Finally, one of the highlights of this South American journey was coming up. We were going to visit Machu Picchu. In addition we’re going to spend Christmas in a foreign land.
Tuesday 22.12.1987, Cuzco – Machu Picchu
This was a long and adventurous day in many ways. Yesterday I bought a one way ticket on the tourist train to Machu Picchu for 465 intis (5.5 USD). The train left at 0630 and arrived in Puente Ruinas, as the station is called, a bit more than three hours later.
There are two types of train to Machu Picchu. The local train without reserved seats, one way only, has a low standard; it is crowded (also with pickpockets) and slow (4-5 + hours). A single ticket costs only 65 intis, less than a dollar.
The tourist train is considerably more expensive (465) with a day return for 1200. They offer a student discount and the ticket includes the bus up to the ruins (costing 50) and entrance fees (150 for students). This train is comfortable and quite fast (3h).
We bought a one-way ticket as we reckoned we would be needing two days in Machu Picchu and we had nothing more to see in Cuzco. The ruins proved to be excellent and were well worth a visit. There were actually not so many tourists either.
Machu Picchu is situated high up on the top of a ridge with high mountain tops on all sides, with the Urubamba River down below. Despite being at an altitude of 2,900 metres the ancient town is set between the Selva and the Sierra. We noticed this clearly when we took a fifteen minutes detour to an Inca bridge. There was tight vegetation along a narrow path on the edge of a vertical cliff.
Machu Picchu is well preserved and partly rebuilt in a fine way. We found its location particularly impressive.
Near the top there was only expensive food for sale. In addition it was quite cumbersome to get transportation up and down. Only half of the buses were working and we had to stand in line for a long time before a bus finally could take us along making its way 900 metres straight up on numerous hairpin turns.
We decided to return to Cuzco today already but the train broke down and was finally mended after a three hour long halt on the tracks. A mess!
Wednesday 23.12.1987, Cuzco
Our backpacks have become so big with all our purchases that we decided to send some of it home. At the post office we learned that we would need a customs declaration, but as we entered the customs office they closed for lunch. When we returned in the afternoon we were told that we needed a piece of cloth to sew our parcel into.
I got hold of a left-over white piece of linen, while Bo had to look for a long time at the market to find something usable. The customs officers, two giggling girls at the age of 18 checked everything and we were finally able to stitch it all together.
If one has parcels weighing more than two kilos one has to go to that office. Formally the post office only accepts books, but we had success with our textiles, films and pottery as well. The post office took 159 intis (2 USD) for the package.
Thursday 24.12.1987, Cuzco
After waiting for an hour in line (40 minutes because the staff had a Christmas party despite the narrow opening slots between 10-12 and 15-16) I was able to purchase two train tickets to Puno tomorrow at 0820. A ticket cost 200 intis (2.5 dollars) for first class.
There was an enormous amount of street vendors along Mantas and on Plaza de Armas. It was very difficult to get around because it seems like everyone are doing their shopping on the last day before Christmas.
After waiting for 2-3 hours we finally got through on the telephone to our families. It was really nice with a 3 minute chat for 440 intis (5 dollars). Right after Bo got through the net broke own and other gringos would have to leave without their calls home. (There was a 1000 intis deposit.)
My Christmas Eve dinner was parrillada with beer and wine, while Bo had cordon bleu, in an upscale restaurant. It was good, but we went home early.
Letter to my family
Christmas Eve, 1987
Yes, we are now sitting at the breakfast table waiting for our toast, butter, jam, pineapple juice and fruit yoghurt. We gave each other a morning gift. I received a beautiful little painted ceramics plate and I gave her a textile bag with shoulder strap. Two days ago I also presented her a table cloth, but we sent it home with the mail yesterday.
In 10 days (ca.) you get 5 rolls of film, 2 carpets, papers and camera strap plus 6 small ceramic figurines in your mailbox. Please inform us of the arrival to Santiago, Chile, because that’s where you ought to send the next correspondence.
The rest of the day was spent buying a train-ticket to Puno for the Christmas Day train; call you; buy more film; give each other presents and eat good food on a good restaurant this evening. My girlfriend would also like to attend midnight mass in the Cathedral; good luck I say. We will probably have a fine day.
Let me say a few words about our Machu Picchu trip and omit all the mess we were subjected to during the transportation to and from. First the train climbed slowly slalom up on the heights over Cuzco and then followed a big green valley where they grow huge maize cobs. The North Americans on the train had a good time.
We then drove into the Sacred Valley of the Incas where the Urubamba River threw itself wild and fast down to its final stop, in the Amazon itself. The railway track followed the river through the narrow valley with high, rugged mountains on either side until we arrived at our destination.
The ruins are on a ridge 900 metres straight up on a “Trollstigen” road from the station. A mighty sight and location. Machu Picchu proved to be well preserved and restored with terraces on both sides of the ridge. We walked on a small detour on the edge of a giant cliff to a bridge they had built along a vertical mountain face.
As we figured we had seen the most we decided to return home the same day. And that was good because most of yesterday was spent sending our parcels home.
I stop now and will possibly write some more after wishing you a merry Christmas on the phone.
After waiting a couple of hours I finally made it through on the line. It was nice. Bo’s name was called right before mine and she took the watch with her. I don’t know how much time had passed before they cut the conversation, after three minutes.
Anyway, the most important thing was to wish ourselves a Merry Christmas. We are now looking forward to Christmas cookies in La Paz next week. Please do inform us in the letter to Santiago if the packages came home. Is the stone figure in pieces?
The next chapter: Puno, Titicaca and reed boats: The next leg of our journey through South America went to the town of Puno, right on the world’s highest navigable lake, Titicaca, 3,800 metres above sea level.