Wednesday, November 14, 2007

blogging in the Andes

OK, this is surreal. I'm sitting in an internet cafe in Aguas Calientes, Peru, looking out the enormous window at the Andes and a huge statue of an Incan, listening to house music.

The particular mountain I'm facing has these beautiful yellow-green plants hanging on the mountain's face, with dusky red leaves or maybe flowers, I can't tell from here. The sky is blue, and the tops of the mountains disappear into clouds. It boggles my weary little mind.

Yesterday morning we boarded the 6am train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, which is the little village you spend the night in if you are seeing Machu Picchu. Leaving Cusco:

We took the Vista Dome train, which meant we not only saw the landscape through the windows at our sides, we could look up and see the mountains above our heads. It was magnificent. We thought the Vista Dome would be cool, but I don't think we could really appreciate what it would be like.

Train ride: The movie!

As with everything else on this trip, it was better than we hoped. We wound our way through the higher ground of the Cusco area, then dropped down into the valley that leads to Machu Picchu.

Peru Rail did this really cool thing, very smart as far as we can tell. You know how you go up a mountain by zig zagging, hairpin turns, so the incline isn't so steep? Well, the switchbacks in the Andes end in straight track, then the train backs up and goes to the next path. I can visualize it if I blur my mental eyes a little. We weren't even out of Cusco when we hit the first one, so when the train started going in reverse, Marc and I were a little nervous. But no one else seemed to notice, and then we figured it out.

So Cusco is kind of dusty, but when we dropped down into the valley, the landscape changed so dramatically. It kind of looked like Louisiana, lush and with what I think are cypress trees. The homes were no longer adobe, but really did look like houses you'd see in the rural areas of Louisiana. There were tropical plants and it just couldn't have looked more different.

There were these large areas of paradise, it seemed to me. Acres and acres (well, here it would be hectares and hectares) of farmed land, crops planted in neat rows. Cattle and sheep grazing. Little creeks and rivers flowing past beautiful adobe homes. And of course gorgeous mountains all around. Gorgeous Andean mountains, some with snow on the tops, some with clouds hovering around the tops, some just jagged rock. It was truly breathtaking.

Rio Urubamba
fertile, beautiful farmland
snow- and glacier-topped mountains
random Incan ruins scattered everywhere
more snowy cloudy mountains
Aguas Calientes exists solely for the purpose of housing and feeding tourists, and selling them crappy tchotchkes. The hotels would be considered backpacker hostels anywhere else; the nicest ones are still pretty sad. But you don't come here for the hotel, obviously. The food is kind of uniformly ok too, and totally geared to tourists. Pizza. Hamburguesas. Mexican food. The odd guinea pig here and there. Free drinks pushed on you everywhere: the ubiquitous pisco sours, hard liquor, beer.
Somehow 2,000 people live in this little town. It just consists of little alley-sized streets lined with people hawking their menus, little shops with too-bright serapes hanging out front and lots of little dolls and gourds and bags and t-shirts, and hotels and hostels. This internet cafe overlooks the town square, which is the most uninteresting square ever. There is a church, of course, and in the center of the square is this huge statue of an Incan with outstretched arms and holding some kind of staff. A couple of little patches of green, with benches. And surrounding the square, restaurants. Like everywhere else we've been in Peru, everything, nearly every building, is under construction. It's been quite notable, the frequency of homes and buildings with rebar sticking out of the roof, as if they're just adding it, or building another floor.

Our hotel was really pretty bad -- we didn't expect anything great, given what we'd read in our guidebooks and on various travel boards....and they were right. What we hadn't really expected was the rooster outside our window that started crowing at 3am. He crowed, and he crowed, and he crowed, for hours. The view out our bedroom window:

Looking up
Looking down -- roosters and chickens and rabbits running wild
And general paradise vegetation
We had to check out this morning at 9:30, and our train doesn't leave until 3:30, and there's nothing else to do here. We decided not to go back to Machu Picchu this morning, so here we are.

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