Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The “Railway-Inca Trail” Trek and the grand Machu Picchu


Spontaneously deciding to abandon the Salkantay trek to Aquas Calientes, Me and Lee joined Chris to a "walk" along the railway that leads to the little and quiet town of aquas calientes, which is also called Machu Picchu Pueblo. On the way we past Inca ruins, bulls, and little by little penetrated more and more into the tropics till we reached Aquas Calientes after an exhaustive 9 hour walk. I have walked up to the magnificent site at sunrise with clouds and some rain accompanies me some of the way (up and down). The way back to Cusco was an adventure on its own, as you will read in just a bit…

Arranging, packing and setting early to Aqaus Calientes!
We came back to Cusco around 5 pm, quite tired from the ride and with quite of things to arrange: packs, some food and information. I have finished my arrangements around 1 am when I knew I had to get up around 5 am. Damn.
We arranged our self and managed to take the 6 am bus to Urobamba (again). The bus at that time was full of locals and we dozed several times due to our tiresome traveling in the past days. Coming to Urobamba we switched to a combi (as we already done before), not before having a light meal (Chris eating a huge Bee size Croissant..). Coming to Ollantaytambo, we went to have some morning coffee and looked for transportation to the end-of-the-road town, Chilca. We found one guy with a combi waiting in the main plaza (which I will see in couple days again at midnight, unbelievable..) and that was willing to go to Chilca for 25 soles immediately (or we will have to wait he will fill the combi, a process which will take an hour at the least!). We managed to lower him a bit and got into the car. The driving time was around 30 minutes, which on the way a train full of tourists were on their way to Aquas Calientes. Oh, we gonna see that train so many time that day! Finally, we stopped near the train station in Chilca, on a dirt and dusty road that continued on and on. We were at Km 80, and we had to walk no less than 30 km till Aquas Calientes at the same day! (The km distance which is indicated along the railway is counted from Cusco). It didn't take us too much time to understand that this was a foolish mistake to do it in a one day walk.
We arranged our packs, put some sun screen and started walking. The day was nice and we were at mid morning, which was a bit late to start this walk (around 10 am). Walking along the dusty path numerous busses full of tourists headed to the end of the road, the famous Km 82, the start of the pricy Inca Trail. We waved the dust out of our faces and continued headlong with the Rio Urobamba at our left, splashing and slashing at stones and vegetation in a mighty and remorseless strength. It took us an hour but finally we saw the greeting signs for the Inca Trail trekkers near the train station. We went to have the last glimpse of a bathroom and also a last sip of beer for a long time and watched the groups of trekkers getting ready for the hike. We hoped they were not going our way (a very naïve thought, as almost NO ONE walks that way) but quickly we saw the porters, cookers and guides coming down after them and realized that there is now reason to be worried. They were heading for the Inca Trail. Good.

Police? What Police?? (km 82-92)
Last cigarette and we were back on the move, only this time walking on the rail toward west, along the rail. Walking on a rail, as it seems at first as a not too difficult path, is actually a very good way to get feet blisters, the gravel crunching at your feet sole with out any remorse. We saw some locals walking along the rail and also the Inca Trail porters walking on the other side of the river.
Somewhere after one km or so, I have stopped to take a picture of the rail and when I walked back to my companions I noticed they were talking with a couple of travelers. The couple, man and women, were speaking Spanish and seem to be travelers rather than locals, according to their outfits and equipment. It seems, from what I understanded (and my Spanish is far from good), that there is a police blockade at km 88 and that they don't let anyone pass through them because it is illegal and dangerous to walk on the railway (well, no shit!). They had a look of desperation and the man asked his companion how much they had to go further. We were also getting depressed as we were cut short with out any way to go around that. As I was trying to calm my sle find a way that we could continue on, I saw two locals walking on the rail and then walking up on the slope beside the rail. I wanted to hear someone else too before Im casting the white towel into the ring and go back to Cusco. I ran like a maniac shouting and waving till they stopped short and looked at me puzzled. Amazingly, they actually walked up an Inca terrace with an Inca ruin settled right next to the rail. I asked them if they saw any police blockade at km 88.
OK, so is it possible to go to Aquas Calientes on the rail?
No problem with police?
Si. It is dangerous to go on the rail, the man added and pointed ahead to a path climbing from the rail path, but you can walk the Inca Trail.
Damn, there is more than one Inca Trail in this valley! I was glad that I actually found a way around the problem and thanked both of them warmly. I waved Lee and Chris to join me and surveyed a bit of the Inca ruins, feeling my spirit rising with every passing second.
Climbing up the stairs to the ruins, Lee had a desperate look while saying she thinks we should go back if there is police. No police, Lee, no nothing. She looked at me puzzeled and I explained my self and what I have been told.
But we don't know were this path leads, Lee commented justly. True, I said, but we can check it out. If we see the path starts to take us afar from the rail and river, we gonna go back to Cusco. All agreed to this idea and we headed for the trail that went up steeply us to a terrace five meter above the railway. From there we saw that indeed the path continues on in parallel to the railway, so we continued walking, a bit alert of any police checkpoint or policemen. We walked like this for some time, passing through several neglected Inca ruins while the Rio Urobamba splashes on our left and in between, the rail continued on and on. We knew that there might be a problem at km 88, so we made an effort to identify our location so we could be careful before coming to the checkpoint. Around 1 pm we made a stop near a big carved stone for water and a cigarette. We still don't know what was this stone used for, as it had several steps and a big flat carved area (in an afterthought, in Machu Picchu there is the Funeral Rock, which is very similar to that rock). Sitting on this fine carved rock, we chilled out a bit and looked at the rumbling river below us. Checking the display (I know you`d like it, Chris), we saw that our progress was not at its best: we were around km 87 and we had to speed up the pace. Chris started with a quick pace and soon we passed more Inca ruins, funny looking trees, a bridge, sneering dogs and even couple of bulls, which made us very careful when we passed them. That point was km 88, and we could see from the terrace the checkpoint of the Inca Trail down below us, where a bridge made it possible to cross the river. At that point Lee commented that she is not having fun, almost running in order to keep up with the pace, and both of us (me and Chris) agreed to that, and decided that whatever time it takes, we walk at a moderate pace, so we could actually enjoy the views we see on our way. We continued on while passing a double tunnel (which is prohibited by law..). Soon the valley curved and revealed far tropical mountains. Eventually, after loosing the path in a little village, we found ourself looking at a big complex of ruins located on a little hill over the rail. Approaching the complex, Torontoy, which looked totally deserted, we had to cross waist deep grass and muddy lawns till we reached the site. At that point I had a feeling of exploration, like we were the first to be there, to find this site. Except for couple of log strategically located at key points to prevent the collapse of the Inca walls, nothing in the site revealed any modern involvement. As we didn't had too much time on our hands, we explored the site hastily and after 5 minutes we were already looking for the path that leads toward our destination. This aim, we soon realized, was not an easy one, as there was no visible path that continued in the desired direction. After passing through a forested section of a nearby slope, we found that our path was actually below us on the left side of the rail. We made our way back to the ruins and immediately found the path that lead to the railway. At that point Lee told us that she prefers to walk on the rail and to abandon the path. As we were only at km 92 (around 3:30 pm), me and Chris agreed it is time to speed up things, so from that point on we walked only on the rail.

Walking the rail, an arduous walk (km 92-110)
For those of you who haven't yet walked on railway, I can tell you it is not a walk in the park, especially if it is long. The gravel, crunching under the footstep makes your foot slip couple of centimeters back or forth, and by doing so, slides the socked feet inside the boot to some extent, scrubbing the sweat feet against the wool or the sock, and leads, eventually, to blisters. And we had some blisters! My situation at that time was not that bad (I felt the blisters forming as time passed) but much later we all felt the long walk in our feet condition. We did our best to walk beside the rail (safer and less gravel), a path which was strewn with some gravel, trash thrown out of the train and of course, dirt.
We continued walking like this for an additional half an hour (around 4 pm) in silence, each one of us was buried with his own thoughts untill Lee asked that we stop for a rest. She was feeling dizzy and me and Chris were not that surprised: she didn't ate anything all day long and almost didn't drank anything, even after encouraging her to do so. We decided that at that point we going to have our lunch. And right there, in a ditch one meter and a half from the rail, we made our lunch, one of my best field lunches I have had since the start of this trip. It might not sound like a gourmet dish, but a mixture of Tuna fish with mustard and several squeezes of fresh Lemon all pasted on a roll of bread was all we needed at that time. Not only we were so happy to have this meal, but we also felt stronger and had the vigor to step up after 30 minutes and continue walking like we were not already walking around 6 hours. One thing for sure: we picked a very good place to have lunch! While Chris and Lee had their "after-lunch-cigarettes" we heard the rumbling of coming train, and only when the train driver pulled the honk for a mere long 10 seconds, it came to our mind that we ARE sitting beside the rails which 60 km/h trains pass regularly. Chris managed to shove himself much closer to the rock just in time when the train passed us in a long thunder, spraying droplets of oil and water, and shaking the ground under our feet.
Coming back to her feet, Lee took the lead and marched in great pace, all determined to get to Aquas Calientes. Tough girl. I already had felt my blisters in my foot fingers, and I knew that both Lee and Chris suffered from their feet: Lee had blisters in her feet, and Chris had sanded his ankle back side to the glistening reddish flesh, a very painful sight and obviously, physical pain as I could tell from Chris face when he touched it. Even so, we didn't had any choice, as we continued and only passed the km 96 sign, relieved on the one hand but on the other hand, gripping that almost all the way we did thus far we had to do again. It was a depressing moment, but we continued on in silence, trying to see the half full glass, knowing that only 14 km are needed to be walked till we get to the town. We already had our wishes once we reached it: Lee wanted a coke (almost from the start of the hike, actually) and me and Chris longed for a glass of Beer and wine, to celebrate the end of this arduous hike. While we were discussing the different options of celebration, I saw more and more tropical vegetation on both sides of the rail while the daylight was getting scarce minute by minute. On the way we passed some nice waterfalls and some wild horses grazing the fields near the river. Around km 98 we saw in the distance camp site tents, and no sooner than the whole camp was revealed to our eyes, we saw that it was a camp of Peruvian workers with policemen sitting by.
We stopped immediately and lowered our voices. The Policemen were with their backs toward us and occupied with their lunch. The thought of getting caught and back course our way was a very unpleasant thought. Chen, we have to do something before they see us, Chris whispered to me and we scanned the area where we can walk beside the rail and not on it. I saw a little path passing into some thick vegetation five meters from the rail, and started toward it, signaling Lee and Chris to follow me. I tried to maintain a cool walk that would be the fastest I could allow my self. Just before I entered the bushy path, I took a glimpse of the policemen, noticing them watching us in curiosity mixed with indifference. We walked briskly through the path and after less than a minute found our self back on the tracks, with the camp hundreds of meters behind us. PPHHHEWWW…we passed that one. It might not been that important, and even if we had walked on the tracks the policemen might not have stopped us and questioned our intentions.
Walking and walking, eventually it got dark and we searched for our headlamps. Lucky for us, we found a night sky lit by a ¾ moon so part of the way we returned the headlamps back to the packs. We walked like this for another hour, passing on the way the well lit dam on the Urobamba without alerting the preoccupied guard that guarded the complex. Getting back into darkness, the valley walls gotten narrower and mountains peaked into the darkness like arrows into the sky. We walked like this, all too exhausted and with ache feet, something that reminded me of all the night marches I had in the army, when only the moon lit the path and you never know when you gonna finish this nightmare. Suddenly, Chris cried that he see lights in the distance, and looking up, we all saw the gleam of a nearby town, Aquas Calientes. We were all happy, hurrying to get into town and get our feet out of our boots and socks.
Eventually, at 7:10 pm, we came to a large sign that declared: "Beinvenidos A Machupicchu Pueblo". We were so happy, I told my friends that I have to take their photo, standing there beside the large sign. We continued afterwards and five minutes later we sat on the cold tracks beside a fancy restaurant at the entrance to Aquas Calientes. After we all had a good coke to refresh our souls, we discussed our next move: I wanted to first get into a hostel and only then go and find a place to chill out and eat something. Chris and Lee wanted immediate satisfaction and only after some negotiations, I managed to convince them that finding a hostel is more important now than looking for a place to eat (belive me, I wanted to eat something even more than they wanted!). So, after finding a place for a reasonable price, we dropped our packs and headed for the center of town, where a fiesta was held in honor of the virgin Carmen (Fiesta de la virgin del Carmen). A band of very drunk and very bad orchestra tried to play something audible, but except for pure noise, nothing significant came out of their playing instruments. We got into a restaurant and ordered our meals, raising a toast for our lives and the ending of this 30 km hike. After we feasted and chilled out in the restaurant (including taking of my shoes and ventilating my sore feet), we went back to our hostel to take a good shower and go to sleep.

Chilling out in Aquas Calientes, literally!
The next day we woke up around 8 am, and that was only because the damn band was starting playing again, without any improvement from the last night. Seems the wine was yet strong in their blood…
We didn't do too much that day, mainly eating, drinking and playing pool while limping from one establishment to another. Our plan was to wake up early the next morning, walk to the steps and climb to Machu Picchu. In order to have a good start next day, Me and Chris decided to see where is the path to Puente Ruinas, the bridge that crossed the Urobamba to the Inca stairway up to Machu Picchu. For some reason, we had to wait with this walk till 9 pm. At first we walked the tracks and after 5 minutes we noticed that there is another path that is going directly underneath us in the same direction. Only when we reached the train tunnel we gripped that we are walking wrongly: we were so accustomed to walk illegally till Aquas Calientes that we forgot that from here on, it is a tourist path, which tour busses take tourist up the mountain to the site. We walked back and then descending to the path, we made our way back toward Puente Ruinas. We found the bridge and the staircase that led up into darkness and walked back to Aquas Calientes, preparing ourself for early wakeup and long walk. Well, plans..you know what they are worth of, right?
The next day, at 4 am, the clock buzzed and after yawning a bit, I went to the shower to wash the sleep out of my eyes. I didn't noticed what Chris noticed, that there was a hush sound outside. You think it´s raining? Ask me Chris, and I answered, full of confidence, that it is the hum of the river. Well, just to be sure, I walked outside and no sooner than I took 5 paces, that I smelled the all familiar smell of fresh rain. Taking a look outside confirmed Chris assumption: the streets were wet and a little dripple came down in consistent hum. Damn!
I returned to our room and announced my findings. 5 minutes of discussion, and we went back to bed. I set the clock for 6 am, hoping that later the weather would improve.
Waking up at 6 am, we noticed that the it was still raining and the skies were painted in dull gray. Not the best day to hike up to Machu Picchu. Lee stayed in bed while Chris and me went out to have an early breakfast. The streets were soaking wet and little people were walking the streets. Vendors sell colorful nylon ponchos and when we passed the bus station for the site we saw a long line of colorful tourists, all look miserable under their water resistant jackets and ponchos. At first we didn't understand why to bother getting up to the site and visit when the weather is so bad, but then again, when you pay 65 USD to get to Aquas Calientes, you better get up there no matter what happens.
We passed the day similarily to the previous one: eating, drinking and playing pool. We planned to check out the weather tomorrow and if the rain stops, and it might be sunny, we gonna go up. We also checked our option to get back to Cusco. I had a plan how to get back to Cusco cheaply, but we checked the regular train in any case. After we saw the price (38 USD to Ollantaytambo, 56 to Cusco) and the time line (only the day after tomorrow), Chris and Lee abandoned any plans to take the tourist train. The train I suggested was leaving everyday at mid day, so we decided to wait another day in any case. Time was very expensive in Aquas Calientes, and if we don't go up, we might as well save some sols.
Well, I had another surprise waiting for me as the day went by and dusk came. Returning from buying some rolls of bread for the next day, I found Lee and Chris sitting in the room, debating. Well, I was announced that both of them wont go up to the ruins: Lee had already been to the site and didn't want to waste money only to be in the site when it is soaking wet and grimy. Chris also didn't want to go up to the site when the weather was far from perfect. Well, I had to take a decision if I am going to do it alone or to pass it. This thought had a very short residency in my brain and my next thought was that I hoped it wont to muddy or slippery to walk up the stairs. I was full of anxiety, not knowing if the path up will be dangerous due to the rainfall. In addition, the path to the Inca staircase was in total blackness at that early time of dawn, and walking alone at night was never been my favorite way to get to my destination. I thought of maybe taking a tour bus, but this thought also had stayed little time in my brain. I will do it, as dangerous as it will be (turns out, of course, that my fears were a waste of energy and brain space). I went to sleep while my friends went to have some beer before getting to bed. Before they went I told them that I will probably return by 11 am so we could catch the train to the Hydroelectric station. I wanted to stay up there all day, I must admit, but not only I knew the full details how to get back to Cusco, I wanted to do it with Lee and Chris.

Stairs, stairs and…more stairs
For the second time in two nights, the alarm clock buzzed at 4 am. This time, I was full of spirit. I darted out of the room and checked the situation outside: semi wet, with overcast over head. Well, at least it doesn't rain I comforted my self. A lady passed in the streets and I asked her about the weather. Somehow, I had the feeling she might know, living in this town for over 40 years (or maybe not?). She told me that it might rain around 8 or 9 am. With that, I returned to the room, arranged my stuff and getting ready to move. Chris woke up and asked me what is the situation outside. Not raining with an overcast and it might rain at 8 to 9 am, I told him. I didn't heard any reply and assumed he drifted back to his dreams. I didn't tried to converse anymore – time was short, and I wanted to move. Before leaving the room I wrote a note, asking them to leave the key at the reception (actually, at the shop down stairs that also belonged to the owner) and to write me down where are their whereabouts. Signing the note, I added that if Im not back by 12 am, they should call for help. With that, I left the room and headed for the dark streets.
I went fast, pushing hard, to do it as fast as possible as I hate walking t night alone. On the way I saw a couple of girls looking for the path. I didn't mind them too much and continued on the already well known path down the town center to the dirt path. It took me 15 minutes to reach Puente Ruinas, passing several couples and a group leaded by a guide. Once I have reached the base of the staircase I took out my headlamp, looked up the dimly lit stairs, and following a deep breath, started the walk up.
3000 steps. That's what they say, anyway. I didn't bother counting, of course. Like in any other tropical area, it was heavily humid and I could see my warm and humid breath puffed outside of my mouth every step I took up. It wasn't hard as I expected it to be, as it was a long going up.The Inca stairs are cut several times by the dirt road that enables trucks and bussed reach the top of the mountain, and as a consequence, I had several times look for the continuing path going up. At a certain point light rain started going down on me and I thought again that I was so foolish to leave my rain jacket in Cusco, but then again, I was sweating very much and putting on a full sealed nylon on me will not keep me dry from the inside, in any case, so it is preferred to just walk as fast as I can and hope it wouldn't rain heavily.
After 50 minutes of climbing without almost any stop (to eat and to take one picture), I reached the site gate. I wasn't alone, even though there were no more than other 4 people at that time (5:30 am). I waited impatiently for the workers to open the gates, and then, at 6 am a line was formed in front of the gates and tickets were sold. As I moved to take my place, a bus`s engine roared behind us and it´s human content spilled and dispersed in a colorful wave, that immediately formed a line toward the end of the already long line. After buying the ticket and passing the checkpoint, I was in Machu Picchu.
So many people wrote and said so many things about this place, so I would not spill my poetry in this web page. But, I was surprised that I was not as excited as I thought I will be. It might be because it was awfully cloudy and grayish or it might be because at the end of things, it was a huge complex of stone work overplayed over couple of hundreds of meters. But once I got into "work" (i.e. starting shooting), I found this site mesmerizing, with the low clouds shrouding the site and making it even more mysterious than I imagined. Wandering around in the site, I found my self walking toward the northern end of the site, passing the beautiful plaza on my right and the Principal temple up on my left. Eventually, without even knowing it, I came to the Sacred stone, located between two huts and overlooking the valley below. This stone is the first to be dedicated to the village before erecting the first building in the Inca village. Once I finished my shooting in the site I have noticed a small wooden gate, partially open, and the Huayna Picchu, the young peak in Quechua, looming over from a far. I took me one second of delay before I entered the unguarded gate and went down the Inca stairs to the path that leads up to the peak. I didn't had too much time (it was several minutes before 7 am) so in the next junction that leads to another proximate peak, I continued toward the highest peak.
Gigi and Tim told me that this was THE site to see the grand ruins, as it was less visited and also, gave a fascinating view of the ruins and the valleys that surrounded it. They mentioned it was a difficult climb, and looking from the stairs, it loomed high and powerful.
The stairs first went up over a slope arm and then dropped down to a saddle and then, went up straight to the peak, with jumbled staircase, all wet and slippery, with steel cables anchored to the side of the rock that made the climb easier and much safer. It was hard but not as hard as I would expect it to be, and after 40 minutes or so of climbing, I reached the first ruins located directly under the rocky peak. I took some shots and continued on walking up to the top, where four trekkers were already enjoying the amazing view of the site laid on a palm of a rock giant. Low clouds shrowded from time to time several parts of the site and the surrounding valleys, which made the spectacle a mysterious one. I sat couple of meters below the peak and while writing my log, had some simple breakfast (bananas and apples). Apart from the talk of the people, it was quiet and tranquil, as we could see the already bustling tour groups buzzing down the site, some 300 meters below us. Like colorful ants, they stopped at one point, and then moved on in a fine line toward the next attraction. After 30 minutes on the peak, it started to rain lightly in a persistence tempo, and I closed my notebook in decisive movement of finishing a chapter. It was time to go down.
Going down was slower almost as getting up there, as it was very slippery and some parts were very steep to go down without using some brain cells and flexible movement. As I got lower and lower, I saw more and more people puffing their way up, asking me from time to time how much more they have to go till they reached the top. The lower I got, the easier it was to handle the slope degree and stairs, and by the time the clock stroke 9, I was already back on the site's soil, strolling around with the sole purpose of reaching the starting point and reading a bit about the site from Lonely Planet guide. The skies started to clear up a bit and I could see a patch of blue peeking from the mass of the clouds. I went to visit the Funerary Rock and Hut, and after that made my way to the collapsible Inca bridge, which was on the other side of the site. It was already a jumble mass of people walking all over the site, and numerous people were already could be seen sitting on top of Huayna Picchu. Returning back from the bridge, I knew I had to hurry up, so I could start my descent at 10 am and reached the town around 11 am, as planned. I reached the gate and left the site, while visitors were keeping on streaming into the site.
Going down was a bit faster than going up, but not too much, as I was afraid for my knees and after 40 minutes of going down (and seeing other people going up) I reached Puente Ruinas. 20 minutes afterwards, and I was climbing the hostel stairs and knocking on the door of our room. It was 11:10 am.
A gust of cigarette smoke flowed over my head and through my face as the room interior cleared up just to reveal the faces of my two friends, all worried and full of anxiety. Turned out they didn't remembered my announcement that I will be back by 11 am, and they didn't know if to wait for me and too see if I return back (and miss the train) or to go for the train, no matter if I returned back. I know for sure they wouldn't have left if I hadn't showed up before 12, and by doing so, missing the train. I explained my self (and also asked for their forgiveness as I made them worried). We quickly discussed our next moves: we had to catch the 12 pm train that leaves for the Hydroelectric station, so we had to check out and buy tickets. Talking with the owner, I understood that the tickets are bought on the train, so we quickly arranged our stuff and left the hostel.

The long way back to Cusco: trucks, cable crossing and an all night ride
I was hungry but time was short and we didn't want to miss the train. We found the train in no sweat and boarded it. Apart from us, another group of 8 Israelis boarded the train and also some brits. The train was suppose to leave at 12 but eventually around 12:30 the train started moving, and not for long. With too many stops on the way, a ride which suppose to take 20 minutes took around a full hour (!) and finally we came to our stop, at the Hydroelectric station, the last station. As the tourist went down the train, we saw all of them running to catch the Truck that waited at the end of the rail. Lee, Chris and Me took our time walking, especially after we saw that the truck, Camineta, was full and stacked with human bodies. The truck left with it´s load all getting wet in the rainfall and we hurried to take shelter in a nearby restaurant. After one hour the truck came back, full of other human cargo and, finally, after 20 minutes we boarded the truck and left with sunshine over our heads. That 20 minutes ride was a nice refreshment, seeing the Urobamba valley in a different way, with the cold wind blow our hair and feeling free. since this train from Aquas Calientes fares only once a day, we had all the back of the truck for ourselves. We came to a little settlement with three high palm trees and a kid that worked with the truck driver showed us where we should cross the river. Going down to the river bank, we saw a cable that stretched across the river some 5 meters over the white water with a little cart attached to it. I was expecting something similar, but NOT that little cart. Surprisingly, both the kid and Lee didn't had any problem sitting on it and crossing the river successfully. Chris pulled the cart back to our bank, and the both of us climbed it while the kido on the other side pulled us to the other side. It was a short but a fun ride, looking at the Urobamba from a very unusual position, when only 5 meters of air and a steel cable separating us from the wild white beast that roared underneath us.
Once we were on the side of the bank, we walked an additional 20 minutes to the little of Santa Theresa. On the way the kido asked me if we want an hostel for the night and I told him that we are continuing to Santa Maria. Here the kido surprised me when he told me that the only combi that runs to Santa Maria is leaving only at 3 am (!) and that there is no other transportation out of Santa Theresa. Lee and Chris didn't like the bad news I delievered, and I went into a little infirmary to ask somebody else about this thing, as I suspected the kid is trying to get some sols out of us by staying half a night in a hostel. Talking with a nurse, I got a similar picture, only she suggested that we should go to Quillabamba and from there take the bus to Cusco. In any case, we had to stay the day at Santa Theresa, and only the thought of staying there made us desperate to find some other way out of that little crappy town. While we were trying to find some other transportation, we entered the little dirty plaza and apart from a supply truck, no other vehicle was visible. While we were thinking and assessing our possibilities, we heard somebody calling us in Hebrew. Turning around, we saw hand waving to us from a slit in the truck´s back cabin, between the rain cover and the wooden bar that surrounded this cabin. For an instant, this picture reminded me of the poor Jews locked in the trains in WWII. We came to the opening of the truck only to find there the same 8 Israelis we saw on the train. Seems that they were also got stuck in Santa Theresa, and after checking around they found this truck with it's generous driver that agreed to take them to Cusco, as this was also his destination. They also commented that it is free as they didn't talk about any kind of payment. The truck driver agreed to take us three also and after 20 minutes (around 4:30 pm) the truck doors were locked on us and we started our journey back to Cusco. And it was a journey, I can tell you that!
At first I tried to talk English, but soon I gripped that I will be the only one beside Chris and Lee that will talk English, so I gave up on it. I didn't feel good that Chris wont understand what everybody are talking about, but then again, I didn't had to much of a choice. We didn't know exactly how much time the ride will take, so everyone took his place on a sack of Bananas and tried to find a comfortable position (who would have believed that Bananas can be SUCH a pain in the ass??). At first the ride was going well, going on dirt roads and after an hour we had a stop for "Nature Bathroom". At that stop the truck driver asked us if we have warm clothes because its gonna be very cold. We were all surprised that he asked us and insisted that we have warm clothing, but we dismissed this insistence as a plain concern for our comfort. Well, we didn't knew what was in front us, that was for sure.
Following an hour and half of a ride, when darkness was already a dominant presence, we came to a stop in a little town, as we could see from the only slit that was in the back cabin. The doors opened again and the driver announced that we are in Santa Maria and here we can have a dinner before the long drive. We entered a local restaurant running away from the rain shower and ate a nice meal, small talking it with each another. We came back to the truck while rainfall continued to fall down on us and some fellas arranged the sacks in such a way it would be possible to sleep on them (yeah, right!). Again we climbed on the back cabin, and set out into the night. The time was 8 pm.
At first I didn't noticed that it was getting cold, as Santa Maria is settled in the humid tropics and it was a bit chilly but no more than that. But, slowly everyone covered themselves with layers and tried to go sleep. Well, we three tried to get some sleep, the others were all to occupied by taking pictures and flashing one another with their digicams. At a certain point, they went to sleep and all the ride we all did our best to find shelter from the cold and comfort for our backs and asses. The cold turned to be the major nuisance, as the cabin was open in one point by a broad slit that enabled us to see where we are (less than more) but also enabled the circulation of hot and cold air in the cabin, which meant that the cabin was mostly cold than warm.
Somewhere on the way, I dozed into a restless sleep when suddenly the truck came to a stop around midnight. Before we could apprehend where we were, the doors slung open and a flash of light accompanied by a gust of freezing wind rushed inside the cabin. The two drivers were smiling to us, all covered with clothes, and behind them, behold, piles of SNOW!
Popping my head outside the cabin, a magnificent sight was before me: We stopped on a muddy-snowy road with piles of snow piled on both sides of the road with a little church all covered with enormous amounts of snow standing by the road. The lights of the truck illuminated the snow with a bright yellowish color and the whole scene was looking like another world. With all the cold and inconvenience, I took my camera and snapped a photograph of the church. It was irresistible, just stopping there over the high snowy pass. After couple of people went to nature, we all cuddled back into the truck, trying to get warmer as much as possible. The truck continued on, passing down into the snowy valley and even though we went down, the cold persisted, if not increasing. From that point on, the four girls were keeping wining every 10 minutes or so how cold they are. The four guys tried there best to keep them warm, but the winnig continued (Chris was already a sleep and me and Lee just kept silent, biting our lips wishing the cold to go away). The ride continued on and on and we dozed again for couple of hours till the truck stopped again and the truck driver opened for us the doors so we could go and relief ourselves. We were back at a wide valley, the ¾ of a moon shone and lit all the area, revealing an-out-of-the-world scenery that I wished I could a picture of it, but I knew everybody gonna kill me if we gonna be stuck there because of my photographic enthusiasm. The ride continued on and around 4 am we made another stop in a little town. Looking out of the slit I saw a familiar fountain with double bird statues.
Damn, that was a long ride to get there, but there we were, smack on the main plaza. We waited there for an hour or so and then continued on. At that time, my feet were frozen and I suffered from cold pain, as blood almost didn't circulated in my cold feet. I tried to move my toes, but it was a painful act that didn't made the situation any better. I wished we gonna be back in Cusco, and as soon as possible. I dozed again, and then, I heard the voice of Chris whispering me to wake up: "Its Cusco, Man! We got to Cusco!" waking up and peering out of the slit I saw ole Cusco at sunrise, cold and a bit foggy. It was a wonderful sight at 6 am and I felt my self happy that this long and cold ride is going to end finally! The other people started talking, all frozen, and soon we stopped on the main road, near a police checkpoint. We came down from the truck, stiff and dizzy from a sleepless night. Arranging our stuff, we decided that each one of us will donate 5 sols for the drivers for their generosity. However, once the driver counted the money, he commented that money is missing because have to pay a fare of 20 sols. At that, the Israeli gang mumbled something and trotted toward the waiting taxis. While I was trying to explain the driver that he should have told us about the pricing BEFORE we set out, I saw the Israeli stuffed taxis dashing into the morning traffic, gone without even saying goodbye. How typical of them. I had to explain and negotiate the unsatisfied driver till his friend took him aside and bed us farewell, shaking our hands. I was cold and tired, and the last thing I wanted is to have a quarrel with an already tired and cold truck driver, especially that I didn't arranged this fare from the start.
On our way back to the hostel I couldn't not think of the runaway group. We owed them the fact that we were actually in Cusco at that point of time, but, all the same their behavior was of a child, running from responsibility toward locals and other people.
When me and Chris went to have our morning coffee and writing our diaries, I gripped that our trip in the truck was indeed a remarkable experience. As all our communication to the outside world was through our drivers (both verbally and visually), we were like locked in a Limbo, which only a slit gave us a feeling of the passing time. Stopping at different points on our journey the drivers gave us a unique way to see a small part of their country, in one long ride. One time it was a tropical town, in another instance, a view of a wide valley at midnight, and in another, a snow covered high pass in the middle of nowhere…Even though it was a rough ride, it was also a very interesting and well worth experience. And for that, I am content.

Couple of days after this ride, we parted from Chris (also nicknamed "El Schmokler", the smoker), as he had to catch a flight from Sao Paulo (Brazil) in three weeks and he had to leave to Bolivia as soon as possible. We all agreed that we meet again in a month or so, hopefully, and will tour Argentina together.
Chris, take care in your journey!

No comments: