So, thanks to the distribution of days off and other places to travel to that are further away from Cusco, we (now two weeks ago) had about 3 days to plan a weekend trip to Machu Picchu. We though, perhaps naively, that we would be able to get in and get out in one weekend, now missing any classes. This illusion, though, was quickly stricken from my mind after quickly checking the Perurail website and noticing the lack of trains (or, affordable trains, not vistadome) to MP. Or, for that matter, from Ollantaytambo to MP, which is still a fairly uncomplicated route and cheaper, running at about 35 dollars total. Thankfully, one of my travel companions had been talking to locals who informed her about the route to MP via Santa Teresa, and so we supposed we could travel that way there and back.
Let me explain this route: one catches a bus or colectivo (a minivan, essentially) to a town called Santa Maria, and from there you get another taxi or colectivo and tell them to drop you off in a town called Santa Teresa or, if willing, take you straight to t he hydroelectric station. The hydroelectric station is where begin 10 km or so of train tracks that lead to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu where most people stay. The first journey should take 4 hours in colectivo, then the second part another two hours, hopefully allowing the walk to be made in the daylight.
Now, though sounding a little bit odd, that doesn’t sound too bad. However, getting back Sunday would have been impossible, or at least difficult. First, we would have had to walk the tracks after doing Machu Picchu, quite tired at that point. And then, the colectivos and buses leaving those towns are much harder to find/flag down than those arriving, because they are often just passing through to a town called Quillabamba, so we would have had to go to that town, and then a longer journey back. So, we opted to take the Santa Teresa route there, miss class Monday and return via Perurail to Ollantaytambo then a colectivo for cheap from Ollantaytambo to Cusco.
So, the actual journey: Left the house at 7:30-ish am to go get into our first colectivo. The claim was that the colectivos take 4 hours, and buses 5-7, so it was those for us, even though there are about s/10 more expensive. It was overcast in Cusco when we left, and was drizzling throughout the beginning of the ride, which eventually turned into the most harrowing part of the journey. The road to Santa Maria goes through some very high mountain passes, and the mountain roads here range in quality from scary narrow twisty roads to total death roads, augmented by psychotic Peruvian driving. 3-4 hours into the drive we reached what was (I assume) the highest mountain pass through which we had to drive, and there the rain had turned into snow. And, the roads were of the ‘death road’ variety. However, our driver continued on his merry way until our van started skidding and fishtailing. In the mountains. Yeah, that was scary. Thankfully, we stayed on the road and I assume that scared the piss out of our driver (along with everyone else on board) so that he slowed down. We also had to stop multiple times, as there were steep descents that the buses in front of us were taking one at a time to avoid potential pile-ups. So, that added at least an hour, probably more to our total journey time.
We were probably an hour in the snow before we started descending into more jungle-type ecosystems, for which I was thankful. However, that was also the point past which the roads are, for the most part, unpaved. Woohoo brain rattling. And then there was construction that limited the death roads to one-lane (though they should already be one lane, for sane people) and so we had to wait, stopped, for a while. Eventually, seven hours later we got to Santa Maria. Oh, and sometime during that journey I got nauseous and, having been slightly sick to my stomach for days previous, harfed up my food. This will come into play later, as I had no food and water in my system that day.
So, getting off at Santa Maria, all the taxi and colectivo drivers there know where the tourists are trying to go (Santa Maria, or the hidro). We chose a colectivo going to the hydroelectric station for another s/15, and proceeded on that journey. More unpaved roads, a van switch, and some of the narrowest mountain roads in existence were in store for the next two hours, but the scenery was very beautiful and we were happy to be in a van with people going the same way as us (in the previous colectivo there were not tourists). So without too much fanfare we got to the hydroelectric station to beging the walk along the train tracks.
It was good to see that there there were bunches of people trying to head back, plus vendors selling water- the indication that this is at least a fairly frequented tourist route. Plus, we had our group of walking comrades. So, we started walking the tracks, then had to cut through some steps by the ‘escape’ sign to get to where the tracks really start. After the uphill walk, though, I was already starting to feel winded. Granted, the altitude and all, but I was fairly well acclimated and am not in that bad shape. At this point I realized the lack of nutrients in my body due to sickness was causing me to feel crappy, but it was 5pm already and the sun would set soon, so we had no choice but to get going, and fast. Thank goodness when we started walking it was not raining. But, oh geez, that was long two and a half hours for me, and I felt like such a weakling but my body was just not having it. Right about when it got dark we were about 2 km away, where we moved off the tracks and onto a road so we didn’t have to actually walk on the tracks (previously, there had been a path beside, but the last 2 km are tunnels, apparently) and it started raining. When we got to Aguas Calientes we thought we could call a taxi to our hostel, which was on the other side of town, but alas there are no cars in Aguas Calientes. So, we stopped to get dinner which I, either still sick or my body was thoroughly enraged by what I just made it do with no food or water, decided to throw up again. So, wet and exhausted (most me exhausted) we arrived to our hostel at around 8 and went to bed not shortly after to prepare for the early morning…