Sat 18 Mar 06

At 5 AM we’re up and packing. Even after eight solid hours of sleep it’s a struggle to get out of bed and I wake with a splitting headache. I shower while Weaver and Mark roll out of bed and throw on some random clothes. At 5:45 we pay our night’s bill and Weaver argues with the girl at the desk when she initially refuses one of his beatup $10 bills. We catch a cab to the Cusco train station and board the backpacker train, sitting near another American group in their twenties. Pleasantries are exchanged, then we mostly just sit back and did our own thing.

The train starts up through the hills surrounding Cusco, switching back and forth past trash-covered slopes, barking dogs, and waving kids. The city from above seems a little less magical today than it did yesterday as viewed from the ruins and Mark makes a comment about how close together everything is. I do like the all white statue of the Virgin Mary, though, presiding grandly over the city high on a peak.

We head further into the country side. There is still trash and still dogs and kids chasing the train but they are much more spread apart now. I wave to a boy in bright orange pants. He waves back, but then flips his hand over and gives the finger to the rest of the train. He is smiling though, so I figure someone must have played a terrible joke on him at some point.

Lush greenness is everywhere. So are colorful wildflowers and rocky cliffs. Whizzing by too quickly for catch clearly on camera. We drop further and further into the valley following the curve of a very brown river, eventually crossing it on a narrow bridge. Clouds appear and seem to hang just over our heads. It rains, then stops, then rains again.

The rocky cliffs get closer and closer, until they are close enough that I could reach my hand out of the window and touch stone and plant if I chose to. We plow through several tunnels and past the occasional village where locals carrying goods along the tracks press up against the rock to avoid getting run over.

Our fellow American travelers sleep while we read books and Weaver whips out stories about Incan culture. And I’m glad to have intelligent companions to spend this trip with.

We cross another bridge and it strikes me just how far away from home I really am. There really aren’t any shortcuts back at this point.

When we arrive in Aguas Calientes we’re met by our Adelas Hostel host who leads us to our lodging. We seem to have upgrading somewhat from our Cusco accommodations. Bigger room, nicer bathroom, building overlooking a roaring river.

The noise from the river is especially pleasing. It reminds me of sleeping near the Nile in Uganda and always makes for a great sleeping environment.

After settling in we stop for lunch at the restaurant next door and enjoy a beautifully prepared three course meal on a balcony overlooking the river. Everyone’s mood seems light and good during the meal and a couple of free pisco sours contribute as well.

In the afternoon, in spite of a light rain, we head out to climb Putucussi, a peak with supposed views of Machu Picchu across the valley. Aguas Calientes is a tiny town and the trailhead is easy to find by following some railroad tracks to a set of stone stairs at the base of the climb.

Less than half an hour into the hike I’m already soaked with sweat from the inside and soaked with rain from the outside. It’s okay though because the adventure is good and the views are spectacular.

We scramble up rocks and wooden ladders, over mud puddles, and through dangling vegetation. It’s exhausting work but everuone seems to feel significantly better prepared for the altitude than yesterday. I’m a little worried about the rain destroying my camera so I try to avoid taking too many pictures when the rain is hitting the hardest.

As we reach the peak, graciously, the rain pauses for about half an hour, giving us time to catch a spectacular sight of Machu Picchu through swirling and lifting clouds. Watching the clouds rise, I’m happy to be alone on top of this particular peak, able to silently soak in the scenery, rather than a part of the tourist brigade across from me.

After snapping some pictures, we head back down on the same path we came up on. The clouds open up and the rain pours. We all soaked from head to toe by the time we reach our hostel back in town.

After showers, a couple of Cusquena beers each while playing cards, and dry clothes we get dinner at a restaurant with an unfortunate selection of pelts on the wall. Mark and I conclude that the skins most likely are from raccoon, cat, and dog. And after getting our lackluster meal, we wish we had seen the pelts before decided to eat at this spot. I can’t stop laughing about the wall decor throughout the meal and the rest of the evening.

We all crash pretty early tonight in preparation for our early assault on Machu Picchu tomorrow.