Despite its size, the small Inka town of Ollantaytambo has, not one, but two railway stations. We only found this out by standing at the wrong one for a good ten minutes before moving on. Safely ensconced in the correct station we waited for Inka Rail.
Everything was slick and organised. We were lined up in the correct place and boarded the train in relatively little time. We’d been warned there was limited luggage space so we’d left our big rucksacks back at the hostel in Cusco. Just as well as there was very little space for anything by the time the table was folded out. Wherever possible the train has been given extra viewing opportunities. As well as the regulation train windows, there were also additional ones higher up the walls and on the ceiling which of course meant no storage racks. With comfy seats and gorgeous wood panelling we all felt as if Hercule Poirot would be joining us on the trip. Luckily for the survival of all the passengers, he didn’t.
The train journey between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientas had been recommended to us. Wonderful, amazng, beautiful, stunning were just some of the adjectives we’d heard bandied around. The journey is all these things and more. Snaking along beside the Urubamba River (at times the track is barely inches away from the gushing water as the photo demonstrates) and threading its way through a lush green valley overlooked by hills that are practically mountains it is certainly worthy of all the praise it’s given.
It could hardly be called ‘express’ but this is on purpose. Passengers are given ample time and opportunity to snap away at the gorgeous scenery. Although it was cloudy on the day we travelled, the beauty of the landscape still shone through. This is a must for anyone thinking of going to Machu Picchu.
We were met at the station and escorted to our hotel by a man who weaved amongst the crowd and whisked us through the bustling market with ease. And there, right outside our hotel was the river – gushing, splashing and roaring quite literally through the centre of the town. To keep both sides of the town together there are bridges at regular intervals. Each one different and each decorated in its own way. The overwhelming sound here is that of fast flowing water. Apart from the service vehicles and buses which take visitors up to the entry to Machu Picchu there are no cars or vehicles permitted. No engines, no horns, no fumes. I know some people complain that Aguas Calientas is expensive, full of tourists and cashing in on the mountain but I liked it. Out of season, we were spared the monstrous crowds which can overwhelm the place and make it feel like a conveyor belt of people.
When we booked this trip we opted to get the first seventeen days organised for us so accommodation, most meals, guides and transport were pretty much taken care of. Once we’d checked in, we met our new guide Jair. Born in Ollantaytambo, Jair has been a guide for eight years. Like Marco, he was passionate, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable. It would be his job to introduce us to the ancient mountain top city on the following day. His first job however, was to take us to a local restaurant.
Following the river down we opted to sit outside for our meal. Well to us Brits the cool evening felt practically tropical! This seems like a good time to talk about the food. Both Dom and I are Gluten Free. We really thought that as Peru produces a LOT of corn we would enjoy corn bread aplenty. No, no and no! There is however a lot of Quinoa, not bread but soup. Quinoa was going to be our constant companion for some time to come.
Over dinner we found out some back history from Jair about the Inkas and their way of life. I could already tell that Machu Picchu was going to live up to expectation. Following Jair’s advice we headed back to the hotel for an early night. A 5am wake-up call, an ancient Inka city and Pachamamma all awaited us…