Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Train to Aguas Calientes

After leaving the homestay and saying our goodbyes, we took off in our bus to the town of Ollantaytambo, a small town from which we were going to take the train to Aguas Calientes (which is a very new town created to host the tourists going to Machu Picchu). It's too bad we only drove through, as the town itself seemed great for travellers. Along the way we also passed Pisac, another Inca archeological site. Later we learned that Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo and Pisac were all cities that made up 3 of the 4 areas in one division of the Inca Empire. Since each division had 4 cities, they are still searching for the 4th city - maybe one day we'll hear about the discovery of a new ancient city!

Once in Ollantaytambo, we waited around for the train. After being at the homestay for 2 days without running water or flush toilets, I think it's safe to say we all took full advantage of the amenities! The train arrived around 3:45 and we all boarded. The ride was to be about an hour and a half long, even though the destination was only about 50km away.

The train itself was really nice, and if you've read my other stories you'll know how I generally have bad luck with trains. The seats on this train were comfy and pretty roomy, and the carriage itself had lots of big windows along the sides and curving over the ceiling so that it was possible to see the mountains without too much difficulty. Not too long into our journey we were given a snack of salad and a tart (and, like all the food we ate throughout our adventure, it was amazing)

At km 82 along the tracks you can see the entrance to the Inca Trail, where the travelers with much more time and much more guts than any of us start. The Inca Trail can be hiked in 2, 3 or 4 days. After all the hills we climbed at the homestay, I honestly can't imagine doing the trail. A note to anyone wanting to do it - make sure to allow yourself at least 3 days in Cuzco to get used to the thinner air at the higher altitude. The Inca Trail is a bit lower in altitude than Cuzco, but after breathing the thinner air you'll feel like an athlete on the trail!

Eventually, after inching along at what felt like a snails pace (max 35km!) we finally arrived at Aguas Calientes. We filed off the bus, gathered our things and headed through the market to get to the main area of town. We climbed up the hill on one side of the raging river with the intention of crossing one of the bridges. However, when we reached said bridge we found it was out, so we had to walk all the way back down the street to a bridge close to where we started. Back up the other side of the river we went, on a 45 degree angle. Eventually when we reached the top we were totally exhausted. Luckily the promise of a soak in the hot springs that the town is named for (those fluent in Spanish would have noticed that Aguas Calientes literally means hot waters). We dumped our stuff off the hotel (but not before climbing 4 flights of stairs!) and put on our bathing suits and headed towards the spas.

Along the walk (still up the 45 degree hill) we picked up some towels for rent (3 or 4 soles, getting more expensive the closer to the entrace you went) and got to the gates. A surly looking man at the gate informed us that even though there was only an hour left til the hot springs closed we would have to pay S/10.00 each. Carolina, with her fluent Spanish, tried to convince him to cut us a deal but he wasn't having any of it. He also didn't want to break anyone's 50 notes. Sigh.

After deciding that an hour was still enough to soak in some hot mineral water, we continued the trek to the springs. We assumed that we were close. We assumed wrong. The walk from the point of entry to the springs itself was easily a 5-10 min walk, depending on how fast you went. For some reason, even after being in Peru and hiking up all the hills, my body still seemed to insist on going at it's normal walking speed, which is fast even in Canada. In Peru it was heart attack inducing.

We arrived at the hot springs, dropped our stuff off at the entrance, practically ran down the stairs to change and went to stake claim on a spot in one of the pools. We picked the least busy looking one and got in.

The ground was sandy/rocky, something like the bottom of one of the great lakes. And it smelled funny. And worst of all, there wasn't anywhere to sit along the edges anywhere! We found spots to sit/crouch along the outside while we waited for the rest of the group to find us. By the time they joined us, we had also realized why this particular pool wasn't as busy as the others - it wasn't very hot at all!

Once the rest of the group was in the water (all but 3 of us from the whole tour decided to venture to the hot springs) we decided to move to another pool, one that hopefully was warmer. It took a few tries, but we finally found the pool that was actually what any of us would consider to be "hot".

Despite the odd smellingness of the water (which, thankfully wasn't sulphur but some other odd smell) and the rocky bottoms of the pools, I think we all enjoyed ourselves. The water was soothing after days of roughing it at the homestay and working our way up steep hills with our 30lb backpacks on our backs.

Around 8 we decided to head back to the hotel. We'd planned to shower at the hotsprings but realized soon after arriving that there wasn't any proper showers there. The plan was to shower (so that we'd smell awesome instead of strange) and meet back in the lobby in half an hour to go find something to eat.

We'd been warned that Aguas was much more expensive than Cuzco, so we set out looking for a deal. We walked down the hill (going down was almost as hard as going up, since the sidewalks were somewhat slippery from rain that had fallen). About halfway down the hill and not finding anything that really caught our eye we decided to go back up the hill so that we didn't have to walk all the way back up from the bottom. Some of the girls wanted a woodfire pizza and we remembered a place that had 5 for 1 drinks right by the hotel so thats where we decided to go.

We wanted to sit on the balcony, so we went upstairs and found a table in the corner long enough to accommodate 9 of us. We ordered drinks and pizzas and made ourselves comfortable. What we didn't realize was that our particular table was right beside the chimney for the pizza oven and before long the smoke coming out of it had a couple of the girls fleeing to the other end of the table.

It took forever for our pizza to arrive, and it turned out that 3 thin crust pizzas were not enough for 9 hungry women to share. However, since it took almost an hour for those 3 pizzas to show up we decided to call it a night and go back to the hotel. We had a 5am wake up call awaiting us so we didn't think we should be up all night.

To our rooms we went, and I checked under the blankets - yup, hidden under the deceiving bed spread was at least 2 llama blankets. How I would go home to Canada and sleep without the weight of a full animal on my chest, I didn't know.

Set my alarm for 5am (GROSS!) and fell asleep quickly, even though my hair had the distinct stench of  campfire on it.

Turns out I didn't need my alarm, however... at 3:45 am I was awoke by someone banging on a nearby door telling them to wake up.Then, at 4am, I was awoken by not one but two roosters outside the window. They continued their wake up calls every 5 to 7 minutes until 5 am finally rolled around.

Erin and I got ourselves up, I got dressed and attempted in vain to do something with my hair, and packed my things up. We took our bags downstairs, gave them to the front desk and settled in for some breakfast. Apparently my stomach doesn't wake up at 5:30am and I wasn't overly hungry. I forced down a bun with jam and some tea or coffee, I don't even remember now. Because I knew the food would be scarce at Machu Picchu, I also packed a bun and jam for the road, as well as a banana. Into the backpack the snacks went and off to the bus we went to drive up to Machu Picchu.

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