Visiting Machu Picchu was a moving and emotional experience. I was overwhelmed by its majesty. You can look at thousands of pictures and none, I mean none, will do it justice. I won’t even try. You have to see it yourself. Not only was it a spiritual moment for me, but every Peruvian I met said the same thing. It’s a spiritual moment. And they all brought their hands to their hearts when taking about it. Everyone.
So having toured and explored this amazing place for about five hours, it was time to head back to town. A moderate wait for the bus and an uneventful ride down the mountain. My son and I walk into town and proceed to Toto’s House Restaurant for some coffee and empanadas. We have a few hours to kill and this place is perfectly situated for people watching. Perfect. An Incan quartet of pan flutes and guitars are playing for coins and selling CD’s. Better than perfect. We hang out here watching the comings and goings, listening to live music, talking and laughing. That nice ache settles and another beer just might do the trick. The beer is exceptionally good down there by the way.
Finally it’s getting close to 4 PM and we have a train to catch. I had the hotel hold the bags and send them to the train station. There they are, and now I’m schlepping around my suitcase and backpacks. They let us through the gates and the station is PACKED! Oh and did I mention utter chaos? That too. Remember those striking teachers? Yep. The striking teachers are at it again. This time disrupting the rail service. They put logs and rocks as well as parked trucks on the rails. People are everywhere and more and more are coming through the gates. There is nowhere to sit, people are camping in the gardens, under trees, all over benches and occupying every square inch of this place. You have to plan your moves if a seat looks like it’s going to become available. I pounced on a bench when a young lady stood up to stretch and she offered me a seat. Ah. Bless you child!
So here we have hundreds and hundreds of people, all speaking different languages, mind you, sitting asshole to elbow, trying to;
a) Listen to any news over the “loudspeaker” which it is an oxymoron because it was neither loud nor audible, even in English. It was as if you were speaking through a tired old speaker with a hole in it trying to talk over hundreds and hundreds of unhappy people while holding your hand over your mouth. And you were underwater as well.
b) Get some sort of answer from the overworked, exhausted, and just as much in the dark as we were, train attendants. Those poor employees had no clue as to what was going on either. They did not know when the trains where coming in. They were not getting any information from the Ministry of Transportation. They were exhausted as we were. We spoke to one attendant who had been there for 18 hours and had another four hour round trip ahead of her before she could go home.
Now all of the food is gone because the mob is not only big but hungry as well. We had a few leftover energy bars and lots of water. But now those are long gone and the trains are not rolling in. They are 6 hours behind schedule. Yep. Six long hours. Wait! Hold it! And here comes a train. The entire station erupts in jubilation. But there are a lot train security and they are checking the tickets and times carefully. Not our train. Later on we met a bunch of kids from Ireland who missed that train by minutes. Those poor kids were devastated. Soon we befriend a group consisting of an elderly couple from Australia, along with two teenage girls from Venice and Saskatchwan, who have coalesced into a traveling unit because of this shared misery, led by Bruce, a very tall man in a bright red jacket and big white straw hat. And they were in the same carriage that we were in.
People are starting to go from a spirited, we are all in this together festive mood, to edgy, then, angry, onto loud and finally everyone for themselves. People are clapping and chanting. Someone start shouting informacion! Informacion! Others quickly join in. My son and I along with our new traveling partners are able to find a quieter place in the station and wait there. We take the philosophical approach; nothing much we can do, out of our hands, oh well.
Finally our train rolls into the station. The carriages are marked M, N, O, P, Q,R,S,T, V, W, X, Y, Z, L. Oh, and we were all in carriage U. Yep, carriage U. The one that’s not there. That carriage U. They are checking your ticket and passport to the manifest and if your aren’t scheduled for that train and carriage, you are not getting on it. Period. I’m going from attendant to attendant, dragging my suitcase and backpacks screaming Donde esta U? Donde esta U? Where is U? Where is U? They didn’t know where U was either. They mostly spoke into their walkie-talkies and then said something to me in Spanish that I didn’t understand and walked away. Great. I keep an eye on Bruce in the bright red jacket and big white straw head to see if he has made any headway.
They start closing the doors and I see my new mate Bruce standing by the last carriage. L. It dawns on us. L is the new U. My son and I race to Carriage L. Bruce and his wife are boarding, I hear Bruce scream to the attendant those are my daughters. More like grand-daughters Bruce’s wife snickered later. The two young ladies from Venice and Saskatchewan get on the train. I show my ticket to the attendant and saying, “U is L, L is U!” She gives us a weary smile and lets us onto the carriage. She doesn't even bother checking our passports. The doors close.
We leave the station. No actually we don’t, for some inexplicable reason, we wait for about a half an hour, and then leave the station. We start chatting it up with our new traveling partners, swapping stories, and spend a pleasant train ride back to Ollantaytambo.
Throughout this ordeal we kept in touch with David, The Best Tour Guide Ever, trading information about the travel delays and making sure we were all up to date. The train pulls into Ollantaytambo at around 12:15 AM. Beyond exhausted, we step off the train to be greeted by David, The Best Tour Guide Ever. He grabs our bags and hauls them to his car. We settle in and now we have to go into town and try and find a hotel. Easy enough right? Not when the only road leading into and out of the railroad station is blocked by a van that is stalled in the middle of the road with a dead battery which is resulting in cars, vans, and busses all making a huge traffic jam. David TBTGE, jumps out of the car, rounds up a few other people and pushes the stalled car out of the road.
We finally clear the traffic jam and head into a very quiet Ollantaytambo. David TBTGE, starts going up and down the streets pounding on doors of hotels and finally finds us two rooms at the Hostal Sumac Chaka on Calle Medio. It was clean, it had a bed, it had a bathroom, it had hot water. It was inexpensive and vacant. Boom, we pay the not so happy manager who was, prior to our, arrival fast asleep and are shown our rooms. I wash up and I am asleep in minutes.
One of the best days ever.