The three iconic places in Peru are Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. In Cusco, as well as being offered massages and shiny shoes at every corner, there are always people trying to sell you a tour to Machu Picchu (MP). Those with ridiculous amounts of money can take the Hiram Bingham train, named after the American who is credited with discovering MP, at a mere $400 per person each way for the 3 hour journey. Those who don’t can take cheaper trains, but those are still around $80 each way, or the public transport and hiking option. You can guess which I did.
Nils and Niklas, two German backpackers, were also staying at Antonino’s place with me. They were planning on leaving on the Sunday morning, and so I decided to tag along. They’d been to the bus terminal the day before, and found out that while the first bus doesn’t leave until around 7:15am, there are minivans that leave at 6ish. That meant that we were up at 4:30am and out of the door just after 5, to find a taxi to get us to the bus terminal in time for those minivans. We arrived just before 6 and did indeed find a minivan telling us that he’d be leaving soon; it would be a common frustration for the trip. His promise of leaving in 10 minutes was obviously ridiculous, and in fact it took an hour for us to depart. His minibus held 11 passengers, and there were only 5 people on board. It took until 7am for us to get to the magical number of 8, no matter how many times he drove round the block shouting out QUILLABAMBA QUILLABAMBA (the final destination of the bus).
The minibus climbed out of Cusco, and I tried to sleep, nodding off briefly at times, but it was very bouncy and sleep wasn’t coming easily. Three hours later, I woke up, to find us not moving. There was no traffic coming towards us, but our lane of traffic on the mountainside was stationary. The driver parked and got out to explore, I followed soon after, and found the cause of our problems. About 600m ahead of us, there was a landslide. It was past 10am, and had apparently started the night before, and was still going. The road was blocked, and there was no way a vehicle was getting past anytime soon. The driver thought we’d have to wait for a few hours, but considering how 10 minutes had turned into an hour, I was pretty sure we’d just get stuck there all day long.
A group of locals had decided that waiting was a terrible idea, and so had started trailblazing their own route down the steep mountainside. There were truck drivers that seemed to be trying to shuttle their whole load down, one piece at a time. I explained it to Nils and Niklas, and they agreed that it was our best option. I only had my day bag, but they had their full backpacks, so it was an easier descent for me. They both however got down faster than me, because I ended up holding the hand of a Peruvian lady crawling her way down. In the 30 minutes it took to go down, one guy went rolling down, only to be stopped by a tree, cutting up both his arms. He lost his glasses, but I managed to scramble over and find them for him.
At the bottom, we jumped into the back of a waiting truck, and bounced for another hour until we got to our first destination of Santa Maria. It’s little more than a junction, and we got of there because we needed to change transports towards Santa Teresa and Hidroelectrica. As soon as we got off, people offering to take us that way surrounded us, but of course their cars weren’t full so we decided to have lunch first. A very chewy piece of meat, and a big pile of rice, didn’t make for the greatest food, but it was the only non-chicken option around.
Of course, by the time we had finished eating, the taxi was still waiting, and still didn’t have enough people. They charge a flat fee per person, but won’t leave until they have enough passengers. If you’re really in a rush, you can just pay more, but that wasn’t going to happen. Another 15 minutes and we were off, in a small taxi bouncing down a dirt road and fording streams that would definitely require a 4×4 in the UK. It was a beautiful drive along a river valley towards our destination of Hidroelectrica, a hydroelectric plant where the road stops. From there, you have two options, a $10 train (locals pay about $1) or a 10-12km flat hike along the train tracks. So it was that we set off walking. It continues to follow the river, and being on the train tracks is almost flat. There were quite a few people walking both ways, including groups of school children coming back from a trip to MP.
Two hours later, more than 12 hours after leaving Antonino’s place, we arrived in Aguas Calientes, aka Machu Picchu Pueblo. It has a Disney feeling about it, in the way that it’s just clearly so fake and touristic. The town serves one need, to provide a place for those going to MP to stay and eat. We found the cheapest place to stay at 50 soles ($17) for the three of us, and then off for dinner at the local market. Everything is at least twice as expensive, partly because of the distance but mainly because of just how captive an audience they have. Our place was decent enough, and I even managed to finally get rid of the beard and cut my hair as Niklas is travelling with clippers. A successful end to a long long day.