Tuesday, 25 November 2014

0153 Cuzco to Aguas Calientes

21 Nov 

Cold weather and altitude seems to do funny things to diesel engines ! The big German trucks seem to have the most, and this morning Manfred and Karin left in a cloud of smoke !  Hope it gets better as they get lower and warmer !

Then it was our turn – Off to Machupicchu, but first we had to go into town to get some money from an ATM
that is “friendly” with our card ! That done, and a quick photo of Troopie in the main square in Cuzco, we headed out on what we thought was the correct road, past some extensive Inca ruins very close to our campsite called Saqsayhuaman (commonly called “Sexy Woman” ruins by everyone as that is how it is pronounced !)   It was shortly after that that we realised we while we were indeed on a road to Machupicchu, it was not the road we wanted !!  So after some well intended turns and detours, we unfortunately spent the next hour or so lost in Cuzco !

The trouble is not just the one way system, but also the fact that quite a lot of streets are just too narrow or steep for us, or are in fact stairs not roads, and then Garmin spits the dummy, closely followed by me !!  And then, when we finally got on the road we wanted, there were some roadworks, and on one narrow section a 20 seater bus decided to overtake a semitrailer, while another semi was coming the other way, and neither semi was going to give way – So the bus and oncoming semi ended up nose to nose, while the wing mirrors of the bus and the semi going the same way ended up locked together. 30 minutes later…………!!!  And this was in a major roadworks section, so workmen everywhere.  Since they were all watching this stupidity anyway, 3 workmen near us saw all our stickers and came over for a chat, wanted to know where we were from, how we could drive a car with a steering wheel on the wrong side, etc etc, and cheered us up after we were still not exactly on speaking terms after being lost for an hour !  So we shared some boiled sweets with them, and eventually headed on our way with smiles on our faces again. 

There are two ways from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo where we were to catch our train, and we planned to go one way and come back the other. We had to be in Ollantaytambo by 4pm to catch our train, and leaving Cuzco at 10 am had left us plenty of time for the 2-3 hour drive.  But getting lost, then the traffic jam in the road works, suddenly meant we didn’t have so much time as we hoped, so we needed to get a wiggle on.  After Cachimayo, where we turned off the main road and headed north, there were yet more of the spectacular mountain and valley views that just seem endless over here, but which never get boring, I can assure you.  Some great views from a lookout where we stopped for a while because the views were just so amazing, with snow and even glaciers visible on some of the mountain tops. The whole countryside is much more rural out here, and even though
we were at 3700 metres, it is rolling fields, rich soil, donkeys and cows grazing everywhere beside the road.  You also get some farmers still ploughing with oxen, often with the wife running ahead – Presumably to entice the oxen to travel in a straight line ? – But on the other side of the road you see a John Deere tractor being used for ploughing as well !  We stopped to photograph one couple and the wife ran down and wanted payment , and wasn’t too happy when we had no small local change and gave her boiled sweets instead !  So we found one dollar and she was then happy to keep the sweets as well.  When she went back to her husband we didn’t see her hand any of the sweets (or money) over !

Heading north past Chincheros, we eventually came to a turning to a place called Maras, where we knew there were some ancient pre-Inca salt pans still being used, as well as some deep holes in the ground that the Incas had built circular terraces in and they then used for experimentation with various crops in a controlled environment.  We found the signs to the Salineras, and followed the dirt road for some kms across the countryside before eventually dropping into a deep gorge down a narrow dirt road with sheer sides. There beneath us was this incredible patchwork quilt of over 3200 small salt ponds, that they fill with water from a salty stream and they then leave to evaporate before harvesting in the dry season between May and October.  The stream that feeds the ponds is tiny, but very
salty, and you actually drive through it at a shallow ford just before you arrive.  We were still short of time, so after a quick visit there (it is quite a hike down to the pans themselves, we headed back up out of the gorge to look for these Inca “coliseums” presumably for crop experimentation.  We went to the little town of Maras, asked the local policeman for directions, but in the jumble of narrow streets and the one way system, we couldn’t find the right turning, and as we were short of time, and not missing our train to Machupicchu was much more important, we left and headed back to the main road, by which time it was after 2 pm.  Entering the Sacred Valley (that leads to Machupicchu) at Urubamba, we drove all the way up this rural valley finally reaching our destination (by car) of Ollantaybambo (a mere 2800 metres) at 3 pm.  They say that nothing in Ollantaytambo has changed in 700 years – Except the introduction of the internet !   And when you hit the narrow cobbled streets as you enter the town past the massive 16 stepped terraces, you believe what they say.  It is basically one big Inca ruin, with remains clearly visible all around you. One hour to find the hotel where we could
leave our car, and get to the station to catch our train to Aguas Calientes – Should be easy, right ?   Well, we had coordinates for the hotel, but as usual, as soon as you get close, the Garmin throws in the towel and sends you in circles !   In this case it sent us to the far end of town, down over a narrow one way bridge, and not long after we got over it, we came to the end of town !  Turned around, and started asking people, and no one really knew, but all seemed to think it was back on the other side of the one way bridge.  So back we went – Only to find a traffic jam on the one way bridge and no traffic moving in any direction !!  20 minutes we sat there, watching the clock tick away – Eventually we moved, and after 3 or 4 more discussions with people about the location of the hotel, we suddenly saw it – Right back at the beginning of the town, but tucked away down an alley way.  Relief !!   Once they had opened the gates to let us in, and agreed to keep the car for us, we headed towards the station – About another 10-15 minutes walk !!  We actually got to the station 10 minutes before the 4 pm deadline, so since we hadn’t had lunch, we bought a couple of sandwiches for the train. 

We eventually boarded the train and headed up the Sacred Valley, following the Rio Urabamba as it wound its way through the valley towards Aguas Calientes.  Unfortunately we were seated facing backwards, and on the mountain side of the train, so we saw very little of the view as we travelled the 1 ½ hours to our destination.  Once there, we were met by a girl from our hotel which we had pre-booked, and she immediately set off through all the tourist nick-nack stalls near the station, and then up a steep hill.  And up, and up and up !!  By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were thankful to be even slightly acclimatised, or we would never have made it !  Especially when they put us on the 5th floor !!!

We then had a delightful dinner in a little restaurant not far from our hotel, Janet tried vicuna (bit tough and chewy) while I had a delicious grilled trout !  Mmmmm.  After that is was back to our hotel and off to bed with an intended wake up of 5 am for the early bus to Machupicchu.

Pics are here https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0147CuzcoToOllantaytambo?authkey=Gv1sRgCMyE782vpYK2TQ#

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