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jueves 26 de diciembre

Destino: Cusco Modo: Tren, ómnibus y Pies Distancia: 215 kilometros

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Machu Picchu a Cusco, Perú The first bus back up the hill to Machu Picchu departed at 6:30. The park entrance would not open until 7:30, so we decided to catch the 7:00 shuttle. After paying the bill at the hostel, we went door-todoor looking for cheap sandwiches for lunch, knowing full well that we could not afford lunch atop Machu Picchu. The café adjacent to the entrance to the ruins brings new meaning to the word “monopoly.” Even worse is the second-rate state-run Hotel del Turismo which charges a mere $162 per night in the off season. Andy found what he considered to be a reputable sandwich maker, while Dirk and I scrounged around for cheap ham and cheese sandwiches and a bunch of fresh bananas from a railside fruit market. With food in one hand and mochilas in the other, we hopped on the 7:00 bus and arrived at the main gate just in time for the official park opening. The morning view of the ruins was obscured by dense fog, but the absence of rain was a welcome change from the day before. Another bonus was the three plus hours that we would have the run o’ the ruins all to ourselves. The Cusco train would not arrive until well after 10:00. At 8:30, we trekked east of the main ruins passing through the Intipunku, the Gateway of the Sun, and along the Inca Trail toward the site of Huinay Huayna. The two-hour trek was shaded and very steep in some areas but provided an excellent morning workout. At one point late in the trek, we were cruising along with little change in the trail scenery when, all of a sudden, we rounded a corner and there was Huinay Huayna, a most impressive onehundred eighty degree series of over thirty agricultural terraces built into the face of the hillside. The best part about it was that we were the only three people 164

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there. The silence and solitude gave us a sense of the separation and isolation that the Incas must have enjoyed here beyond the reach of enemy tribes. We walked around the site for approximately forty-five minutes before making the turn back to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Around 12:30, we were back at Inca Central. After passing again through the Intipunku, we branched out in different directions: Andy scampering to find a tour group to join and Dirk and I clambering up the steep face of Huayna Picchu, the towering peak which offers an unobstructed view of Machu Picchu to willing climbers. After a long and sinewy ascent, we reached the top and basked in the sun taking in the view of the Lost City of the Incas spread out below us. Dirk wrote the words “Te Extraño” in the dirt with his boot, and we took a few pictures from our majestic perch to send back to family and friends who might have forgotten us.

At 3:15, we met back at the Machu Picchu terrace café for a Limón Gatorade and jumped on the next bus down the hill. By 16:00, we were back on the train heading east for the return trip to Cusco. The engine pulled out of Aguas Calientes on schedule and Andy, Dirk and I found three seats in the back of the last car. Andy and I were both nervous. Minutes earlier, we snuck onto the train Te extraño: I miss you. Stronger statements of using the same boarding passes from the affection include Te amo day before. Both tickets were stamped (love) and Te quiero (want). 25 DIC: abbreviation for 25 de “25 DIC” and, as such, were no longer diciembre . valid for travel. The night before, Andy carcel: jail, the state pen, the big house, etc. had purchased a red ball point pen at one of the kioskos, and we had really put our penmanship skills to the test by making the “5” in “25” look like a “6.” Fortunately, we were not trying to go back on the 27th, as there was no liquid paper in our First Aid N’ Forgery Funkit. The moment of truth finally arrived. The conductor passed through the car about twenty minutes into the trip and we were both sweating up a storm. To calm his newfound traveling companions, Dirk chimed in, 165

“What’s the worst that they can do to you? Throw you in a Peruvian jail for fraud?” While Dirk has no future writing Hallmark cards, he did break the ice, and Andy and I stuck to our guns.

“What’s the worst they can do... throw you in a Peruvian jail?”
As luck would have it, the conductor reached our aisle just as the train ducked into a tunnel. When we emerged, the conductor, his rods and cones still adjusting, reached for our tickets and tore the stubs, barely noticing the doctored dates. We were all relieved that we would be spending our last night in Perú in a Cusco hostel instead of the state slammer I was famished after six hours of hiking in Machu Picchu so I would eat whenever a good opportunity presented itself. Fortunately, the train would make a half dozen stops on the trip home. Five minutes in, a train vendor sold me a Coke and a Snickers. Later, when the train pulled into the station at Ollantaytambo, I bought a delicious ear of choclo offered to me through the window from a señora for one sol. The choclo was a perfect complement to the Inka Kola that I was drinking, just as a dry Navarro Correas is the perfect accompaniment to the bife de lomo. Dirk slept part of the way back, while Andy was kept on edge by our friend the conductor who decided to sit in the seat facing him for the trip back to Cusco. I got a nice susto myself on the journey eastward when the train came to a complete stop in the middle of a field. Few people noticed though, as everyone else on the car was asleep. Midway to Cusco, the track ends and the train has to stop and back up on a parallel siding for a mile before reaching the final stretch of track to Cusco and continuing forward. We were moving backwards at approximately fifteen miles per hour. The track is laid out here in a “z” pattern, and we were backing up in the 166

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middle section of the “z,” rapidly approaching the final section of track. Suddenly, one of the rail hands dozing in the seat next to me woke up, looked around and jumped off of the train. By now the train’s diesel locomotive had picked up steam and was barreling toward the next track switch. Shocked by what I had just witnessed, I stuck my head out of the window and saw the rail hand running at break neck speed toward the track intersection that we were fast approaching. With seconds to spare, he reached down and pulled the lever which, unswitched, would have certainly caused our derailment. Once situated on the new track and ready to resume forward motion, the train set off and the rail hand climbed back on board. As most everyone was still sleeping, his occupational lapse went largely unnoticed. Making eye contact with me and seeing my look of disbelief, he just smiled and gave me a look that seemed to say, Wow, that was close! He then sat down across the aisle from me, rubbed his eyes and settled in for a much-needed siesta. At our third stop, a merry band of Peruvian military police boarded the train and took the two benches in the rear of the car. I could only assume that they were on Ruin Leave, because they were being incredibly rowdy. Their shouting and whistle-blowing seemed to escalate the closer that we got to Cusco. At one point, Dirk, the brash Germanblooded Mexican, turned around and stared at the gang of four after one of the soldiers leaned over and blew his whistle in Dirk’s ear. I thought that the imbeciles were going to throw our trekking comrade off of the train, but, fortunately, nothing came of the incident. At 20:00, we were back in Cusco. From the train station, we walked with our mochilas through the crazy marketplace scene in front of the 167

Iglesia Don Francisco. We were sorry to learn that there were no vacancies at the Hostel los Marqueses where we had spent Christmas Eve. Plan “B” was set into motion by Dirk who led us to the hostel where he had spent his first night in Cusco: the Hotel Don Sebas. The room was cheaper and, as it turns out, even nicer than our room at los Marqueses. Three big beds with heavy alpaca blankets were a nice touch; however, the odor emanating from our private bath left us wondering if it was truly an “amenity.” The three of us dropped our bags in the room and walked over to the Plaza de Armas where Andy purchased a plane ticket to Lima. I went to a different travel agency next door, Magical Mystery Tours, to purchase a train ticket to Pisac, Perú. From there, I was planning on busing it to La Paz, Bolivia for the final leg of my journey. I was surprised to find out from Señor Ringo that all first class seats were sold out. My only option was to travel tourist class. As the Cusco-Pisac train was always full, I would certainly be standing for most of the thirteen-hour trip. I walked back to Andy’s travel agency and explained my dilemma. The friendly agent told me that I could fly east from Cusco to Juliaca for a mere twenty-nine dollars on Faucett Airlines. This would cost only five dollars more than the thirteen-hour rail torture test. I decided to make a reservation on the Faucett flight to Bolivia at 7:00 in the morning. Having lined up our departure plans, the three of us went to a cornerside restaurant serving up hamburgers for only seven soles. We knew that we had chosen unwisely when it took the waitress fifteen minutes to bring us the menus. Still, we stuck it out and the burgers and homemade lasagna were excellent. Dirk chose not to eat there, because he wanted to sample the beef and baby potatoes that the streetside vendors sell throughout Cusco. Incredibly, Dirk put away six skewers of the local delicacy and seemed quite pleased with his dinner selection. For a nightcap, we went to a small kiosko on Avenida Graciloso where they serve slices of cake for only two soles. Andy and I each devoured pieces of chocolate cake on the walk back to the hostel. After polishing off six beef sticks, Dirk had little interest in dessert. Back in Hotel Don Sebas, Andy got ready for bed, and Dirk and I decided to go to the Plaza de San Francisco market for some last-minute shopping. Dirk bought a sweater for Natalia, his girlfriend who would be meeting him the next day in Buenos Aires, and a stylish alpaca poncho 168

for himself. I picked up three mantas, two sweaters and a jacket for under fifty dollars. Sometime after 23:00, we arrived back at the hostel where the security guard was sleeping harder than the guests. Once in the room, Dirk tried in vain to quietly repack for his morning flight. He and Andy would be flying from Cusco to Lima at 7:30. We were both exhausted and, not wanting to wake Andy or the night watchman outside, vowed to repack first thing in the morning.

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viernes 27 de diciembre

Destino: Bolivia Modo: Avión, Taxi y Pies Distancia: 620 kilómetros

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Cusco, Perú a La Paz, Bolivia At 4:30, I was up and walking toward the public bathroom outside. The showers were located off of the Don Sebas courtyard which was soaked with morning rain. (We had reached a gentleman’s agreement not to use our pungent private bath.) After a quick spray, I finished packing my mochila with last night’s purchases. Dirk was up next followed by Andy who, although already packed, was pushing the envelope for our 6:00 check-out. We hailed a cab outside on a dark Cusco side street and were driven directly to the airport. The taxista did not do much talking, but the orange, bobbing-head plastic tiger on his fuzzy dashboard kept the three of us under its spell for the ten-minute trip across town. Upon arrival at Aeropuerto Velasco Astete, Andy and Dirk went to check on their flight that was scheduled to leave at 7:30. I went alone to the Faucett counter only to find out that, for no apparent reason, there would be no flights that day to Juliaca. My second option was to fly Aero Continente east to Juliaca for forty-one dollars later in the day. That flight, I would soon learn, had been booked solid for weeks. I was in dire straits standing in the Cusco terminal with vanishing departure options. I was tempted to run to the nearby train station and try to secure a lastsecond ticket east to Pisac. After checking their bags, Andy and Dirk walked up to me and I explained my travel dilemma. Dirk glanced over at the AeroPeru counter and said, “You mentioned that you wanted to visit La Paz. Why don’t you just take the next AeroPeru flight to La Paz and try to get back to Buenos Aires from there? At least you would be moving in the right direction” Good point. I knew that we had brought Dirk along for a 170