Getting ready for bed with access to a real bathroom (even if you can’t drink the tap water) having electricity and sleeping in a real bed were such luxuries!
This morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we packed up and set off for Cuzco. This morning you can see the sun but there are lots of hazy clouds around so we really had the right day yesterday to view sunrise over Machu Picchu.
There is an elementary school just down the street, and we saw the children in their uniforms running and skipping down the hill to school. One little boy had his hair wetted and combed back nicely. Two little girls walked together hand in hand. As we walked by the school we could hear the children inside reciting.
Vidal was still waiting for Steve, so Bob and I set off for the train station. As I watched Bob walking ahead of me with backpack and duffel, past women setting up their small stands along the railroad tracks in this Andean town, it really struck me to think what an experience we were having.
We caught the 8:35 train to Ollantaytambo. The train had only one car, which seemed clean and new. All the passengers were tourists. Mostly the train went very slowly, and one of the workers hopped out every so often to change a switch in the tracks. The train rode along the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley and the scenery was spectacular. We kept staring at the sharp mountain peaks, the rushing river, the cows running off the tracks, and the people nearby. The trip to Ollantaytambo took about two hours by rail.
At the train station in Ollantaytambo we hopped on a motorized tricycle to get to the center of town. When we arrived, Vidal found a man driving a private bus who had just dropped off a group of tourists from Cuzco. He was making the return trip to Cuzco with an empty bus, so he was willing to take on passengers. In fact, this must be fairly standard practice, because he yelled, “Cuzco, Cuzco” in the square and several other local people hopped on the bus. Whenever we stopped at an intersection, he opened the door and called out “Cuzco, Cuzco”. All the passengers he picked up along the way were local. Sometimes their destination was another city along the way, such as Chinchero. One man stood in the middle of nowhere with his arm raised, and the driver stopped for him. He got on the bus carrying a briefcase. Where did that come from?
As we approached Chinchero, we saw a large group of people parading down the road. They were dressed in fancy costumes with lots of spangles, playing music and carrying a banner at the front of the parade reading “St. Paul”. A van full of people dressed the same way was coming from the other direction to join the parade. Vidal told us that this is a local tradition in which the people will march and dance in honor of St. Paul, parading over to the nearby mountain where they pay their respects to Pachamama (Mother Earth) in a kind of compilation of cultures.
When we stopped in Chinchero to let someone off, a bunch of school kids got on. School here typically has two sessions, 7 AM to 1 PM and 1 PM to 7 PM. These kids were in the 1 PM session and were trying to get to their school in Cuzco, which was maybe 45 minutes away by bus. There is a public bus that will take them to Cuzco for three or four soles (around one dollar) but by taking a private bus and paying maybe 50 centavos ($.15) they save their families money. The children have far to travel to school and it was touching to see children of age 10 or so carefully digging out coins to pay for their trip. It's striking to realize how hard life is for others. If I really thought about it I couldn't go on living my own life in the same way.
We got off this amazing bus (what a great experience) in Cuzco just up the street from El Balcon, the hotel where we stayed while in Cuzco before and to which we are now returning. After checking in, we walked down to the main square, the Plaza de Armas, and had lunch on the balcony of a second-floor restaurant, people-watching in the square as we ate lunch. After lunch we walked several blocks to an artisans market and enjoyed some minor shopping. We picked up an unexpected companion, a shoeshine boy named Raoul, who was determined to walk with us. But he was entertaining and after our shopping we gave him a few coins.
We dropped packages off at the hotel, then went to sit in the main square and relax, after which we came back to the hotel. That left us time to get ready to meet the others in the main plaza for dinner by 7 PM. We had dinner at a nice local restaurant, and then came back to the room and to bed.