“Like you’re riding a train at night across some vast plain, and you catch a glimpse of a tiny light in a window of a farmhouse. In an instant it’s sucked back into the darkness behind and vanishes. But if you close your eyes, that point of light stays with you, just barely for a few moments.”
The humidity of the last few days has prompted an early hibernation for me. I started out with doors and windows opened then raced to close them and turn the AC on. Today and the next few days will be in the 80′s, warm for us, so I’ll hunker down and enjoy the cool air.
On with the travelog!
First, I apologize for the oversight so I’ll introduce the other half of the we I keep using. It was my roommate Francie, who had traveled only once out of the country on a guided tour of Italy with a bunch of high school kids, so this was, for her, a huge risk. She was the best of companions.
In Cuzco, we went to the market and bought some fruit and some coca leaves. We had read that chewing them allows the Peruvians to work at high altitudes without getting overly fatigued or hungry. We figured they’d help so we gave chewing them a try. The leaves weren’t worth the chew. We found out later they are mixed with something or better consumed in tea.
In those days, there was no tourist train to Aguas Calientes, the stop nearest the road to Machu Picchu, so we got up early and took the local. It was filled with Peruvians with their produce and reminded me of travel in Ghana. All that was missing were the goats and chickens. It was an amazing train ride. We traveled on rail so twisty we could see the front of the train from the back. I hung my head out the windows many times to see the train and the view along the way. We passed through Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the valley of the Incas and could see terraces up the mountains, places where the Incas planted their crops including potatoes and quinoa. After about four hours on the train, we arrived at the station where we had to buy bus tickets to get to the ruins. The road to the ruins was an amazing back and forth twist of a road, a zigzag switchback allowing travel up the steep hill.
All the pictures I see of the site now are filled with people roaming around. I didn’t find that. There were few people so I could take pictures without anyone in them. Machu Picchu is easily recognized as it sits between two mountains. The first view I saw of the ruins was from the hill which overlooks all of Machu Picchu. I don’t think I could move for a bit, astonished as I was by the sight. Finally I headed into the ruins where I walked around for hours. I went up to the sundial whose corners each point to a different direction. I took pictures through windows of the same view the Incas must have seen. I walked up and down the terraces. I took picture after picture of the ruins, the mountains and the ruins across from us on another mountain. I sat and just looked all around me. I think I forgot to breathe.
On the way down to the train, small boys raced the busses which had to negotiate the twisty road. The boys beat us to the bottom. We boarded the last train and headed back to Cuzco where we’d spend one more day exploring other ruins including an Incan foundation which still runs with sweet cold water. Then we took the train to Puno, a regular train back then. The ride was magnificent with the snow-capped Andes beside us for hours, the stops at small stations where we saw Peruvians in bright colors sitting in the sun, and in my mind’s eye, I still see the small children dressed in colorful clothes, red shawls are what I remember the best, who waved at us as the train passed. We always waved back. The second part of the trip was over the Andean plains, an amazing contrast from the mountains but no less beautiful. There we saw llamas, herds of llamas, shepherded by boys who followed behind them.
The trip to Puno took about 11 hours. We found a hotel and then wandered. Puno is right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. When I was a kid, that name always made us giggle when the nun said it. It was as if she were swearing somehow. We bought dinner from a stall along the street, and I bought a small, woven woolen wall decoration from another stall. The cloth was green and on it were appliquéd people who looked like all the Peruvians we had seen. One of them was playing Andean pipes. I still have it.
The next morning we went to the lake and booked passage on a hydrofoil guided tour which would stop at three islands on the lake then take us across to the Bolivian border where we’d board a bus to La Paz.
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