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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Peru Trip: Train ride and Aguas Calientes

After our Sacred Valley tour, we caught the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of Machu Picchu mountain. There are two rails that run this track, Peru Rail and Inca Rail. But of course, there's only one track. So when trains are coming opposite directions, a man jumps out of your train, lays track, and your train pulls over to a side track to allow the other train to pass. Totally safe. Not like hundreds of people could fly off the side of a mountain because a worker was 5 seconds late switching track.
Peru does not believe in wasting space with two lanes of anything, be it train tracks, mountain roads, or cobbled town streets.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes at evening, after a beautiful train ride, and checked in our hotel, El Presidente. Our room had an balcony over the Urubamba River. You could hear the rapids echoing through the mountains and hear birds day and night. We noticed that the climate was a lot more tropical than Cuzco: Cuzco is high and dry, almost desert, but Aguas Calientes (although still at 9,000 feet) felt closer to the rain forest.
Scale is hard to portray, but the rocks in the river below were as big as cars or buses. 
We walked around tiny Aguas Calientes before dinner. The town surrounds the rail, and everyone (dogs and babies included) just walks all over the rails all the time, scampering out of the way of trains. We ate dinner at Indio Feliz, which was highly recommended. The prices were about double those in Cuzco, no doubt because of the remoteness. So. My dinner was Ok, and we tried Pisco sours for the first time (I had one again later, at another restaurant, and it was much better than the drink at Indio Feliz; more plain and simple and less like a bachelorette party drink).
Girl drinks full of E. Coli
But I woke up in the middle of the night with stomach cramps. I didn't eat anything you aren't supposed to (salad, fruit, ice, etc), but something I ate was contaminated. I wasn't violently ill or anything, just my stomach hurt, and it stayed that way...until now. Seriously. My stomach never got better, and it's been cramping every morning since that day!

Nevertheless, we were up early to take the buses up to Machu Picchu. A bus ticket is $10 one-way per person - by far the most overpriced part of the trip - and there is an option to walk, but we already had the tickets and needed to be at the gates early, so we took the bus.
Oh. My. Gosh. The buses leave every 5 minutes from the top and bottom of the route and start the steep trail of switchbacks on the mountain. It is not wide enough for two buses. So every five minutes your bus nearly slams head-on into another bus, and both buses screech to a halt. Whichever bus is less likely to a) pitch itself and its passengers off the edge of the no-guard-rail cliff or b) slide dangerously down the steep mountain path, backs up to a widened area (usually a corner) so the other bus can pass. This pass usually entails pulling both buses' mirrors in and allowing part of one bus to dangle just a little over an edge.
The line to get in - it's only busy in the morning. 
We finally reached the top of the road, and escaped out of the Death Bus. Then we waited to meet our guide and start one of the most incredible days of my entire life!


  1. Living life on the edge! Hmm, if your symptoms have lasted that long, could it be a really mild but long-lived virus instead of mild food poisoning? Hubby had one of those recently. No fun.

    1. Probably. It might even be Dengue, and have no relation to the food at all. But yeah, the stomach pain needs to GO AWAY. It's miserable!

    2. Oof. Let's hope it's not dengue, that can get nasty. (Has dengue become endemic to your part of the US yet? I know other mosquito-borne viruses have shown up.) Though if you're running a 5K and have no fever it's probably not :)

  2. The bus trip sounds awful. I think I would have had my eyes shut for the entire journey.

  3. I remember taking the bus down after the marathon there. SO TERRIFYING!!!