Days 8-9: (The Train to) Ollantaytambo and Cuzco, Again

2

January 19, 2013 by jiejie768

Even with Machu Picchu checked off the bucket list, the show (or trip) must go on. And even though the day at Machu Picchu will long stand as one of the chief highlights of this or any other trip I’ve ever taken, there were plenty of exciting things to come during our holiday adventures with family and friends. To catch up from Day 1, check out the links at the bottom of this post.

Train Delay

Days 8-9: (The Train to) Ollantaytambo and Cuzco, Again

With Machu Picchu in our rear-view mirror, we woke (at a reasonable 7 a.m., this time) on Dec. 29, packed our 11 pounds of luggage, ate free breakfast and headed for the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo.

Our trip back to Cuzco was to take a detour in Ollantaytambo where we would check out some more Inca ruins (the only ruins still lived in today), grab some food and catch a late-afternoon shuttle back to Cuzco (about a two-hour drive).

The train from Aguas to Cuzco is about three hours and the leg from Aguas to Ollanta is supposed to be about half of that. You’ll note the words “supposed to be” cleverly weaved into that previous sentence. Our train pulled out of Aguas Calientes at the curious, but posted, time of 8:53 a.m. We were due to arrive in Ollantaytambo for second breakfast (hey, hobbits know how to live) at 10:10. The rainy season and some loose mountainside rock had other ideas.

About 45 minutes out of Aguas our train inexplicably pulled to a complete stop. At first, as most of us were dozing, we didn’t think much of it, assuming that we were allowing another train to pass or something like that. But after about 20 minutes sans movement or indication of a reason, we begin to wonder. At some point, probably about an hour into the stoppage we were informed that a landslide had blocked the train tracks up ahead and we would be staying in place for a while.

Stomachs were growling. The free breakfast at the hotel was basically bread and coffee, and some, such as Dan, had not eaten anything. We quickly ate our way through the snacks in our possession and then set about devouring the supply of for-sale snacks on the train (mostly Pringles … lots of Pringles).

Passengers mill about outside our delayed train during the long wait for things to get moving. The five (or so) hour delay was something of a blessing in disguise as it gave our tired group an unexpected chance to relax and hang out.

Passengers mill about outside our delayed train during the long wait for things to get moving. The five (or so) hour delay was something of a blessing in disguise as it gave our tired group an unexpected chance to relax and hang out.

Pam digs for cards (or snacks), and Ty ponders the great mysteries of life, as we pass the time while our train to Ollantaytambo was stopped in its tracks.

Pam digs for cards (or snacks), and Ty ponders the great mysteries of life, as we pass the time while our train to Ollantaytambo was stopped in its tracks.

Trains on a train! Kathy ponders her next move while she and Lolo play a game of "Ticket to Ride" during our long wait for the train to start moving.

Trains on a train! Kathy ponders her next move while she and Lolo play a game of “Ticket to Ride” during our long wait for the train to start moving.

When all was said and done, we were stopped on those tracks for about five hours without moving. You’d think this would be a huge pain in the you-know-what, but it actually was a pretty pleasant day (well, not for Dan, he was hungry and angry …though he held it together pretty well, and tried to sleep through most of the delay).

We played cards and they even let us wander about outside the train — if you’re going to be stranded on a train, it’s nice to be on one sitting amid some of the most beautiful mountain scenery on Earth. We even encountered a fellow passenger out walking her wombat (we’re not sure it’s a wombat, but that’s what she said, we’ll post a photo and if anyone knows what it is, please leave a comment). On a trip that had featured a lot of get-up-and-go, it was kind of nice to have an unintentional stoppage dropped in our laps. It gave us an unexpected chance to relax and just hang out.

This woman, who did not speak much English, told us her critter was a wombat. We're not sure that's accurate so if anyone can either confirm or correct that diagnosis, please do so in the comments section.

This woman, who did not speak much English, told us her critter was a wombat. We’re not sure that’s accurate so if anyone can either confirm or correct that diagnosis, please do so in the comments section.

The downside of the delay was that it killed our chance to see much of Ollantaytambo when we got there (about 4 p.m.). We did have a fantastic meal, arguably the best of our trip (aided by the fact that we were all famished at that point), at a restaurant in town (Heart’s Cafe) and walked around for a bit. The ruins were an impressive sight, but it was too late in the day to enter and see them properly, so we snapped a few photos from the outside, did a little shopping in the artisan market and found a van to take us back to Cuzco.

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I have no idea what Lolo's doing here, but I couldn't resist posting the photo.

I have no idea what Lolo’s doing here, but I couldn’t resist posting the photo.

Ollantaytambo, both town and ruins, appeared to be a lovely little place, and I’m very excited to go back and spend a couple of nights there when my mom comes in April. We’re taking her to Machu Picchu as well and are basically subbing our nights in Aguas Calientes with nights in Ollanta during that trip.

Our van ride was pretty informative as we were joined by a professional tour guide who told us all about the various towns we passed through as we traversed the Sacred Valley en route to Cuzco (inexplicably, the Peruvian guide spoke English in a thick Russian accent). We arrived in Cuzco at about 9 p.m., retrieved our bags from Los Niños — they had no availability that night, so we had to use a different hotel — and checked into our new digs.

Then, as we had all the next day to rest and explore before catching a bus that evening for Ica, the four “big kids” (Meg, Ty, Katie and myself) decided we’d spend some time out on the town. We walked from our hotel to the Plaza de Armas and headed into Paddy’s Irish Pub (which claims to be the highest Irish-owned pub in the world … we now all have free posters to prove it). We’d stumbled upon happy hour and the four us ordered Pisco sours — the official drink of Peru. It was actually the first Pisco sour for Meg and I in our four months in Peru … go figure, our first taste of a Peruvian staple while drinking at an Irish bar. I’d figured I wouldn’t like it too much (I’m mostly a beer guy), but was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed a few more over the remaining days of our trip.

After a couple drinks and some nachos, we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel. But not before stopping for some munchies at Bembos (Peruvian McDonald’s, but better). It wasn’t a wild and crazy night or anything, but as someone who has badly missed drinking buddies since moving to Peru, it was a much-needed excursion.

In addition to it's awesome architecture, Cuzco has some pretty impressive murals dotting the city scape.

In addition to it’s awesome architecture, Cuzco has some pretty impressive murals dotting the city scape.

The next day we slept in a bit before heading out to see some more of Cuzco. Our first stop was the bus station where, sadly, the Andersons and Collinses cemented their impending separation. Our group was headed to Ica to see the Nazca Lines and Islas Ballestas off of Paracas, while the Collinses were booking passage to Arequipa where they’d descend into Colca Canyon before sending Katie back to the States and returning to Bolivia.

The bus line Meg and I prefer — Cruz del Sur — had no seats to Ica on either that day (Dec. 30) or the next, so we were forced to gamble a bit and book seats on Flores. It was a bit nerve-wracking as buses in Peru can be a bit of crapshoot, but the agent was really nice and the seats he showed us (in picture form) looked comfortable enough. So, with a little prayer, we bought the seats for 6 p.m. that night for the allegedly 15-hour ride to Ica.

Tickets in hand, we headed back to the main plaza to see some more of Cuzco. The Koriqancha, an ancient Inca temple in downtown Cuzco, was closed to entry but we did get to admire the architecture from the outside. We then spent the rest of the morning wandering through the old town, admiring the famous stone walls and generally enjoying getting a little bit lost in one Peru’s most attractive urban locales. (Lima has its perks … architectural beauty is not one of them). After a couple hours of wandering, and a stop at Starbucks (we’re from Seattle after all), we were getting hungry and decided it was time for lunch. We returned to the street of our infamous dinner of a few nights before, as it had several restaurants some (or all) of which were bound to lead to a better dining experience than Aldea Yanapay.

All over Cuzco, women in traditional dress implore you to pay a sol to take a picture with them and their baby llamas. We finally broke down and did it; Ty and Kathy, however, missed the memo on which camera to look at.

All over Cuzco, women in traditional dress implore you to pay a sol to take a picture with them and their baby llamas. We finally broke down and did it; Ty and Kathy, however, missed the memo on which camera to look at.

We settled on a restaurant called Sara (Meg’s thesis research tells us that “sara” means “corn” in Quechua), that looked nice, offered a good variety of Peruvian food and boasted very reasonable prices. This turned out to be an absolute home run. The food was wonderful and the atmosphere, despite very reasonable prices (about 20 soles/$8 a plate) was first class. All of the food came as if prepared for the judges of Top Chef, and, needless to say, Dan was in hog heaven. I had an extremely tasty steak and mushroom sandwich and the orders around the table all looked delicious (see the gallery below).

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One significant exception to this was Lolo. By that time in the trip, most of us had found our groove ordering in Peruvian restaurants. Dan, always adventurous, was eager to try new things at every turn and enjoyed the experience. The rest of us had found a few meals that appeared on most menus, and we knew we could safely order one of them each time.

Lolo gives a scarf a thorough looking over in a shop in Cuzco. It apparently passed the inspection as she purchased it moments later.

Lolo gives a scarf a thorough looking over in a shop in Cuzco. It apparently passed the inspection as she purchased it moments later.

Lolo had not found any such meal and once again found herself sitting in front of a meal she didn’t want to eat. When this happens, instead of trying to find something else to eat, she will often get frustrated and shut down and insist she’s not hungry (this is very similar to the way I react to adversity). We were all feeling bad for her, and starting to worry that she was not eating enough during this trip. Fortunately, that would all change a little bit later that day.

After lunch, we returned to the Plaza de Armas and separated into two groups: explorers and resters. The explorer group set about wandering the alleys on behind the plaza and had a good time staging various jumping pictures and album covers while perusing the offerings of the many artesian shops along the way. There are plenty of organized activities and exploration of Cuzco I did not get to do, and I am excited to return at least once more, but Cuzco is one of those places where it’s easy to enjoy yourself without actually “doing” anything. It’s enough to simply walk around and marvel at the appearance of a city that is at once modern and straight out of the 16th Century (below are some photos from our wanderings, they will appear alongside some Machu Picchu photos tomorrow in a silly photos Meg put together a few days).

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After a couple of hours, our group reformed for the final time and returned to the hotel. There, we said our goodbyes (the Collinses bus did not leave until 8 or so), and clan Anderson headed to the bus depot for a long schlep to Ica. Meg and I are no stranger to the overnight bus, but this was a much longer trip and one the rest of the family was dreading.

It did not get off to a good start either. After boarding and taking our seats (which were comfortable enough and reclined to 165-degrees), the bus pulled out about 10 minutes late. It was at this point a rather curious phenomena started to show itself. Up to this point in our trip, Meg’s family had relied heavily on her to translate in any number of situations. For some reason, this seemed to create in them the idea that Meg could fix anything they did not like in Peru. Among the things Meg was initially blamed for and then tasked with fixing on our bus trip were:

  • The late departure.
  • The volume of the movie being played.
  • The lack of English subtitles on the movie.
  • The slow speed of the bus.
  • The timing of the meal we were served (too early in the trip).
  • The lackluster quality and tepid temperature of said meal.

All of these complaints came rapid-fire and were directed at Meg as if she could do anything about them. Meg and I just laughed and eventually everyone settled in. The meal — chicken, rice and potatoes — was fairly mediocre (and luke-warm), but provided me maybe my favorite random moment of the whole trip.

As I mentioned above, Lolo had been having a lot of trouble finding food she liked. After I finished my meal, I decided to walk about and see what the rest of the family was up to. I approached the back of the bus where Lolo and Tom were seated and looked over to see Lolo shoveling rice into her mouth at an impressive clip. As everyone else had expressed distaste at the meal, and given her previous food issues, I was worried this meal would put her in a bad mood at the beginning of a very long bus ride. I asked her how it was and she looked at me with a huge grin and said, completely seriously, “It’s REALLY good!”

She then proceeded to eat parts or all of Meg’s and Pam’s meal as well. I was deeply amused. At every restaurant along the way, she had been stymied, but give here a tepid, airline-quality meal on a bus and she was happy as a clam. It stuck with her, too, as the next week as Meg and I were texting her during our overnight bus trip back to Ayacucho (she was back home), her first question was, “Are you on the bus? What’s the food like?”

After dinner and a couple of loud (and Spanish subtitled) movies, most of us started to drift to sleep — I did not manage to make it to the end of the early-Jackie-Chan flick “The Shinjuku Incident,” and I still don’t know how it ends. We would awake around 7 the next morning, thinking we were close to Ica … we weren’t as close as we thought, but I’ll save that tale for later.

Catch up on a our holiday vacation with the following links:

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2 thoughts on “Days 8-9: (The Train to) Ollantaytambo and Cuzco, Again

  1. A says:

    A very informative post, thanks! I’m still holding out hope that I’ll make it to Peru with my mom this year (or maybe next, at the latest), and I’ll be taking notes off your blog 🙂

  2. Chip says:

    Well, it doesn’t look like a wombat exactly. Wombats have shorter pudgier noses. And they are found in Australia usually :0)…. it looks like a large shrew or mole of some kind? But I am no expert and cant really confirm or deny it 100%. Let me know if you find out if it is or not.

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