Location: Ollantaytambo -> Cusco -> Ollantaytambo, Peru
You know how in Greek legends the gods are really assholes. They hang about on Mt Olympus, eating and drinking.
Then one day, one of them would say, “Hmm… Life’s a bit boring for HERO’S NAME. Let’s spice things up and send him on a journey. We’ll throw in a few hydras and sirens along the way.”
I feel that this is the same for my upcoming trip to Machu Picchu. On Saturday, I discover that the cheaper trains leaving MP on the 24th were all sold out so I booked tickets for one day later.
I also reserved one entrance ticket to the Incan City of Machu Picchu. I wasn’t able to pay it online and went to the bank too late as it was closed after lunch time on Saturdays. Since there were still about 1,400 tickets left, I wasn’t worried and decided that I should that buy it at Aguas Calientes.
My own mini Greek epic journey started this morning when I thought that I should check how many tickets are left of Machu Picchu.
When I reached the site, I thought something was wrong since the ticket count showed zero for the 24th, 25th and 26th.
At first I thought that it was a glitch in the system so I checked it again. Oh no… There are really no tickets for the next 2 days. What am I supposed to do?
I almost cried into my coffee, thinking about how tragic it is to not see Machu Picchu when it’s the main reason I am here in South America. Then I remembered that I paid about US$120 for the return train tickets to Aguas Calientes. All that money for nothing? I felt like crying more.
But as I’ve found out a few years ago that crying doesn’t help with anything, I decided to start thinking of a Plan B. Perhaps I could buy a later entrance ticket and change my train tickets. (At this point, I had no idea if changing train ticket dates was possible.)
Tripping stone 1: Wrong info from locals
I asked the reception-boy if I could buy tickets to Machu Picchu here in Ollantaytambo. He answered, Yes, at the train stations for Peru Rail and Inca Rail.
It sounded like he was talking about train tickets so I changed my questions. Do they have tickets into [point two fingers into an imaginary box in front of me] Machu Picchu.
The boy replied “Yes” once more. The hotel ady nearby frowned and asked a man nearby if there were entrance tickets to MP at the train station. The guy said “Yes” too.
So off I went to the train station, which was about 10 minutes walk away. I forgot to put on sunscreen so I had to go back to my room and slather on some.
Off I went again to the train station. When I got there, the severe lady behind the counter said that they only sold train tickets and not entrance tickets. But she noted that I could buy them in Aguas Calientes (US$50 train ride away).
I told her about the zero ticket situation and she said that I still need to check with the culture center. She did tell me that I can change the dates of my train tickets with some penalty charges.
I tried my luck at the Inca Rail counter and the man said that I could only buy the entrance tickets at Aguas Calientes or Cusco.
Tripping stone 2: System down
I decided that the only thing to do is to head to Cusco to buy my ticket. Before that, I popped in several travel agencies in town to ask if they could buy me the tickets.
Two agencies did not have any persons in the office. The third had two foreign customers so I figured that the employees would arrive soon.
She did come in the end but it wasn’t as soon as I liked. However, she said that they do sell tickets. I told her about the zero ticket situation which she said was quite rare but possible since there is a long weekend ahead.
The travel agent went online to the official Machu Picchu website. Unfortunately, the webpage could not load.
I asked if I should head to Cusco. She didn’t look very happy with that, adding that, “You could, if you wish.” (A new tense I learnt last week.)
Tripping stone 3: Where is the bus?
I went back to my hotel and got everything ready. I brought more money than I need, my credit card, passport and a map of Cusco which I luckily took from my hostel in Arequipa.
I made a tumbler of sweet tea because it calms me down. I got to work googling where there INC (National Institute of Culture of Peru) was and memorizing the location on Google Map. It was quite easy to find the place since it was only a block from the main square.
I walked to the road where my bus from Cusco passed by, thinking that I will catch the bus once it begins its return trip.
I waited 30 minutes (I counted) and still no bus. I decided then to walk to the main square since I vaguely remember that it was where the buses must leave from.
There, I spotted several vans parked at the far end of the square. I used to think that it was a dead end but realized then that it was a temporary parking space for the vans.
One new-looking van arrived and many people rushed to it. The driver said it was heading to Urubamba and that I could take another van to Cusco from there.
I got into the front seat and admired the beautiful scenery along the way. I switched to a shared taxi at Urubamba. The whole trip cost me 9 soles, just 1 soles cheaper than the direct van.
Tripping stone 4: Damn you Google Maps
Finally, we reached Cusco. Using the map, I crossed the car-infested lanes of Cusco and tried not to slip on the cobbled stone paths.
When I reached the building, it was surprisingly empty. I went into one of the doors. A security guard was nodding off when I peeped in. I asked if this was the place to buy tickets to Machu Picchu.
At first I thought his reply was that it was lunch time so the office is not open. He asked if I have a map. I passed him mine and he highlighted some streets and pointed to a location far away. I thank him and went off with my map.
Later I realized that the office had changed but the Google Maps address hadn’t.
Even with the map, the roads in Cusco were not very friendly. I kept thinking that I was walking in the wrong direction when it was right.
The sun was blazing hot and the smooth cobbled stone streets were not helpful with the trek to the correct ticket office.
I passed the place marked on the map but it seemed to have a different name. I had to ask a security guard who pointed me to the right direction.
Tripping stone 5: No more tickets for the 26th
The office was full of ticket buyers. The queue even went out of the doors a little. I stood impatiently while the man at one of the counters had a tall stack of passports.
It was finally my turn when passport-man was done. The lady behind the counter looked exactly like Aubrey Plaza with glasses, a little weird since I was reading about the celebrity just this morning.
Aubrey Plaza told me that there were no tickets for the 26th. And that only the combo ticket (Machu Picchu and Montana) were available.
I decided that I really need to see Machu Picchu so to hell with the train tickets if I could not change the dates.
Payment went smoothly since my bad luck was with one guy at the payment counter who tried multiple Visa credit cards but still could not pay.
With my tickets, I was thrilled and also very hungry. I didn’t want to stop in places where tourists were in so I walked for a long while before I reached a place full of people and the lovely smell of fried pork.
It was a fried pork place. My serving had so much pork fat that a person who picks out the faty parts could chew on tough meat. Of course, I am not that person so I thoroughly enjoyed chewing through my fried fatty pork.
Tripping stone 6: Train station closed for the day
After lunch, I went in search of the train station so I could get my tickets changed immediately.
Since the train station was inconspicuously beside a grand church, I missed it the first time.
When I did find it, I was disappointed to see that the doors were closed. A little blue notice said the station was closed at 14:00, just 20 minutes before I got there.I
I sat on the steps with the other people. I was the most disappointed since they looked like sitting on steps were part of their daily lives.
I decided to head back to Ollantaytambo and try my luck at the station there.
Finding the mini-bus station back to Ollantaytambo was easy. Since I did the journey once, I knew where the buses were and got onto one of them.
I napped along the way and woke up to take a few photos. I decided on the bus that I will only change my return train ticket and leave the departure ticket and hotel booking as they are.
When I reached Ollantaytambo’s train station, the lady said there was only one train left and changed my date for only US$15.
The whole journey took 7 hours, not including panicking time in the beginning. I’m just glad that I have the entrance ticket. The only thing left is the hostel for Night 2 in Aguas Calientes which I think will be easy to find in the tourist-packed little town.
I’m sure the gods on Machu Picchu got bored with my little journey so they let everything pass in the end. Muchas gracias!