It’s a hard road to Machu Picchu. Not because of the hike (I haven’t experienced that part yet) but because of what it took to get us all the way there from Cusco.
This morning we arrived in Cusco around 6am after flying from Lima from Miami from RDU at 1pm yesterday. Early in the morning, we had received an email from Peru Rail stating that trains would be cancelled on March 4th and 5th because of agricultural strikes. Evidently, the strikers had blocked the roads and were throwing rocks at cars. However, we didn’t imagine anything super dramatic and felt confident that we would still be able to make it to Machu Picchu later in the day when the protests had died down.
We decided to stake out at EcoBackpackers until leaving the city. We spent the morning napping/tanning in the sun in hammocks and lounge chairs. For lunch, we are at Chicha where we had an amazing Cusco inspired meal. We then meandered to the bus station to see if any drivers would be willing to take six gringos to Ollantaytambo. The way to Machu Picchu is divided Into 2 stretches: a 1.5 hour bus ride followed by a 2 hour train ride. While Peru Rail had agreed to change our tickets, we still needed a way to get to the Ollantaytambo station. Evidently, many taxi drivers were eager for the job so we decided to take a van out at 6pm.
After exploring the city, we ended up setting off late at 6:30pm to catch our 9pm train. This is when the real adventure began. Although the first hour was uneventful, we soon discovered that the strikers weren’t messing around. About halfway through, we found large rocks covering the road. They would have looked deceivingly like the aftermath of a rock slide if half of them hadn’t been lined up so neatly. As a result, we were forced to take unpaved off road paths that, while not nearly as uneven or pockmarked as African roads, felt nevertheless like an Indiana Jones ride (in Kimberly’s words) as our van bounced and jerked down the dirt paths.
After descending a steep, winding cliff, and narrowly missing a surprisingly large number of stray dogs, we had finally returned back to the paved world and thought we were in the clear. That’s when we hit a significantly more troubling roadblock — a fallen tree and the actual protesters themselves attempting to pull down another branch to join its kin. Although we saw the police arrive and leave twice, they didn’t seem to do anything but flash their lights. Our taxi driver Remy got out of the car to get a better sense of what was going on while another car, to the protestors’ chagrin, attempted to go around the barricade. Instead the strikers piled on more branches where the van was attempting to cross and used their selves as roadblocks to ensure that the drivercould go no further. After a while, our driver came back and all of us were forced to turn back and reroute to a different hard dirt road.
By this time it was 8:30pm. According to the Peru Rail website, we were technically supposed to be at the train station already. Remy was aware of this and sped along the road, passing cars and winding down the narrowest alleys amongst secret shortcuts. Even though large buses and a police stop threatened our timely arrival at our destination, Remy seemed just as determined as we were to make the train.
We arrived at the at the station around 8:58pm, grabbed our stuff, and bolted for the entrance. A series of Peru Rail personnel yelled at us to hurry on the train because they couldn’t delay it very long. I probably wouldn’t have made it if a nice old man in a green down jacket hadn’t taken one of my 3 bags and helped me carry it to the door before disappearing to his own carriage.
On the train, I was SO ECSTATIC that all six of us had made it on the train! As it pulled away we could see out the window an unlucky group of foreigners who were sadly waving as the cars left them behind. The stress and adrenaline made me giddy that we had such a happy ending to our exciting adventure. I wish my friends could’ve said the same. Upon boarding the train, Paul immediately headed for the bathroom to relieve the motion sickness that had built up from the tight turns and swerves. Caroline admitted how she’d been evaluating hostels as we’d zoomed by them believing we would be forced to stay the night in Ollantaytambo, and Julieanne relayed her last (in my opinion) dramatic text to her brother about the “rioters” bringing down trees and setting up rocks.
I, however, am now just forever grateful to Remy, the mysterious green man, and all of my travel companions for acting awesomely in a less than ideal situation. I am glad that none of the strikers appeared violent or angry (I didn’t see one rock hurled), and appeared to want to simply make a statement. It’s interesting to me that I find no news results on the riots when I tried to learn more about why they were happening on Google. We had gathered from various locals that “the Indians were rioting” because “they had many reasons”, but neither of those statements could be more vague. I wonder if it’s just the hidden anthropologist inside me who wants to know more.