Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Peru Trip Timeline: Part 4 - Aguas Calientes

It took Hiram Bingham roughly six days to trek from Cusco to the ruins at Machu Picchu. When he (re)discovered the ruins, they were completely overgrown by the surrounding jungle. His subsequent expeditions had to follow the same path and he had to set up camp each time.

The time required for that same journey has been drastically reduced by the PeruRail train line. It is also much easier to explore Machu Picchu now because of the close by town of Aguas Calientes (or Machupicchu Pueblo). Our trek from Cusco to Aguas Calientes took four hours and went through some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. We stayed in a hotel and were able to explore Machu Picchu refreshed, awake, and with full stomachs. Mr. Bingham probably would have liked such a setup.

We took the train to Aguas Calientes without any hotel reservations. That is a somewhat daring thing to do, especially if you also don't have return tickets on the train. Nevertheless, we were able to get a room at Gringo Bill's, one of the more well-known hostales in the city. After getting checked in, we set out to explore the town.

Being in Aguas Calientes is probably the most remote that I have ever been. The train is the only way in and out and there are fewer routes available to extranjeros (foreigners) than locals. It was built solely to cater to tourists visiting Machu Picchu (thus the Peruvian government's rechristening as Machupicchu Pueblo) and that purpose is readily apparent after stepping off the train. We had to work our way through an artisan market before getting into the main part of the town. We then discovered that it is filled with hostales and restaurants and it seemed like each one had a person out front hawking their services or menu. I was able to practice some of the important phrases I had picked up in Cusco.

The town is so small that there are no cars. There are at least two schools, though we figured there had to be more based on the number of different uniforms we saw. The river that feeds and flows from the hot springs for which the town is named (Aguas Calientes means Hot Waters) runs right through the middle. What a drastic contrast between the two sides. After seeing most of what we could see on the more touristy side, we crossed over the Rio Aguas Calientes and seemed to enter another world. There was a soccer game going on between some kids that didn't care much for the normal team size limits. There was some open-air grilling and boomboxes blaring. It was a good experience.

Other than providing a place to lay our heads and store our stuff while we explored Machu Picchu, there is not much more to say about Aguas Calientes. Oh, we were grateful that we managed to get lukewarm water for showers.

Disclaimer: While in Peru, Amy and I managed to take around 2250 photos, much less than our preparations, but still over 6GB worth. The pictures that we post online are, understandably, a small subset. The ones about which we blog are an even smaller subset. If you want to see more pictures, there are a couple of links on the side-bar. I will be uploading over the span of a few days and blogging could take a couple of weeks.

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