Day 4: Peru

I’ve talked about the magnificent Machu Picchu. Today, I’ll talk about the train from Cusco and the town of Aguas Calientes.

As I mentioned before, it’s quite a bit of a journey to get to Machu Picchu. The train station for Inca Rail is about forty-minutes outside of Cusco in Poroy. Then it is about three and a half hours to get to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu. The train is filled with windows on both sides and skylights on the ceiling. The views are extraordinary.

First you pass through the arid countryside and see wonderful sun soaked fields. Farm animals are found all over: horses, pigs, cows, sheep, and more. Occasionally, you’ll see cattle tied to the ground next to the tracks. (The train conductor spent a lot of time honking the train’s horn; I could only imagine he was warning creatures off the tracks). Far off in the distance, you see towns and mountains with a touch of forest fuzz.

Countryside and Mountains, outside Cusco, Peru
Countryside and Mountains, outside Cusco, Peru

Then the mountains come closer to you. The train actually brushes against vegetation as it meanders through the Sacred Valley as the area is known. Snow capped mountains would appear brilliantly in their glory. At one point, we descended several hundred meters by the zigzag of the train. This was not your usual zigzag down the mountain. We stopped, changed tracks, and then went backwards. Then a man, the switcher, ran to the other side of the train, and we switched tracks again to forwards. Then he’d run to the back of the train, etc. It was kind nifty.

Snowcapped mountains, Sacred Valley, Peru
Snowcapped mountains, Sacred Valley, Peru

Third, towards the very end of the journey, the train was in the tropical forest. Suddenly what had been fairly arid terrain turned into lush vegetation with orchids decorating the sides of the track. There were waterfalls, some Incan constructions, and a river leading to a hydroelectric plant. Occasionally, giant insects would make their appearance at the windows of the train, the true indicator that we were heading to the tropical forest. It was at this point in the journey when there was a loud “bang” and the train stopped. One of my traveling companions said that she had seen a giant rock fall from the tracks. Presumably the train hit it. Thankfully, the train operators assessed that there was little or no damage to the train and we went on with journey. I tried not to think too hard about what would have happened if the train was not okay.

Aguas Calientes is a small town really dedicated to tourism for Machu Picchu. Two rivers bisect the town, which is neat. There’s an artisanal/tourist market, a lovely little church, a main square, and several fountains. There was a botanical garden that I never made it to. We stayed in a nice hotel that was quite comfortable. However, one side of the hotel was the raging river while train tracks were on the other side of the hotel. We had a room on the train side and I was occasionally awakened by a rumbling train. Oh well. Across the street, I could see into someone’s yard that was filled with turkeys, ducks, and allegedly guinea pigs.

We also spent a lovely afternoon in a restaurant that had a musical duo playing pan flutes and guitars, doing covers of “Hey Jude” and “Guantanamera.” I love live music. At one point, one of the musicians was playing three instruments: pan flute, guitar and drum (with his foot!).

The journey home was not quite as thrilling. We took a later train so we only had about 30 minutes before the sunset. It was amazingly dark outside; few lights dotted the landscape. However, about half way through the journey back to Cusco, a man in a rainbow suit with a yellow wig and devil’s mask appeared. He is an Incan trickster dancing something that sounded like the “sacra” dance. He wandered up and down the aisle inviting ladies to dance with him. Of course, I accepted. There is something incredibly thrilling about jumping up and down in the middle of a train hurtling through the darkness with a man in a rainbow suit. Now that I’m back, I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to find out more about this figure. As a researcher, I’ve tried looking up Incan trickster, devils, etc, but I can’t find any articles about it. I don’t know if it was something that was made up for the tourists or something in mythology. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Underneath the Devil's mask was another mask!
Underneath the Devil’s mask was another mask!

Then there was a fashion show of various alpaca sweaters and whatnot. It was delightfully silly but it went on too long.

Anyway, that’s all for now.

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