Train to Aguas Calientas
After a nice breakfast at the hotel, we boarded small three-wheeled taxis that appeared to be crafted from old motorcycles. Our taxi had not traveled more than five feet before it broke down. No worry! Another one quickly pulled up. We hopped in and off we went.
At the train station, we boarded a train operated by Perurail, a company owned by Orient Express. We then descended further down the now narrow valley through an ecological transition zone. The Urabamba River which was nothing more than a babbling brook a few days ago was now a raging body of water. Just a few months earlier, record rainfall resulted in the river swelling to a torrent that washed out parts of the railway as well as the Inca Trail. Thousands of tourists were stranded in Aguas Calientas and had to be flown out by helicopters. Visible evidence of water’s destructive forces can be seen throughout the valley in the form of landslides. We soon left the dry arid terrain behind and found ourselves in the midst of a cloud forest. It was nice to see lush green foliage for a change in contrast to what we had experienced for the last week.
We arrived in Aguas Calientas and checked into the El Mapi Hotel. Aguas Calientas is the quintessential tourist town. It serves as a base camp for the dozens of buses ferrying tourists up and down the muddy road that leads to Machu Picchu and it also serves as the return point for tired hikers finishing the Inca Trail and in need of a soft bed, tasty meal and a hot shower. Restaurant upon restaurant as well as all manner of souvenir shops squeeze into spots along the narrow pedestrian streets. At some point in time, it was discovered that pizza sells. Every one of the dozens of restaurants has a pizza oven.
Despite its tourist overtones, the town has a certain charm. There is a nice court yard with a charming church and fountain. The Urabamba River winds along the border and it is pleasant to stroll down the road to a museum which houses artifacts from Machu Picchu. I was surprised to discover that many of these artifacts were discovered within the last 10-15 years. Just recently, a gold bracelet was discovered at the base of a tree.