Saturday, September 17, 2011

the fall from the top was hard and fast

A lot has happened since the last entry, I'm going to try to separate these into a couple of different ones to make it easier to navigate. There was a lot of running around and not a lot of internet connection, so, instead of writing about it, I was busy experiencing things. :)

Stacey wanted to take a train on this trip. That was her one request. She has good taste, and likes fancy we took the fancy train. The Peru Rail train from Puno to Cusco. This train to be exact. It was a long ride, we definitely didn't take it for efficiency (because the bus would have been about 3 hours faster), rather to pretend for a moment that we were sophisticated people who do things like ride trains.

I felt a bit out of place on said train. First off when we unloaded our backpacks at the baggage area, we were pushed behind the tour bus of older Europeans white people with their gigantic designer roller bags. I mean, my backpack is huge, but it had nothing on these people, and you KNOW they weren't going anywhere for a year, and there was most definitely not camping gear in any one of those roller bags.

When we were allowed to board, it was like walking back in time to when the world was navigated by train. The walls of the train were clad in dark wood, overstuffed chairs with carved wood feet and fabric like and gentleman's handkerchief sat clustered around tables draped in white tablecloths. A small bass table lamp with white shade sat delicately on the table, and single solitary red rose in vase dotted the tables of four. Even the bathroom felt like it belonged in a museum. The toilet seat cover was the same lacquered dark wood that clad the cabin walls.

The view from the train into the sprawling town of Puno and its neighboring towns was humbling. I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty, like somehow I was embodying the spirit of the conquistadors and looking down with disdain at the world I will soon conquer and mold to mirror the grandeur of home. Is this what it's like the travel the world from a bubble? Is this what it feel like go somewhere far away from home and never get touched by it? To not have to smell it, taste it, or heaven forbid brush past it? I found myself wondering what in the world I was doing on this train. I'm not dressed for this, I haven't had a decent shower since I left home. The cost of the ticket is nearly my budget for 2 weeks of living expenses. I don't mind the bus. I don't mind bringing my own toilet paper, I don't mind food from a street cart. I'm not one of these people!!

But then a part of me, that part of me that likes the finer things in life, started to sink into the cozy chair. I could open the window and there was no smell of exhaust. The ride was smooth...I could do things like read and get up and stretch my legs. The bathroom, didn't well, smell like a urinal. Maybe this isn't so bad, maybe I was too quick to judge. And then came the food. I like food. I really, really like food. This, was good food.

A starter of sesame seared, nearly raw in the center, wonderfully prepared aplaca meat. The plate came garnished with a green salad (oh help me now, there are vegetables!) topped with avocado mousse and balsamic. Then the main course. Chicken topped with a local green sauce (ocopa a la arequipena), with mushroom risotto. Finally dessert, a dense peach mousse with a strawberry glaze. If you're the drinking type, you also got a a glass of wine. The plates were left naked, nearly licked clean. I was full bellied and warm for the first time in what felt like a very long time. 

The train clicked along the track. We watched to scenery roll by. Small villages with earthen block homes surrounded by acres of land with a few plots looking like they were ready for cultivation. The occasional person dressed in a colorful shawl, standing watch over a pack of llamas, or sheep, or goats.

They had shows the entertain the passengers if you were willing or interested to walk down to the observation car. They had shows of "traditional dance, music and fashion." They also had bartending school so you could learn to make a pisco sour. Emily was all about that, and came back glowing with her successful attempt at making her own. I was nestled in my seat reading while all this entertainment was going on sipping my afternoon tea. I could get used to this I thought.

But all good things must come to end, or so the saying goes. Eventually the train rolled into the Cusco station. Nowhere near historic downtown Cusco. So we gathered up our things and went to collect our backpacks. It was heavier than I remembered...maybe that train made me soft. The rest of the passengers were loaded back up into tour buses and were most likely whisked away to fancy hotels with stars in their ratings and hot water in their showers. We on the other hand were only part way on our journey to our next destination. We still had to get to Ollantaytambo. No fancy bus was waiting for us here...we still had to find the bus station.

This turned out to be a more difficult task than we anticipated. We were given directions for how to walk there. Directions in Peru seem to be more a matter of preference and less a science. Every time I asked to clarify a couple blocks down the way, I was pointed in a different direction. Huh. The last place I walked into was a pharmacy. There were two girls working the counter, I asked them direction for good measure. One pointed one way, the other pointed the other. I looked at them and said,"you just told me different directions, which way to do I go?" Insert lost foreigner face. They laughed, made a phone call, then one of them lead us to the bus station, if you can even call it that. No way, I would have found it. There was no sign. It looked like a garage. This can't be right. But the pharmacy girl insisted, and there were a few people sitting in plastic chairs along the wall. There was a chalkboard with times written on it and Urubamba scrawled across the top. So, I guess this IS the bus station. A few minutes later the collectivo bus showed up. It was more a minivan than a bus, with seats for 11, plus the driver. We squeezed in 12 for good measure and our backpacks got strapped on top.

About 1.5 hours later we pulled into a gas station in Urubamaba. I will remind you, this is still not Ollantaytambo. We paid the gentleman driver 6 soles each reloaded our backpacks and found a taxi to take us the last leg of our trip. About 20-30 minutes later on old cobblestone streets we arrived in the main square of Ollantayambo paid our taxi and walked down the ancient narrow walkways to our home for the next few nights.

The hostel owner was expecting us, and took us to our room. 3 single beds and one bunk bed that looked seriously unstable and there was no way a full grown human being could have fit in the space between the top of the top bunk and ceiling. Two of the mattresses looked decent. Stacey and I got the sad, very thin and saggy looking ones. For the extra padding I took out my camping pad and threw it on top, without it you could feel the slats of the wood structure below. By now our fancy train ride felt like worlds away. Was that really just earlier today?

We were hungry, tired and cold. Things were returning to normal, but it was a little less romantic this time. We'd done a little grocery shopping before we left Puno and bought some bread, jelly and what we were told was like a peanut butter. Sitting in a group on the floor of our hostel room we started to slather the bread with the condiments we had. The bread was super dense and kind of sweet, Laurie nailed it, "it tastes like stale angle food cake bread." We looked at each and had to laugh. "Remember that one time we were on a fancy train eating alpaca?"


  1. Claudia, I absolutely LOVE reading your posts. A)you have some serious writing skills - informative and entertaining to read, B) I literally find myself imagining you saying these things to me in general conversation, which is fun, and C) the action in B literally makes me laugh out loud.
    Your blog allows us all to vicariously experience South America & your journey right along with you. What a joy that is. Namaste, my friend. - Angela

  2. I agree with Angela! I love reading these!!