Monday, May 14, 2018

Peru 2017 Day 4- Machoo Boogaloo

July 5

In what was becoming an alarming trend- we needed to get up at Stupid O’clock in the morning again for our sojourn to the formerly lost city of the Incas.

Too early for the complimentary breakfast, we ate some snack bars while theorizing where our pick up was.  A few phone calls led to a string of less than consistent or coherent answers. 

They included:

The car was broken. (yet they were driving in it)

There were in the parking lot. (which our Hostel didn't have)

They couldn’t find the address. (in the main square)

They suggested we take a cab to meet them at a random gas station. Rosa informed them if we were taking a cab it would be all the way to the train depot and they’d be refunding us part of our tour package price.

They immediately said they’d meet us at the Municipal Building around the corner from where we were.  The son of our awesome host was equally awesome in fielding the phone calls that morning and leading us to the location they specified.

They took us to a bus that brought us to the train station.  We met Arazel, our guide for the day, who explained the car was broken, leading to a late start. She also explained the bigger problem was we were listed at the Chaski HOTEL, a large, fancy, touristy kind of lodging off the main road, not the Hostal El Chaski, a small, local, bed and breakfast in the square that Rosa found using her Peruvian Native Spider-Sense.

To cut the chill of the morning mountain air, there were free standing fireplaces in the train station…not something you see when taking the Path.

The train had comfy seats, was nicely decorated and had massive windows and skylights to allow viewing the breathtaking scenery we passed through.

Or at least allow viewing when getting up at Stupid O’clock didn’t make me nod off to depths such that I didn't notice the guide sat next to me to tell us about the seventeen thousand foot Mount Veronica.

The beginning of the trip went through vast tracts of farmland, with little shacks on the ground, and distant mountains behind them.

The occasional voice over told us about the farms and the mining towns we passed through. 

They gave us breakfast on the train, starting with cake!

Then came evidence that the normal Peruvian meat-potato-rice meal plan was altered for the earthy crunchy backpacker gang, as we were given pitas with some grilled peppers and mushrooms, plus cheese and quinoa.

My previously mentioned Olympic level nodding off kicked in just after the “Zig Zag” that lets the train drop four thousand feet over a short distance.

I woke up in time to see the start of the Inca Trail, and some potato plants.  All stories are more fun with potatoes.  Woo!

The challenge of the tiny, rocking train bathroom was mitigated by the fact it was significantly larger than the one we’d be using recently back at Hostal El Chaski.

The visuals kicked into highly impressive at this point. It was hard to tell if Anabelle was more excited about the beauty and variety of wild growing orchids at that altitude, or the hidden Mickey made by some hoses.

The mountains all around us were wearing little clouds on top of them, and were prettier at this altitude since they were forest covered, as opposed to the bare ones higher up.

Speaking of bears- The train ran along a river, as well as through the mountains, upping the gorgeousness ante considerably.  The train narration voice told us of wildlife in the area, including Spectacled Bears.

Rosa and Anabelle immediately went on “bear watch” expecting one to happily pose for them as they peered into the tree covered shoreline from a fast moving train.

Yeah, that worked.

The train took us to Aguas Calientes, where the drop in altitude turned the temperature up a great deal from the chill of the morning mountain air.  We were told we could leave our coats in garbage bags over on the side of the station, and get them when we returned.

A combination of the awesome locals we’d already met, and the thin air made me do this without question.

The guides took us through a gigantic marketplace separating the station from the town. They warned us to avoid any eye contact with vendors or products, as the prices were as high as one would expect in a pass through every single tourist has to use.

Rosa and I followed the wrong guide at one point, but luckily Anabelle was paying attention and got us to the bus stop at the base of Machu Picchu.

It was a newer and shinier bus compared to the rickety old one from my pre-wedding visit. Rosa said we should try to sit on the left, a.k.a. the “AAAAH!” side that faces down the mountain instead of the wall.  It turned out we didn't have to plan. 
The bus goes up one side of the mountain serpentine, not all around it, meaning both sides had more than enough “AAAAH!” for the trip.

A particularly loud one came as we rounded a bend, on a stretch not quite wide enough for one bus, and found another one barreling toward us.

Anabelle’s deadpanned, “We’re doomed,” brought a well needed laugh to the entire bus once the screaming subsided following the abrupt brake slamming.

The brush thinned a bit as we rose and eventually reached the parking lot of the insanely expensive hotel next to the city proper atop Machu Picchu.  We waved hello to the few Inca Dogs residing in the lot, and followed the group to that city proper.

The guide explained all the steps and trails were Inca made, except the one we started on to get to the photo spot of the city used everywhere.  I felt better hearing it was new, thinking it was much steeper and harder to climb than on my last visit.

Then she clarified “new” meant only, “Not built by the ancient residents of these mountains.”

I eventually got my tired old self up to the top, and we took in the amazing sight of the site.  We then recreated the picture we took over fifteen years ago as an engaged couple, but as a family this time. Awwwww!

As to be expected from five hundred and sixty year old ruins, not much had changed visibly in a decade and a half.  However, procedural changes abounded. 

There was much less freedom allowed, and “wander on your own” time was eliminated.  The entire center grass covered area was off limits, along with several other sections.

This meant while we could see the llamas that wandered all over the joint, we weren’t able to get near any of them.  One did look in our direction and spit, so- go us, or something.

For the other areas, some were off the tour completely (the cool rock that matches whatever mountain is behind it from three directions) and some were roped off allowing no close viewing. (The main altar)

These changes were mandated based on the actions of a couple of visiting individuals with a lack of understanding of the significance and geometry of the location.

“You know…morons.”

One tourist shortly after our last visit broke a chunk off of the Intihuatana.  That’s the sun dial in the main temple.  Or, more clearly, the central feature of the most sacred section.  More recently, another Mensa level individual stepped off the edge of the city trying to take a selfie.

The route changes due to the second genius prevented me from having to walk down the horrifying steps that have perfectly flat Inca stonework on the right, and thousands of feet of nothing on the left.

Therefore I was perfectly happy to lose a little freedom.

The place was still staggeringly mind-blowing as an example of what humans could accomplish with pre-industrial technology.

There were perfectly cylindrical stones recessed around a few of the archways. They were used with a protrusion above the door to work locking gates at the only entry points of the city.

The Incan stonework was astonishing, and also segmented.  Lower “class” section buildings had standard looking rock walls held together with mortar. 
Residences for the higher ups, such as midwives, had the stones cut and formed so they locked together perfectly.

The highest class temples were made of stones with the same incredible puzzle piece mating, but had the outside surfaces smoothed and polished.

In some sections, where they were shared by two buildings, the wall would transition from one surface finish to another half way.

Many of the stones came from a quarry on site. Because even in the pre-colonial Andes, real estate was all about location, location, location.

The precision in building allowed the construction of a public address system. There was a different colored stone in the middle of a three walled area.  If a person stood there and spoke, the echo carried their voice over the entire city.

The knowledge of astronomy was equally staggering, with multiple windows not only designed to catch solstice sunrays (important for farming communities) but to have them make shadows and patterns in the shape of Incan symbols. (Important for wicked cool communities)

I could go on trying to describe the various temples, quarters and aqueducts, but it would all come down to me repeating:
“Amazingly well done stone work surviving for centuries that my words don’t do justice to, and you have to see for yourself.”

Here are some extra pictures to help that.

Our guide was excellent, if a little over enthusiastic about the small garden section.  It was a representation not of the crops grown on Machu Picchu, but of the entire Incan Empire.  That meant some of the plants were sad and lonely looking from having to grow well above their comfortable altitude.

It was tiring, but time and the height drop helped  Anabelle recover from her soroche, my feet had gone numb from the heavy boots, and Rosa was a native, allowing us all to take advantage of some onceish in a lifetime sights

Since the train had a fixed departure time, we were concerned hearing the bus line went well past the Inca Dog encampment and was over an hour long.  By the time we reached the end, it was only a shade more than half that, however..

The wait was a little rough, since we were drained, but it allowed Rosa to walk over to the kiosk and get our passports “Machu Picchu-ized.”

We made a conscious decision to sit on the other side of the bus.  It’s obvious we were tired as:
A) The bus was going the other way, making it the same side of the bus.
B) We knew the back and forth descent made both of them the “AAAAH!” side.

I sat next to a guy from Sidney, Australia on the way down and we swapped family altitude sickness stories.  His wife had been hospitalized for it, and also needed a cane. They were at the tail end of our group for much of the tour, but after several times when the rest of us had to wait for them, they disappeared.  I was glad to learn they were not tossed over the edge by impatient tourists.

We also swapped stories about our governments and how elections and appointments wandered into weird territories from time to time.

Back down at Aguas Calientes, we picked a pack of souvenir coins and discussed late lunch/ early dinner options.  The guide told us of the many excellent larger scale restaurants there, and our original plan was to visit one.

Independently, and separately, working like the well-oiled, Three Caballero t-shirt wearing machine we are, all of us came up with the plan to have a snack there and build up a considerable appetite for a return to Plus and a ratless version of their table served grill-o-meat. 

We picked a little Empanada place and had some, except Anabelle, who in a show of solidarity for Mami’s Empanadas, had a croissant.

The train station, as befitting the one and only artery to a world famous location, was massively mobbed. We asked around to find our line while listening to local musicians play “Guantanamera” and a few melodies that Paul Simon earned a bundle for himself and the originators for after borrowing.  Before leaving, I ran in to the rest room to change socks. After hiking all day in my old work boots, I was already popping Benadryl like tic-tacs and needed all the help I could get.

The crack company that couldn't find us in the morning also seated Anabelle separately from us for the train ride home.  Luckily, the guy with the ticket at our table was friendly, helpful, and more than willing to fall asleep leaning on his friends across the aisle than on us after getting up at sunrise to hike to the Sun Gate.

Little did he know, all of our sleep would be plagued with waking nightmares.

The first of which was the definitive proof of the food catering to the earthy crunchy backpackers.

Anabelle and I were both nodding off when we heard the attendant say something about food service and, “Pizza.”  Given the inverse exponential proportion between distance from New York City and pizza quality, this announcement on a train hurtling through the Andes Mountains had us both sitting bolt upright.

We were brought small, Ellio’s size rectangles with the same peppers, mushrooms, local cheese and quinoa that we got for breakfast.  In addition, was the classic pizza side order of Gooseberries.

She and I scraped off the top and ate the remaining cracker, Rosa likely using the same genetics that allowed her to drink the water, had no issues with it.

The “what in the hell is that” moments of our homeward trip were just getting warmed up however.

A sudden spike in the volume of  quiet background Andean folk music that accompanied the journey, along with the narrations on the way, heralded...something.

Then, following a car piercing “Ay Ay Ay Ay!!!!”  a streamer festooned, shiny suited “Horse Clown Man" entered the car, dancing and wiggling up and down the aisle  (momentarily grabbing the occasional stunned travelling woman to dance with) for ten to fifteen terror filled minutes.

One of our cross car neighbors was selected to dance.  Anabelle looked at her afterwards and said, “If he tried to take me, I’d slap him.”
That’s my girl!

Seriously Peru, what is your deal with clowns on public transportation?

After we assumed we stopped having a nightmare and he was gone, the attendants started a fashion show of various alpaca sweaters and scarves.  At least I think that’s what they were doing. Horse Clown Man wasn’t really gone as he popped up again, dancing right behind Rosa the whole time, and unfocusing me a bit.  I was convinced I’d never sleep again.

When finished, they brought a cart full of the eight gazillion percent marked up accessories down the aisle, and some Inca Corn snacks, salty enough to dehydrate the entire Amazon Basin.

They had a birthday celebration, fortunately clown free, for the poor guy who switched out of Anabelle’s seat that was desperately trying to nap, who was now being given a doubly hard time for not buying the overpriced sweater he tried on.

In between these festivities, and a nearby card game which was almost as loud as the funeral band that Rosa managed to nap through, Anabelle and I had a discussion.

Since he didn't seem to leave our car, we wondered aloud if we won the "Horse Clown Man" lottery, or maybe each car had its own "Horse Clown Man?"

Anabelle joked that perhaps it was some kind of clown menagerie and maybe each car had a different animal.  That was funny until we exited the train very late and very exhausted at the Cuzco station.  As the doors opened we heard the over loud return of the Andean Folk Music from the train car blaring at us.

We stepped out on the platform and ran into the station dodging the horrifying dancing menagerie of "Horse Clown Man" "Dog Clown Man" "Hog Clown Man" "Woman Clown Man" and a couple others we dashed by too quickly to identify.

We found our assigned large, smelly, (but thank the makers, clown free) bus.  We also found that in contrast to what everyone we talked to that morning told us, we were still listed on the sheet at the Chaski Hotel, not Hostal.

Luckily, we finally got an awesome guy helping us. He gave us instructions and set transportation up as we bussed back into the more inhabited sections of town. En route we passed what may have been the happiest dog party in the western hemisphere at a food garbage dump.

We also passed a basketball court full of kids engaged in a night game, making me think this city was just like the ones at home.

Until I realized they were all playing soccer on the concrete, using the space between the backboard poles as goals.

Awesome guy got us a combi (minivan) from the hotel to the Plaza de Armas.  He proved his awesomeness by having the combi not be packed to claustrophobic sardine levels, as is standard for that mode of transportation in Peru.  

We went straight to Plus after the standard hug filled greeting from the owner. Forgoing the Rat on a Stick this night, instead we substitutied more excellent alpaca.  That was a good trade, because it let me get a taste of Chorizo.  Confirming the trout was grilled, we tried that as well and it lived up to the rest of the platter.

Rosa and Anabelle got Cuzco hats in the square before we all dragged our meat filled carcasses up to our room for some packing and cleaning.

I also decided to risk my life and take a shower. I didn't have to worry about electrocution as we learned the next day the owner’s son shut down the power for the hot water at Eleven PM.  I was clean if cold, as was the entire interior of the tiny bathroom.

Risking the heater wasn't worth it, or needed as we were all too tired to move and the alpaca blankets would have protected us from an Antarctic blizzard.

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Dina Roberts said...


That clown seemed like something out of a horror movie.

Jeff McGinley said...

It was ...something all right.

Sometimes the dreams still come.

OK maybe not, but it sounded cool.

Thanx again for reading.