Friday, April 27, 2007
The road to Machu Picchu is littered with rockfall (pt1)
(Ali has picked up the blogging slack and written the Machu Picchu blog for us)
We slept the night in Cuzco and walked through the main square Sunday morning on our way to the "bus station." The whole town appeared to be out and dressed to the nines, including the usual FPKs and their parents and their siblings and their aunts and uncles, and the various cultural groups of the mountains around us (see picture). Every group that could possibly be represented was representing, with the notable inclusion of the town trash collectors (see picture) , and the notable exception of the town dogs. They were probably running in packs in another part of town, open season on trash and cats while all this was going on.
We picked a strategic spot in the middle of this military marching girls section (see picture) from which to observe events. Nic was too shy to approach the twittering bunch, so Ali, with her 27-most-important-Spanish-verbs, went and elicited helpful information like, "There is a parade," and, "Today is Sunday," and, "It is especial Sunday today," and, "This happens every Sunday."
The army (see picture) marched around the square a few times, chanting army things, with big guns. A prissier version of the army marched around a few times, with big guns. Finally, a ceremony of sorts involving a special woman and a lot of military yelling and flags happened on the stage set up on the steps of the cathedral. We asked some guy standing there if it was the Presidente of Cuzco, expecting a blank or disgusted stare, but apparently we were dead on. (He was the governor of Cuzco state.) The military did some perfectly syncopated do-si-do maneuvers, high stepping behind the woman and the Presidente, and flags were raised. The Cuzco "departmente" flag looks an awful lot like another world-famous rainbow flag.
After some false starts and an enlightening visit to a pharmacy for diarrheal medication, we found the bus station in a muddy, dog-infested courtyard in a bad part of town. The bus didn't go all the way to where we wanted it to, so in true hopeful gringo fashion, we got on anyway. For $.67 we got a 2-hour ride through the hills surrounding northern Cuzco. This time, there was no Andean woman singing at us until we gave her money for caramels, but there were several enchantingly beautiful rural women with children strapped to their backs in the typical Peruvian blanket style - who stood for the whole ride. These women are tough! We still don't know how they get that blanket knot to stick all day long.
We were driven past a lot of beautiful country, slowly dropping down lower and lower into the mouth of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The Valley is a long river valley, between steep foothills (think Incan terraces steep), with the pink-colored, whitewater Urubamba river flowing at the bottom. We were informed that this river is quite polluted and no longer contains enough fish anymore thanks to Cuzco's pollutive dumping. There are some really gnarly looking rapids, which Nic said Marc would have no problem with. If he spent the rest of his life trying.
We got off at the tiny town of Urubamba for a bus change and a bathroom break. The bus station bathroom of Urubamba goes down in history as the nastiest, filthiest, grossest, most disgusting bathroom experience EVER in Ali's book. But we won't go into detail here.
Next part of the ride was in a combi, or minibus, with the locals. We paid $.30 each (1 sole) for an hour ride down the valley in the front seat of a dilapidated old Toyota minibus that Nic estimates was made to carry about 8 people, but had 19 stuffed in. The driver was super friendly and invited us to sit up front with him. Nic sat back and patiently watched when Ali's partially functioning seatbelt prevented the driver from lifting his emergency break, and an interesting weighing of worst-case scenarios ensued in her head. Nic long ago abandoned all pretenses of believing in seatbelts in Peru and has adopted the locals' laissez-faire attitude of vaya-ing con Dios. Ali has to date still not quite reached that zenith of Zen, but the driver's tour guide abilities and our 27-most-important-Spanish-verbs did a good job of distracting us the rest of the way.