Saturday, September 26, 2009

PeruRail to Machu Picchu

We woke up to an early morning in Cusco and took a taxi to the train station.

We drove way out of tourist land and saw some real life happening. Here some small time farmers were having a little market with big piles of vegetables on the side of the road. My ears were already popping as we were steadily driving upwards.

The PeruRail line runs from Machu Picchu station to Lake Titicaca. Machu Picchu station is actually located in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu is an unpopulated ancient city perched on a cliff, so it understandably doesn't have its own train station. An additional bus ride is needed to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes.

View peru in a larger map

There are several classes of train listed on the PeruRail website (here). The tickets prices make it pretty obvious that the train is not meant for locals. We took the mid-level Vistadome train one way and it cost us $71 per person. The most luxurious train, the Hiram Bingham, costs travelers $334 one way.

We chose the Vistadome service in part because the extra windows were meant to enhance our Peruvian mountain viewing experience. I'd say they delivered.

We were served a nice breakfast on a fold out table. Unfortunately that meant two rows of seats were facing each other, which really killed the legroom. We had our choice of several breads and drinks. I had some coca bread, which had a greenish tint to it, and and Angelica chose the coca tea. I couldn't fully enjoy my breakfast, though, because by this time I had a serious pressure mounting in my head. I had caught a small case of the sniffles a couple days prior and it was now becoming a problem. I think because my head was already a bit stuffy from my cold, I was having some trouble adjusting to the change in elevation. Everyone's voices sounded like they were underwater. Luckily I snapped out of it by the time we reached our destination.

The train stopped a couple of times, but not really long enough for us to buy anything. I felt bad for the people who were here selling things despite that fact.

When I wasn't teetering on the verge of head explosion, I enjoyed the view as we wound our way through the mountains.

The train stopped in Aguas Calientes and my throbbing head and popping ears were grateful.

On the path from the train station to the rest of the town was a cleverly placed maze of souvenir shops.

By the time we left Peru, we had learned that when it came time to buy things, it was best if I waited around the corner while Angelica bargained. Prices were always lower when the sharks couldn't smell their delicious American prey.

The railroad runs smack through the middle of the town.

You might have to give it a click to tell, but this mountainside was covered in lots of little red and green cactusy plants.

Many people return to Cusco on the same day they arrive. We though that might constrict our time to enjoy Machu Picchu, so we got a room in Aguas Calientes. I would recommend the same to you.

Angelica and I carried all of our things in two backpacks. We did alot of moving around and didn't want to lug heavy luggage all over the place. I was really happy with how it worked out. It was funny though, because everyone kept asking us where our luggage was, like we were the only people with small bags. The people at the airline, some taxi guys, and some people at the hotels were all impressed with our rugged outdoorsiness. If we both know what it means, it counts as a word.

I saw a lot of these "secure earthquake zone" signs in Peru. This one was right across from our hotel room. Lucky us. I wonder why they don't have signs like this in Japan?

We had a nice little lunch before heading to Incaville. There are several restaurants along the main sidewalk parallel to the railroad. The people working there were fairly aggressive about getting customers. They waved menus in our faces and quickly rattled off how cheap and wonderful their foods were as we walked on by. Part of the reason for the competition might be because all of the restaurants seemed to be serving the exact same thing. Someone got the idea that tourists like pizza, because pizza signs were everywhere. I didn't come to a different continent to eat the same old thing though, so I shunned the pushy Peruvian pizzerias (hehe). When we finally picked a place to eat, I had mostly vegetables. Wikitravel had an interesting little tidbit that I didn't read until I had already left the country:

"These restaurants are not up to the standards of those in Cuzco or Lima, but are generally satisfactory. They tend to be moderately high priced. Some guidebooks report an unusually high incidence of food poisoning in the area, possibly attributable to the fairly common power outages (with loss of refrigeration). Cooked pizza and bottled beer or soft drinks are safe bets, salads and Pisco sours (made with raw egg whites) are best avoided here."

Maybe pizza isn't such a bad choice after all...

Prices fluctuate on everything in this city except maybe train and bus tickets (the price is already printed on those). The "tourist menu" didn't even list prices, making the whole thing potentially expensive for the unwitting traveler. Even professional bargainer and Spanish speaker Angelica had to have a little conversation with our waiter. The waiter apparently didn't agree with the low price we had been promised by the menu holder outside. So shady.

We watched this little boy play with magnets on display at a souvenir shop. He kept moving them around in different patterns, and I think he may have even "borrowed" a few for some fun magnet games at home. I wonder what it would be like for a little boy to grow up in a town like this.

When we finished eating we hopped on a bus to the ancient, lost, amazing, stoney, and Incan city of Machu Picchu. I slept most of the way, but Angelica said it seesawed in switchbacks up the side of a mountain.

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