11-02-2012, 03:56 PM
Joined: Feb 2009
Location: Houston, TX
We took the mid-day train out of Ollantaytembo and headed for Aguas Calientes (Now called by many Machu Picchu City). The train moved rather slowly along the Rio Urubamba and takes over well over an hour to travel about 40 kilometers. The slow ride is due to a very uneven road bed which causes the narrow gauge train to constantly sway from side to side like a boat on a stormy sea. The views along the track are pretty spectacular with the fast moving Rio Urubamba on the one side and views of fast rising mountains on both sides. Where the valley widens there are often corn fields being tended by the locals. The train is well kept with comfortable seats and tables. There is a steward in each car selling larger snacks and drinks as well as passing out a complementary small snack and drink. I can say that the complementary snacks were better than the little bags of peanuts that some airlines are known by.
Our train in the station.
The cars were comfortable.
When we arrived in Aguas Calientes, we quickly realized that it is primarily a tourist town. The railway station empties into a huge market of booths that goes on for a few hundred feet in all directions. There is no way to get from the train to the city without passing through them. Once past the booths one finds narrow streets with shops, restaurants, hotels and hostels lining them. The streets are very steep and narrow often with steps built into them and are intended only for pedestrian traffic. There are no cars, motorcycles or any other motorized vehicles other than construction equipment and busses that are limited to shuttling tourists to and from Machu Picchu which is about three kilometers down the river and up a very steep slope.
There was plenty of shopping once off the train.
The city streets.
Our poor Spanish bites us. Joe wanted to order sour cream for some Mexican food. He got what seems closest to a strawberry milk shake.
All the goods for the shops and other businesses has to be hauled up from the train station. These guys were pulling all they could trip after trip up a steep hill. I don't know if we have folks in the states that would do this.
Here is where I will confess to what could have been a big screw-up. We went down to purchase our bus tickets, one can walk up but it is not easy, and made plans to be at the departure place early for the first bus at 5:30a.m. The next morning we checked out of hour hostel/hotel early and proceeded to the bus. There were a couple of busloads of tourists already there but not too many as the busses are small. Our bus made its way up to the entrance where we got in line for the 6:00 opening. It was while waiting in line we found out that they don’t sell entrance tickets at the gate but that one needs to have purchased them in town or previously on the internet or from a travel service. We hadn’t intended to hire a guide but after a very nice guide offered to call someone down in Aguas Calientes, get them to purchase tickets for us and email them up to the entrance; we decided that a guide made good sense. It took about 40 minutes and we had our tickets and were inside.
Our guide spent over two hours taking us all around the facility. There were no places that she took us that were not open to the public but her explanations of the history and culture added immensely to our visit and we learned a lot that we would not have even guessed about the place. For the most part the area is open for visitors to walk around and view it. Interpretive signs are not present so one would need to know a great deal of the history to appreciate the city. Archeological work is being done in a few small restricted areas but they are also limited in number. Most of the grassy areas are restricted from the crowds walking on them and where one walks across what are grassy terraces there are plastic grates to prevent erosion and killing of the vegetation. The crowds were numerous but because the facility is so large it never seemed crowded.
The Cliff Notes of what I learned was that the city was constructed over about 700 years by 20,000 people that would spend three month shifts working there and it was never finished before the Spanish invaded and conquered the country. Machu Picchu was inhabited during the construction phase and it was nearing completion and the work was greatly sped up toward the end after the Spanish began the invasion of the Inca Empire. To prevent the Spanish for discovering and using what was a sacred place, it was burned, abandoned and forgotten.
Yes there it is, Machu Picchu.
The original Inca Trail as it makes its way to the city gate.
The lower part of the wall was the original construction method. The upper part is once the construction was hurried after the Spanish began conquering the Incas.
Our guide pointing out where mummies would be placed.
We rode the train back to Ollantaytembo where we had left our bikes and luggage stored at Hotel Casa de Mama Valle. It was a reasonable place to stay and the people were friendly. We never felt that our bikes or luggage were in any danger and I would not hesitate to stay there again.
Our plan was to leave early the next morning and ride to Puno, Peru where we would have a short ride to the Bolivian border and then La Paz on Thursday the 1st of November. We aren't much for sight seeing and we didn't even go through Cusco. The ride was a pretty easy one with good roads and the only limiting factors being several long slow towns along the way. What we did have happen, for the first time on this trip, was that we were stopped by the police for a check of documents. The stop was as we entered the town of Juliaca, a real arm pit of a town too. Early in our ride we had been told by other riders that they had been stopped at the same place and it ended up costing quite a bit in bribes because they didn’t have insurance documentation. We pulled out our SOAT policies that we had purchased for Colombia and kept insisting that because of an international treaty between most of the South American countries our policies were also good in Peru. The officer kept arguing with us that we were wrong but we stood our ground, plus we couldn’t speak any Spanish and he didn’t speak English, and he finally just stormed off, got in his car and left. An hour later as we entered the town of Puno we were stopped again. As Joe went to get off his bike he turned to me and said “here we go again”. The head officer looked at him, asked if we had been stopped before and when Joe said yes, he just waved us on. Although we had been through many places in all previous countries where cars, buses and trucks were stopped, we had always been waved on and had formed the opinion that the corruption had been cleaned up. But, I guess there are still pockets of it.
Farming along the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Floating net cages where fish are raised by the locals.
The next morning we got an early start for the Bolivian border and had no problems along the way. Getting out of Peru was not difficult at all. The line at the immigration office wasn’t too long and after getting our passports stamped out we had to go to an office across the street and have our bikes processed out too. It was very easy and no hassle at all.
We rode over to the Bolivian side and were instructed to get our visas first and then get the bikes processed in. After filling out visa papers we met with the immigration official, paid our $135.00 US visa fee and were told that all we needed now was a copy of three pages in our passports. One thing that I noticed was that the lights were not on in the first several offices. Well, it seems that the power was off on that side of the border and we needed to go back to Peru to get copies. Joe waited with the bikes while I walked back across the bridge and found a copy shop. The guards on both sides didn’t pay me any attention as I walked back and forth. One guy that had let a rope down so we could ride out of Peru gave me a funny look and I said I need to make copies and he pointed down the street.
Returning to Bolivia I gave the document copies to the immigration officer and he finished with our entry requirements and said we could go get the bikes check in. At the officials office that was to check in our bikes we were informed that it was all automated and online but that with no power he couldn’t do anything. He estimated it would be perhaps two hours before power was restored. We decided to go down the street and get something to eat. We left our bikes at the officials and walked about three blocks down the street and were ready to order when we noticed a light bulb had come on. We went back to the official’s office and after about 20 minutes more, when the internet started working again, he imported our bikes and we were on our way.
The ride to La Paz went well after that and despite the usual heavy traffic getting into the city we were able to get to a hotel at a reasonable time. While I say the ride went well, I guess I say that because I’ve began to get use to speed bumps everywhere along the highways anytime a town or group of buildings are present. There will be a sign saying speed 80 kph and a speed bump twenty feet later and another a hundred yards after that one and many many more all along the highway. And in the city it is crazy the way the main highway ends up on small city streets with traffic all fighting to get ahead. In La Paz there is even a new feature…speed bumps on the larger streets just before the traffic lights. I guess it keeps people from speeding up to make the light but it causes a real problem with getting traffic through the green lights.
We’re taking a rest day or two here and will be back on the road in a couple of days.
Llama, cute and tasty too.
"Right is still right if nobody is right, and wrong is still wrong if everybody is wrong," ~Archbishop Fulton J Sheen
Cisco_k screwed with this post 11-02-2012 at 04:40 PM
Reason: Add Photos