The Great Aguas Callientes Ticket Scam

All I knew was that with every fiber of my being I wanted to get out of Aguas Callientes that night. Things were expensive enough that it was almost cost effective to take the $30+ tourist train. After being severely misdirected by locals who buy cheaper tickets on seperate trains, I found the office did I discover that Helmut at SAE was right: there were no train tickets to be had. I cursed her under my breath but there was nothing to be done.

Previously, as we were walking, Marco told me: “You talk a lot.” “Sorry.” I said. “No no.” He said, “You talk to lots of people, it’s good.” He was right in a way, not talking to people is dangerous. I travel by myself but I am never alone. When things go tough, the people around you can help you or hinder you, it’s almost always better that they’re your friends. The cheapo Americans might have been irritating but they pulled Marco and me onto the truck when everyone else (including the driver) hollered that there was no room. Later in Tupiza I hung out with a guy from the Check Republic. He said “hola” to absolutely everybody be they man, woman or animal. “Saying hello doesn’t cost you anything” he said, “and smiles are universal!”

I would have thought that making funny faces, like everyone does at babies, could be universal but it isn’t. The French are notoriously bad at languages, often knowing no more than French. To make up for this, François (one of the French tourists Marco and I hung out with at Machu Pichu) would make a lot of funny faces. This actually ended up disturbing Marco a lot: “Why does he do that!” He said, “Is he trying to insult me?” Clearly they don’t have the “let’s make a funny face when we’re uncomfortable” policy in Brazil. Good to remember.

As I was leaving the station I ran into these same French tourists (Emanuel, François, and Loire) that Marco and I had hung out with in Machu Pichu. Once again it had been helpful to talk to people. They had run into the same problem as I had, no ticket, but because they had been earlier they had been able to talk to someone. In 20 minutes they were going to meet with a woman who could get them tickets and they said Marco and I could try with them. I raced back to delirious Marco and tried to get my stuff packed up as quickly as possible. We barely made it, supersick Marco leading the rear, almost delirious he kept asking people where the train station was instead of following me. He would always receive the wrong information because we could not buy the tickets to the regular train, only the tourist train which was about 10 times more expensive.

We arrived at 3:20 to argue for tickets to the 3:30 train. After a lot of arguing and explaining, the guard finally let us through to join our French speaking friends. It didn’t matter because none of us caught it. We almost made the 4:20 train. Just as the train was about to leave the conductor asked us for money. As we hurredly got it out the conductor said “Oh well. Never mind. The train is going!” We all had a good laugh over this funny joke except Marcos who threw up into a bag of bananas near the train man’s shoes. Emanuel and I began making plans that if we didn’t catch this next one we would walk back all the way back to Santa Teresa. I was weakened but I was not staying in Aguas Callientes. Marcos… I did not know what would become of him. François began playing my flute and begging for money. “Propina… propina…” he would whine, imitating the singsong of Peruvian street orphans and their mothers. Times were desperate.

We made the train. Barely. And paid 104 sols (or three days traveling) for our 2.5 hour train ride. Outrageous. We had all wanted to go to Cusco but the train ended a stop early in Ollantaytambo. Emmanuel took the bus to Cusco and Marcos promptly staggered to the nearest hospidaje. An hospidaje is a cheap Peruvian hotel. I think Marcos went into a hospidaje. It might have been better if it were a hospital. Before he left I gave him my email and a bright orange Cipra pill. Cipras have been my psychological edge against desease. “If you don’t behave I’ll pull out the Cipra and then it’s toasties for disease!” I tell my body. I haven’t had to take a Cipra yet and I haven’t heard from Marcos.

It was only maybe a half hour to Urubamba but the sickness had been creeping up on me throughout the day and I decided to take dinner with François and Liore. I ordered Arroz a la Cubana which is rice with a fried banana and a fried egg on top. François also ordered us two beers. He haggled over the price of the beers for about 10 minutes. The whole restaurant watched. I wanted to crawl under the table but François relished practicing his few Spanish words: “No no. Señor. Nosotros pobres! Seis Soles!” We ended up paying the full price ($2.50) for our litre of beer each.

Peruvians like grease and this restaurant was no exception. I hadn’t especially wanted a beer at first but when the food arrived and I discovered that simply smelling the grease made me sick, the beer became an exciting alternative to eating. We clearly had too much beer though and François solved this problem by making a little contest out of finishing the beer. Half way through my second glass of beer I excused myself to throw up. I returned cured and, though I did not finish my Arroz a la Cubana, I went to sleep exhausted, mildly drunk and incredibly happy that I had been spared what we shall call “Marcos’ Desease”.

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