My train from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo arrived at about 9:40pm so I made reservations with a hospedaje (Peruvian budget hotel) in Ollantaytambo.
I made the booking on the first day in Ollantaytambo. At first I booked a night on the 25th. Then I realized it was supposed to be the 26th so I walked over to change the date. Then after I changed my return date of my train, I had to make adjustments at the hospedaje again.
On the night of 27th, I arrived and was sent to a three-bed room along with my suitcase which I left there. The room was very nice for its 30 soles price (S$15).
In the morning, at checkout, the younger employee called out to the older (but still not that old) employee. The latter talked about “propina” which I did not understand. In the end, he said “money”, pointing to my luggage.
I gathered that they want a storage fee. When I asked how much, the younger employee’s eyes shone brightly and she whispered, “10 soles.” I thought that was a ridiculous price for 2 nights of storage and turned to the other employee who said, “5 soles.”
I took out a 10 soles bill and they looked around for change. I wasn’t very pleased when I found out that “propina” meant tip. Just because I am foreign doesn’t mean I print money at home and I can freely distribute my wealth around.
Still, I left my stuff at the hospedaje and went for breakfast at my favorite cafe in Ollantaytambo–Heart Cafe. I enjoyed their menu of the day and their lattes.
Then I collected my luggage and got on a mini bus to Cusco.
Fortunately, the bus stopped in San Francisco square instead of the bus stop for Ollantaytambo collectivos. San Francisco square has quite a few accommodation choices.
I dragged my suitcase up a slope, checked out one hostel I’ve seen featured on Hostelworld.com. The price of a dorm room was cheap US$10 (S/ 28) and a private room was US$40 (S/ 112).
I walked out with my stuff since I was not willing to pay US$40 for a room in Peru. I found another hostel but it did not have any private rooms available.
The I spotted a dodgy little place with a sign. I walked in and saw a courtyard. A middle aged lady walked out. I told her that I have no reservation and if she had a room.
Indeed, she did have a room right behind the counter. It was a private room “with Wifi” but no private bathroom.
The price was a reasonable S/ 40 (US$14). I decided to take the room because it was a very good deal.
The toilet and bathroom are built separately in the courtyard. Using them in the morning isn’t a problem but at night, when the temperature drops down to 7 degrees Celsius, taking a shower is an ordeal.
Still, I can’t complain about a US$14 room. I’ll even stay an extra night (or more if I do not go to Nazca).
Finally, it’s the day I take the train to Machu Picchu. Or at least that’s what it says on my train ticket.
In reality, the train to “Machu Picchu” stops at a little town called Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters). This town is deeply hated by travel guidebooks and sites, I’ll talk more about it tomorrow since today it’s all about my train ride.
My train to Machu Picchu starts at the town of Ollantaytambo. I spent two nights there but you can easily access the town from Cusco in not more than 2 hours’ time.
Ollantaytambo’s train station is at the very end of the road where the two ticket counters are. Along the road, there were stalls selling woollen things and even food.
There was a group of school children who were about to take the train when I was at the station. They were quite prepared as most of them each had a roll of blanket strapped to their bag.
All aboard the Peru Rail train!
The train ticket says everyone needs to be at the station half an hour before the train leaves. They let passengers into the train area well before that.
The guards checked everyone’s ticket with their identification so remember to have your passport in hand.
After the ticket check, I tried getting onto a carriage. The lady in the carriage asked me, “What do you want?” and then “You cannot come in yet. Thank you.” when I told her that I was looking for my seat.
I got out of the carriage with a cheery “You’re welcome!” and stood by the side of the train. At least the view was good.
Soon, the Peru Rail employees started putting out the carriage letters. It was strange since the order was A-C-B. Anyway, I got onto my carriage after the carriage attendant checked my ticket and my passport once more.
The Expedition carriage is the cheapest ticket for foreigners. The carriage has windows on the roof so passengers can admire the sky and tall mountains and get a bit of sun bathing.
My A-1 seat was right next to the window, in front of the food preparation center. The person beside me never came so I had the two seats to myself.
I also checked out the toilet before anyone else came on board. It was the largest train toilet I’ve ever seen. I think it can fit 5 people standing up.
While we were waiting for the train to leave, I looked outside and saw several passengers and a Peru Rail employee on the phone, huddled in a circle. It seems to me that there were problems with the train tickets. One of the passengers had a large backpack with a hiking stick.
I tried to imagine if that was me and that Peru Rail told me that there were problems with my ticket and that I cannot go to Machu Picchu. It felt like yesterday all over again so I stopped imagining.
When the train pulled out of the station, the people-with-ticket-problems did not get on board. I hope they eventually reached Machu Picchu.
Coffee or tea?
About 30 minutes into the journey, we were served one drink and one snack. I got myself a black coffee and a muffin.
While the Peru Rail employees were serving the drinks, I realized that the guys were a lot taller than the average Peruvians. I really wanted to ask them if height was included in the job requirement, as do flight attendants.
Back to the train ride. The view along the way was great but the sun was so bright that I kept my face hidded next to the wall to avoid sun face.
On the far right of the was a snow-capped mountain, which I found out is called Veronica, while on the right were grass-patched mountains. We even passed the Inca Trail, as a tour guide for the group sitting in front of me announced.
The lady who sat on the seat across mine was Taiwanese. She gave me a lot of information on sights in Peru, allowing me to narrow down what I want to do these last 10 days.
The train ride ended quite soon and we got into the concrete town of Aguas Calientes. My hostel sent someone to pick everyone up which was a good thing since the tiny paths can be quite confusing.
As promised, I’ll write more about Aguas Calientes tomorrow.
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!
Surprisingly, my bus arrived on time at Ollantaytambo station. It was 6am and the inside of the windows of the bus were heavy with dew.
I collected my bags and decided to wait in the bus station until 7 before I catch a cab to the station where buses to Ollantaytambo are.
When the time came, I went out and waited a long while before a taxi I trust stopped. I didn’t want to follow those whose taxis were parked outside because of cautions I’ve heard in Arequipa. Still, the cabbie overcharged me but I accepted the price anyway.
It felt like a long way with many twists and turns before we reached the stop to Ollantaytambo. There was an empty van waiting and the driver ushered me in.
The driver put my bag on top of the van. I was afraid it might fly off from the roof but fortunately, he went off to buy ropes when we left the station.
However, it was a long while before he drove off. We waited for more people to get on the bus. I didn’t have anywhere to go so it was an OK wait.
I was sitting in the front row where an elderly lady in traditional clothing and two long black plaits joined me. Another man (who happens to know the lady) sat next to her.
While waiting, one of the mobile phones rang. I was delighted to find that it was a generic Chinese-song ringtone. Either the owner did not know how to change the song or he was happy with it.
Finally, the bus was full and off we went. During the first part of the drive, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I saw an amazing sight. The mountains and the hilly fields were in patches of yellow (because of winter?) One of the fields even had a half-harvested wheat-like field.
Checking in Ollantaytambo
The bus finally arrived in Ollantaytambo after about 2 hours. The driver noted that we were passing the main square (where I should have got off) but I didn’t react. I had to walk on about 1km of cobble stones to get to my hotel.
One of the guards on the street gave me wrong directions so I wound up on the wrong side of the little square. The tourist information ladies finally pointed me in the right direction.
Combined with the lack of sleep and stress, I was unpleasant at check in. The boy at the reception didn’t speak English and seemed not-so-familiar with alphabets and numbers.
When I found out that my room was given to a Ricardo and I had to move to my real room tomorrow, I was pissed. I raised my voice about disliking having to move around (communicated more with hand gestures than actual comprehensible Spanish) and questioned why the rooms were so expensive–US$30 a night!
I shouldn’t have done that because the poor boy was the only one working. I saw him clean the rooms, clean up the dining room and all sorts.
I calmed down when I saw that my room included a double bed and a single bed. After a nice hot shower and a hot cup of Ceylon tea, I was sane again.
I went off to explore, stopping for lunch at Heart’s Cafe.
I walked to the railway station to find a hotel nearby so I can check in immediately after coming back from Machu Picchu on Friday night. I found a local hotel (hospedaje) which charged only 30 soles a night (about half of my room in town). I paid the deposit and gave them a date. I had to go back when I realized that I gave them the wrong date.
The rest of the day was spent trying to blog, heading to another cafe and being awed by the majestic mountains.