Wandering in America del Sur

Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

So close and yet so far

The day started off as all others on this trip, full on sunshine belying the cool breeze which forced you to wear fleece as you sat outside, determined to have your breakfast in the sunshine. After a good cup of coffee and break with jam (the standard fare!), but at least it was jam with real fruit in it! - grabbed a taxi down the street and headed to the train station to see if I could buy a ticket to Machu Picchu - anyway would do. And while I asked the taxi driver to take me to the station for the Machu Picchu train he did, but it turned out that this was not the station to buy tickets in - only to depart for Machu Picchu and it was closed. Not only that, but it was in a bit of a dodgy part of town where everyone was staring at me with curiousity. Found a Peru Rail official and figured out that I needed to go to the other station! Ugh!

Another 15 minutes and only 2 soles later (less than 50 cents!) after a terrifyingly winding pursuit through the narrow streets of Cuzco, arrived at the train station. But it turns out that I wasn´t the only traveller with this idea. The place was chock a block full of gringos and travel agents alike. Took a number and waited and waited and waited. After 1 1/2 hours when I got to the clerk was told that there were no tickets from Cuzco, but I could check in Ollyatatambo if I wanted. Not only that, but they were unable to sell me a ticket for the 14th because the train was not going to run that day due to the strike. And not only the train, but the buses and the taxis too. Hmmmm ...

Went back to the hostal as quickly as possible to extend my stay and grab a private taxi and tour to Ollyatatambo via a circle route. Turned out to be the smartest decision yet. My driver, Manual didn´t speak English, but we managed with his slow and deliberate Spanish and my ever increasing vocabulary thanks to my handy dandy dictionary. And after 8 hours with him I went to sleep with Espanol in my head first and foremost before Ingles (English).

Headed up and out of the city, the red tiled roofs glinting in the distance as we passed several sets of ruins and started to wind our way through the countryside - the vida dolce beginning to appear. But the tourist route was well established and despite the Lonely Planet´s claims that there would not likely be many tourists along the way, it wasn´t true - they were everywhere in buses accompanied by guides with flags a waving! Oh well ...

We proceeded first on our circle route of approximately 220km to Pisac, known as much for its market as for its ruins. But it was to the ruins first that we drove. Up a steep hill doing switchbacks for 10km ´til we reached the parking lot where the very entrepreneurial Peruvians had staked out spots selling freshly squeezed orange juice, corn and all kinds of handicrafts.

But I by-passed them and began the trek to the ruinas. It was a considerable walk in the hot sunshine up fairly steep stairs - giving me more of an appreciation for just how fit those Inkas must have been! Perched on the edge of a precipice are the ruins, blocks of stone all that was remaining. Some up high and some down lower in a clearing glancing out over the entire canyon, a very good watchpost in case of invaders. The amazing thing with the stones is how large they are and just how seamlessly they are knit together without any mortar as if made for each other. You could not get even a fingernail in between the blocks and when you look at the walls at a sideways view, you can not see anything, but smoothness.

After wandering in the scorching sun and getting a good workout walking up and down we drove on down to Pisac which is an otherwise small town, but now exists for the tourist trade with a lively market. Now I had been told that it was only worthwhile going to the market on the proper market days of Sunday, Tues and Thursday and since it was Wed I was a little worried, but it turned out to be full of vendors and stalls with colourful fabrics and wares of all types. Took some photos and then fell into the abyss of the alpaca blankets and just had to have them.

After taking my driver for lunch and watching the local school children amazed at the banking machine, I went up to get out some cash myself and was beseiged by little hands and fingers. It only got worse when they wanted something from Canada. So I dug down into the bottom of my bag for some pencils and stickers and the next thing I know they had emerged from everyone en masse. Had to ration the stickers, but managed to keep everyone happy while all the tourists and my driver looked on with laughter.

After this it was on to Ollyatatambo. The drive snaked through the bottom of the canyon following the river. Through the little towns, people waited everywhere for the bus, large packages in tow wearing all kinds of dress. In everytown the women wore different types of hats, some flat and floppy of a black with tassels of different colours hanging down, others round and hard, of a bright crimson, still others with bowlers of felt or straw. And then there was always something in between. It was obvious that you did not need an accent to figure out where they were from just a sombrero.

And in the fields of green, people worked herding their sheep, no alpacas or llamas here at this lower elevation and worked to harvest all kinds of fruits and vegetables. For the first time, flowers were visible with boggainvillae sprawling haphazardly from many rustic houses of stucco and wood, adobe also popular. Donkeys grazed at the side of the road, sometimes a little too close for comfort and pigs with their new piglets ran freely. And everywhere people carried alfalfa, its verdant green flashing in the sun, on their backs wrapped in blankets home for their animals.

In Ollayatatambo, it was tourist central again. The small, but steep ruins were full of groups with guides eager to fill up full the minds of the tourists will all matter of Inka legends. But my first priority was the train station and a ticket for Machu Picchu, but when I arrived I was greeted with the sign that no traveller ever wants to see, "Sold Out". No option left for me, and feeling that it was a slim chance anyway, I went to soak up as much Inka culture as I could in the ruins regardless.

Climbed around to watch the sun going down on the town and scampered to the less popular area where there were huge steps to wear out the regular touristas. After running my hands over the incredibly smooth boulders and taking my fill of photos clamboured down to the town. All along the ruins and up to the square were small restaurants, gift shops and hostels. It was was quaint with the sun beginning to set and all the tourists hanging out having drinks in the fading daylight while the locals watched them in curiousity.

Only a short trip up the canyon was Machu Picchu and I could feel its presence being that close, but yet so far since it was illusive and there was absolutely no way that I could get there. Tried to put it out of my mind. Tried to forget the line in my guidebook that said "for many people, going to Machu Picchu is their sole reason for travelling to Peru and that it is a site not to be missed". Tried to live in the moment and forget that I had come this far and not been able to see this incredible, must see site in not only South America, but the world.

Left with a sadness in my heart which was quickly lifted as Manuel and I drove back to Cuzco with the sun going down, silouetting the moutains, their peaks of gold, red and yellow fading in the distance as another day went down on the modern day Peru and the home of the Inkas and their descendants.

Looking onto the ruins at Pisac

Looking onto the ruins at Pisac

More ruins

Schoolchildren in front of bank machine cajero automatico

Schoolchildren in front of bank machine cajero automatico

In the market

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Peru So close and yet so far
The trip
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
The Author
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 19 years.