Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes and Pachamama's best
10.04.2011 - 20.04.2011
*older entries are under 'table of contents' button on right*
==Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes==
Me and Guido headed off from the Cusco hospital to the taxi collectivo depot, located only a few minutes walk away. We chatted about the Peru election happening that day, you could feel the tension in the air. Everybody was talking about it and noone was expecting one candidate to get an outright majority enough to win, Guido was saying the current leader has now lost indigenous support and smaller green/socialist parties were expected to do well, and that the election would probably have to go to a second round. He ended up being correct. We caught an overfilled but cheap minivan ride heading for Ollantaytambo, a remote rural town 2hrs north, where we would then get a 1.5hr train ride (i think the only train in the whole country) to the little town Aguas Calientes where we would spend the night, which is situated behind Machu Picchu, and was only established for visitors to this incredible 7 Wonders of the World site.
The journey from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, via Urubamba, was one of the most beautiful ive ever been on in my life. Incredible scenery. I had a bit better view compared to last time which was in an ambulance. Guido kept proudly pointing things out to me along the way. Id be proud of coming from this beautiful country too. Again, "Pachamama's gift of Peru for you". When we approached Urubamba which is located far below in a valley, you have to come zig zag down the side of a mountain for about half an hour to reach the town at the bottom. The Urubamba river which goes through the town reaches from here all the way to Machu Picchu and beyond. Here's another (Ernesto) passage which quite handily puts into perfect words what i cannot, about not only the journey into this valley but many other rural villages i have travelled into during my overland journey throughout Ecuador and Peru:
"... the view was wonderful; we gazed, enchanted, at the landscape spreading out before us and wanted to know the names and explanations of everything we saw. The Aymara's barely understood us but the little information they gave us in jumbled Spanish added to the impact of the surroundings. We were in an enchanted valley where time had stopped several centuries ago, and which we lucky mortals, until then stuck in the twentieth century, had been given the good fortune to see. The irrigation channels - which the Incas built for the benefit of their subjects - flowed down the valley, forming a thousand waterfalls and criss-crossing the road as it spiralled down the mountainside. Ahead of us, low clouds covered the mountain tops, but through gaps here and there you could see snow falling on the highest peaks, gradually turning them white. The various crops grown by the Indians, neatly cultivated on terraces, opened up a whole new range of botanical science to us: oca, quinua, canihua, rocoto, maize. People dressed like the Indians sharing our lorry now appeared in their natural habitat, in short dull-coloured woollen ponchos, tight calf-length trousers, and sandals made from rope or old tyres. ... Narrow streets on many different levels, paved in local stone, Indian women carrying their children on their backs... in short, with so many typical sights the town conjures up the days before the Spanish Conquest. But the people are not the same proud race that time after time rose up against Inca rule and forced them to maintain a permanent army on their borders; these people who watch us walk through the town streets are a defeated race. They look at us meekly, almost fearfully, completely indifferent to the outside world. Some give the impression that they go on living just because its a habit they cant give up."
As we drove into Ollantaytambo town square, which is basically the whole town as the communities here live very rural remote around, it was full of the highlanders who had made a special journey into the small village from their farms, in their traditional multicoloured outfits, for election day. The village is surrounded by green high peaks, complete with scattered Incan ruins including a big fortress like Machu Picchu. Guido took me to his friends cafe overlooking the square and we chilled out there for an hour or so waiting for our train and also an amigo of Guidos who was meant to join us for the trip to Aguas Calientes. Guido had been carrying my bags for me so far as i was extremely weak. Still not eating solid food, or anything for that matter, at this point.
Guidos amigo couldnt show up, so we walked down the road to get the train. The ride was beautiful, the track stayed next to the snaking raging river all the way with towering lush green peaks on either side. The train had windows on the ceiling so you really felt you were in the environment. When we got off the train at Aguas Calientes the first thing you walk through is some incredible markets which of course excited me and i planned to come back to later. Our hotel was about a 5min walk along the main street, which unfortunately was about all i could manage. We were to spend the night here and then take the 30min bus ride up the mountain to the Machu Picchu site early in the morning to meet my group who would be walking into it on the tail end of the Inca Trail hike. Guido and I had planned to meet up later for dinner but unfortunately my symptoms had fully come back, we had to call my doctor and i couldnt leave my room.
In the morning (Monday 11th April) determined to see Machu Picchu, i powered through somehow and met Guido about 6am and we walked down the misty street to catch the Machu Picchu bus, me extremely excited. The bus ride takes so long up to the site because it has to zig zag up one side of a steep mountain. At the top We waited at the Inca Trail finish line for my group to come through at the end of their 4 day hike. Was great to see them all again. Lots of hugs. Geez they all stunk. There was a heavy fog all around so you couldnt see anything at all in the distance, anything more than 20m was just white, so we waited a bit for it to begin clearing. Then we all walked into the Machu Picchu site. The photos say it all
==What happened after Machu Picchu==
After spending hours at the site we made our way back to town and had some lunch. I managed to eat some soup. We all headed back on the train to Ollantaytambo (1.5hrs) and then on a bus to Cusco (2hrs). I started coming down with the flu. I tried going our with the clan for dinner, where Ian ordered one of the National dishes: Guinea Pig (this time roasted not deep fried), but my symptoms came back quite bad and I was resigned to my bed/toilet for the next day and night in Cusco. On top of this the flu part got worse. Had to call the doctor out to my hotel late that night as I was really bad. He told me i couldnt continue on with the trip (we were due to leave early the next morning and take an 8hr bus journey to Lake Titicaca) and that i should go home. I told him id see how i felt in the morning. Well in the morning nothing had changed and i knew i couldnt go on with the group, atleast for the next few days, so we all said a teary goodbye and they set off, me planning to stay at this hotel in Cusco for a while either until i got better or if not then to go back home to Aus. Well i ended up getting worse and the doctor admitted me back into hospital!
This time I was in hospital for 7 days and nights. I remember one point where i was laying there battling high fever, with the nurses undressing me and laying wet cold bandages all over my body to try and cool me down, thinking "this hasnt ruined my trip because its been so amazing before this point. its just another story to add to the adventure". All the days i was lying there i just kept thinking about the awesome things id seen. Heather who was in town volunteering visited me one afternoon, and on my last night there Carlos came to see me cos he was in town, but apart from that i was alone which kinda sucked but wasnt that bad as my family called me morning and night. The nurses were lovely and were very patient with my crap Spanish. None of the drugs used to treat Salmonella were working on me, the doc had tried 6. He got a gastroenterologist specialist to come see me and they decided on a last resort drug, Dioxicycline for malaria (which in the end ended up working a few weeks later). The doc (wonderful motorbike-riding Dr Eduardo Luna Perez-Ruibal a.k.a Dr Luna) said i had to go home to Australia to get better treatment as i wasnt improving here, so we arranged a medical flight home with my insurance company. A GAP Adventures guide came to the hospital to help me arrange things.
On Wednesday the 20th April he took me from the hospital in a wheelchair to the Cusco Airport. I had a 56hr journey ahead of me, straight out of hospital with still most of my symptoms, i was not looking forward to it. Cusco - Lima - Santiago - Auckland - Sydney - Perth. I had wheelchair assistance the whole journey, which made me feel like an idiot. It got to a point where i started peeing blood and in New Zealand i had to get off and see Paramedics. The whole time my doc was worried about the long salmonella infection causing kidney failure, so when i started peeing blood there was just a little bit of worry. They were going to take me to hospital there but explained because of how something works in NZ that i wouldnt be seen for about 6 hrs and in that time i could fly to Aus and get examined in my own country, so id be better off. So i continued flying. I eventually landed in Perth on the 22nd, exhausted, 10kg lighter, to the (welcome) deathly squeezes of my family.
I had had the most interesting, fun, and amazing adventure. Id do it all again in a heartbeat. I highly recommend Ecuador and Peru to everbody. Wow.