saved me a couple of hardships later on.)

As we arrived at the train station, I was very cold.  Right about that time, I realized I had left my sweater in my duffel bag (hardship #1), as well as socks (#2)...and my alarm clock (not such a hardhsip, but still)...and my bathing suit and towel (#3).

The train left the station and we began the climb up to the top of Cuzco.  This was accomplished by taking a series of switchbacks criss-crossing the mountain.  On the way up, we passed through the residential section of Cuzco.

Most of the people we passed live in clay brick houses arranged in semi-permanent shanty town of cloth, wood, corrugated tin, and mud.  Stray dogs roam the streets.  Each house had a small garden, many with chickens or other small livestock running free range.  One part of me can imagine it being a sort of romantic, simple life.  The rest of me is glad I don't have to live it.  Most of these people survive on meager wages kowtowing to tourists like me all day.

The train crested the mountain and it was all downhill from there, physically speaking.  Spiritually, the trip was awe-inspiring.  The train rocked back and forth, providing fantastic vistas of the Andes.  Snowcapped peaks closed in streams and endless depths of foliage.

As the ride continues, we begin to see many Quechuan farms.
Our first glimpse of Machu Picchu
  Again, the clay brick houses each have a wall around them, penning in dogs, sheep and vegetables.  The track follows the Urumba river, the "Sacred River" for the Quechua.  As we pass by a dam, Adelqui explains that many people blame the dam for polluting the river.  He then explains that the river was polluted ong before the dam was built.  People often don't think about their environment until it is too late.

A pack fell from the overhead rack, and scrapped Pin's head.  She seemed alright, but she had to use tissues to apply pressure and stop some bleeding.  After taking some Tylenol, she was feeling better.

We reached Aguas Calientes around noon.  It was a steep climb up a shop-lined street to the Jardin Real Hotel.  Again, our room is simple but cozy.
Adelqui, our guide, enjoying a trail snack
  Our beds had 3 alpaca wool blankets on them.  We didn't have much of a view, and only lukewarm water in the shower, but we didn't plan on spending much time in the hotel room anyway.

The entire group met for lunch at El Toldo.  I had Truncha a la Plancha (trout) which I was told was caught locally.  After lunch, Adelqui gave us some options for activities.  We could go to the hot springs, walk around shopping, take a nature hike or relax at the hotel.  At first, Tara wanted to do some shopping and relaxing, but Adelqui told us that the trail was flat and ended at a waterfall.  We decided to go on the hike.

I 'm glad we went.  The hike was about 2.5 miles along the railroad tracks.  Along the way, Adelqui pointed out many exotic plants: passion flower, vermillia, birds of paradise, elephant ear, and more.
Me, Johnny, Pin, Tom, Tara, Preston
  He also talked to a farmer who lived along the trail and let us on to his land.  He was growing avacado, bananas, and orchids, and raising sheep and chickens.

Every so often along the trail, Adelqui pointed up to the peaks of surrounding mountains.  From the tracks, we caught our first glimpses of Machu Picchu, high above us.  About 1 mile into our hike, he informed us that we were officially in the Amazon rainforest.

We reached the gardens of Mandor, the private land that the waterfall was on.  For 5 soles, we passed through a rusty gate into an area of cultivated banana and pineapple.  Through that, the trail entered the rainforest.  We reached the water fall and took a much needed rest near the spring.  The waterfall wasn't big, but it was pretty, and the spray off of it cooled us down.
Pineapples grow upside down

On our way back, we stopped at the Mandor caretaker's reststop.  Everyone bought cool drinks.  I had my first taste of Inca Kola.  Inca Kola is the official beverage of Peru.  Earlier in the trip I had shied away from it, but then was as good a time as any to try it.  It smells like bubble gum, and tastes like Mountain Dew.  Apparently it is made with camomille.  Whatever is in it, I am now addicted for life!  If only I could find a way to getit easily in the US.

When we got back to the town, there was no time for hot springs.  Just as well, considering I left my bathing suit and towel in Cuzco.  Instead, I went to the hotel room to take a shower with no hot water.  At that point I was so hot and sweaty that I didn't care.

For dinner, everyone ate on the Plaza.  Tara and I split a Pizza de Tocina and a beef tenderloin.  A band came in and played Andean music.  It was great!  Melodies flow easily from mellow and soothing to toe-tapping and racuous.  I bought the band's CD, but Tara wouldn't let me ask them to sign it.

We ate dinner late, and afterwards, everyone was tired.  We went back to the hotel and slept, ready for an exciting day.  Machu Picchu was only a few hours away!
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Early morning train to Aguas Calie…
Early morning train to Aguas Cali…
Glacier shot, from the train
Glacier shot, from the train
Our first glimpse of Machu Picchu
Our first glimpse of Machu Picchu
Adelqui, our guide, enjoying a tra…
Adelqui, our guide, enjoying a tr…
Me, Johnny, Pin, Tom, Tara, Preston
Me, Johnny, Pin, Tom, Tara, Preston
Pineapples grow upside down
Pineapples grow upside down
Plantains, not bananas!
Plantains, not bananas!
Aguas Calientes
photo by: Vikram