We sat across from each other and looked down at our plates. I had a small cup of yogurt and a hard piece of Peruvian pan (bread like something Charlie Bucket would eat). My friend Scott had a tortilla that looked oddly like it was made out of scrambled eggs. We both looked at each other through hungover smiles. The previous night we had drank the metric equivalent of the weights of our heads while first pursuing a group of equally drunk American girls and eventually upgrading to a group of Argentine girls. It was at this moment that I unintentionally set the stage for the rest of the day.
“You know buddy, I am feeling really good about the spacing of our day”, I said while sticking my finger through the unnaturally hard bread.
“All we need to do is catch a bus and arrive in time for our train to take us to Machu Picchu. We have like 12 hours, it should be easy”.
Examining his psuedo-omelet with his fork, Scott nodded his head in agreement.
We left our hostel armed with a crumpled price of paper with a diagram that roughly resembled a map. All we had to do was find the bus station that was circled on it. Confidently, I took the lead, “I am pretty sure it is this way.”
We made the 10 minute walk in a little over 30 minutes. (I blame the altitude. 11,200 ft – 3,400 m) It would have taken us longer but we were lucky enough to receive the help of multiple Peruvians who could tell that we were hopelessly lost.
The bus station was an open aired parking lot with a long line. Although the buses were moving, the ticket line had stopped. Apparently the person running the booth figured that right then was as good a time as any to enjoy a little afternoon delight with a fellow worker in the back of the shack. Scott and I sunk our hands deeper into our pockets. It had already been an hour and a half and our timeline was starting to look less and less realistic.
We eventually got our tickets and started to run back to our hostel to pick up our gear. I had run a marathon a few weeks prior and started at a faster than normal pace. Scott looked at me skeptically but ran along with me. Between the altitude and the effects of our prior night, our ran quickly devolved into a fat-man stroll. We got back to the station 20 minutes later and tried to board our bus.
Unfortuntley for us, our bus had already left and we were left trying to negotiating in (level 1) Spanish about getting a new ticket.
It turns out it is really hard to negotiate in an unfamiliar language. After our own personal version of Hardball, we ended up paying for two new tickets that were supposedly to a town that was 30 minutes away from the town we actually intended to travel to. We shrugged our shoulders, the two and a half hour bus ticket had cost us $1.20 US.
The next two hours were fantastic. Peru is unbelievably beautiful. The small towns and countless farms are surrounded by the surreal Andes mountains. The experience was like driving through a postcard designer’s photo reel.
Two hours later, we arrived at the end of line. Scott and I were in an unknown town with only a small suspicion that we could still make our train. A man from the bus pointed at some vans and reassured us that that was our next step. We confirmed with the very helpful looking group of men napping at the bus station (si, ollantatambo, tres pesos, media hora) and started the next leg of the journey. We both knew that if we missed the train, we wouldn’t be able to get another ticket as all of the tickets were already sold out.
Scott and I jumped in the normal sized van and awaited for what was sure to be a spectacle. Behind us, 21 (no that is not a typo) other people joined us in the van/clown-car and we started our trek. Scott took his role passing soda between two alternating crying babies and I did my best not crush the 4 babies that surrounded me. Scott and I exchanged huge smiles. What the hell was going on?
At one point, the mother of the child who had been cuddling my hand asked the driver to stop. She got out and removed her son’s pants. He proceeded to pee all over his hand and the ground in front of him and together his mom and him got back into the clown van. This time I didn’t let him hold my hand.
After passing through some beautiful Peruvian townships and past some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen, we made it to Ollantatambo. We had about 10 minutes to get to the unknown train station in the unknown town. The van emptied and Scott and I were the only ones who remained. His bag was tied to the roof so he scaled the van and together we ran in the direction of the train tracks that we had seen earlier.
We made it to the train station exhausted and confused. It took us about 10 minutes to realize the power was out. Luckily, it was only the station that was without power and the train arrived on time. We hoped on and enjoyed an even higher level of beautiful scenery.
We made it to Agua Calientes and checked into our hostel. By this time it was dark out and we preceded to the ticket office to buy tickets to Machu Picchu for the following day. We got the last two tickets offered and sat down at a nearby restaurant and ordered grilled Alpaca. It was an Alpaca kind of a day.
We woke up at 4:30 to beat the crowds and hoped on the first available bus. Scott flirted with the two girls in line with us and I mumbled half coherent sentences (I am not exactly a morning person). The conversation stopped as our bus scaled the mountain.
As we climbed, the answer to why the Incas had worked as hard as they had to build their town in this obscenely remote place became obvious. After seeing the sacred place, the answer was self-evident. This place was heaven.
Scott and I quickly bypassed the small crowd and stumbled across a path that led away from the ruins. (We had all day to explore so we figured why not). This turned out to be one of our best moves. Completely alone we hiked into the Andes.
We had beat the attendant to the trail and signed in after we returned.
We spent the next couple hours exploring the famous ruins. We made some friends and piggybacked on a tour led by one of the only English speaking tour guides.
Escaping from the group we wondered into an ancient Inca house and laid down for a nap. I had hoped to have some crazy Inca dreams but instead temporarily went into a coma. Scott did the same.
Peru and Manchu Picchu ended up being wildly better than my expectations. The people were tremendously humble, kind and helpful and the scenery of the country was phenomenal. While the ruins were incredibly impressive, they didn’t serve as the diamond in the rough I had expected. On this trip, all I saw was diamonds.