The next morning came and I awoke and slunk out of the hostal at around 8am. The girls went to enjoy their breakfast and I had a lovely one in a hole in the wall on the street while waiting for the SAE to open. I call it the “Peruvian Breakfast”: a fried egg sandwhich, Nescafe, and juice. Then I hopped over the SAE office only to find out that they had neither internet nor coffee, which made me wonder what kind of a South American Explorer’s Club they were. I asked a woman, who I believe was named Helmut, about the route I planned to take to Machu Pichu.
Machu Pichu is only reached by the town, Aguas Callientes or by a 5 day hike along “The Inca Trail”. The Inca Trail costs about $200 to hike with a tour group, which is the only way you’re allowed to hike it. Because many tourists want to see Machu Pichu they limit the amount allowed in through the Inca Trail to 400 people per day. When I arrived in Lima in June the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu was booked up through September. 400 people per day, in itself, would be a large number of tourists for any other Peruvian tourist site. Most of the ones I had previously visited averaged about 3 or 4 a day. However most people do not visit Machu Pichu via the Inca Trail but rather take the infamous tourist train from Cusco to Aguas Callientes. There is one train a day and it costs $35 (or about 3 days of my budget) each way. This does not include the $20 entrance fee which brings it up to a healthy $90 total.
I had heard from a fellow SERVAS traveller in Trujillo that there was another way. First, I was to set out for Urubamba. From there I was to head by bus to a town named Santa Maria, from there to Santa Teresa. From there I could essentially walk to a power station one stop after Aguas Callientes and take the train into town for only $2.
Helmut was unimpressed: “You will spend many days doing this. First you must go to Quillabamba. That is 12 hours. Then you must go to Santa Maria, another 5 hours… Finally if you can do this then you will be in Aguas Callientes without a return train ticket and you could be stuck there.” The SAE is a club with information and librarians to guard the resources and prevent theft. I assume they’re also supposed to be encouraging and upbeat.
I’m not sure who was more unimpressed: her with my plan for getting to Machu Pichu or me with her for being the least explorative person I had met so far. She had the kind of aloofness one gets from dealing with a lot of stupid people. It was almost as if there was a desire to be stupid rather than have to explain a new route to 1,000 fresh of the boat tourists. She understood that what she said affected the itineraries of tourists and with this came a certain lack of humility and enthusiasm for the information being given. In Lima the SAE was more of a kind of cheerleading agency while in Cusco it was an overpriced library. Luckily, I was picked up by Cynthia and Maru. We decided to wander the immaculate streets and soak up some culture at the Pre-Colombian Art Museum.
The museum was nice. Really nice. It further reenforced my opinion that in it’s attempt to please the tourists, Cusco had become a small European replica, at least within the tourist zone. After the last few weeks it was strange to see so many white faces in one location.
The museum was an attempt to bring “primitive” art out of the historical sector and into the artistic sector. The museum treated its pieces as having been created by anonymous masters of another time, which they were.
“Genius” was a word the museum like to throw about a lot, as was “perfect forms” and the ever recurring “primitive.”
But for me part of Cusco’s (and perhaps all tourist cities) charm lies in being able to find the local deals. And we were: after the museum we stuffed ourselves on a three course meal beginning in a tripe soup and ending in chicken in a kind of antipasta. Delicious! (and $1.50)
After lunch I was finally able to contact Yoyo and so I said goodbye to my Ecuadorian friends and walked over to the SAE office to pick up my bag and get some grudging directions to the bus stop.
Catching the bus went without a hitch and I brought my backpack on board with me. I shoved it under the seats where my feet would go. At one point an Indian lady got on and sat down next to me. My backpack blocked a little of her foot space and I offered to move it. I never should have because she immediately called the driver’s helper “Boy! This boy needs your help to move his backpack!” I felt embarrassed. I could easily move the pack if she would move her leg, which was on the pack. The helper looked confused. He did not know where to move it. It seemed fine where it was. “If it’s bothering you ma’am, perhaps you would like to sit in a different space.” “No.” She said, “I want to sit here. It’s my right!” She was a nutty one and now, because I had mentioned it, she was intent on having my backpack moved to somewhere else on the bus! It was only when I was sitting in a seat in the back of the bus with my bag and she had placed her own bag on my vacant seat that I realized her plan was to relocate me from the beginning. I had been completely outmanouvred in a classic game of Peruvian busmanship.
It was night as we descended into Urubamba and I could see a very large circle of fire burning on the hillside. I asked an Indian woman on the bus about it. She told me it was because of the university. They were celebrating after exams.
I called Yoyo on the phone. It costs the same to call his cellphone as it does to call the USA so he was in a hurry to talk. I told him I was at a gas station and he said he’d meet me and he hung up. I was surprised when he and a large shaggy dog walked up to me 3 minutes later but he told me: “There are only two gas stations in town! Anyways, I once asked a SERVAS guest to describe what she looked like and she told me that SERVAS people just know eachother! And she was right!”
We walked back to his house. He is an architect and is renting the house next to the one he is building. He owns two dogs and a parrot and is looking for another parrot to match the one he has. “Parrots are very particular.” He told me in English, “There are many different kinds of parrots and they different types don’t like eachother. Also with some parrots it is impossible to tell which sex they are without a DNA test. They can make love and be two females. They are physically identical!”
We talked for a little over some ham and cheese sandwiches with tea and he told me that the following day a good idea was to visit some nearby ruins called Maray and Salineras.