Friday, October 4, 2013

Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes)

Taking the bus back down the mountain on the dizzying hairpin turning road was nerve racking but we were so tired from our day we barely notice as a gorgeous rainbow arced over the mountains. All we were hoping for was that our luggage was at the Inkaterra and our rooms were ready. We were not disappointed and within just a short time from arriving, Joaquin the General Manager had us checked in and shown to our suites, the luggage already there. We made dinner reservations for 7:30 and went to shower and rest. Not for too long though. Complimentary pisco sours were waiting for us in the lounge before dinner. The Inkaterra Lodge is beautiful, set on 15 acres beside the River Urubamba in a veritable forest of lush flowering landscape and trees. On the way to our pisco sours, we stopped off at their Ecolodge to check on the variety of tours they give around the property. After a discussion over cocktails Marcela, Mariano and I agree to get up early for a 6am bird-watching tour. Tom said in no uncertain terms that he was not getting up early again. I, on the other hand, don’t want to miss anything. Unbelievably, Inkaterra is also home to the Andean Spectacled Bear Sanctuary. A rescue group designed to help rehabilitate the endangered bears back into the wild. Although the tours are free, we hastily agreed to the requested donation of 30 soles per person (about 10USD), which goes to the sanctuary and helps defray costs. Dinner was fabulous, of course we were hungry but the food on this trip has been very good and it was an early night. Everyone is exhausted with sore muscles. Next morning arrived bright and early and although there had been some rain during the night, it was dry and the sun was peeking through the clouds. We could hear the birds singing in the nearby trees and hoped that was a good omen for sighting. In addition to the three of us, there was another couple of Georgia and we did indeed see a myriad of birds including the very shy and elusive cock-of-the-rock, albeit the female which is slightly less colorful than the male. This is an Andean bird which is also the national bird of Peru. From there we went to have a quick breakfast before visiting the bear sanctuary. Just as we were finishing up, Tom joined us but still is in no mood to walk through the property to the sanctuary. He is still sore and a little grumpy from too many early mornings. We leave him to eat and join up with our guide for the 15 minute walk through to the far end of the lodge’s property. They currently have 4 bears but in a week or so, plan on sending two, a pair of 4 year old sisters, to their other facility which is the final step before releasing them into the wild. It seems as though their program is quite successful and we wished them the best. Arriving back at the main lodge, we regroup and talk about what to do with our remaining time in the mountains. We decide to go and explore the tiny pueblo, do a little shopping and have lunch before our train back to Cuzco, which leaves at 3:30pm. We are again assured to not worry about our luggage and they will get it to the train station for us prior to leaving. The town is small, steeply built into the mountainside and consisting really of only two main streets. Water from the snowmelt cascades down an aqueduct running through the center of town before gushing into the Rio Urubamba and the only way to cross one of the streets is via a network of iron bridges. On the other street, the railway connecting the Pueblo with Cuzco runs down its center so crossing that street meant keeping an eye open for trains passing. Very interesting. We found the town square with a small wood-framed church and an imposing statue of the Incan ruler Capac. Walking back, Tom and I noticed a jewelry store that had Tumi, an Incan god designed from 18K gold filigree. We had seen some in Arequipa but they were really expensive and so had never bought one. Here the store owner said he would give us a good deal and said the 18K gold sold for $37.00 a gram. This is about half price than what is available in the States. I selected a pendant and a bracelet from his collection and after much bartering was told we could have both for about $750.00, dropping the price per gram to about $30.00. This was a deal as in Arequipa, for the pendant alone we had been quoted $1,500.00. We thought and finally Tom said “Let’s do it. You have looked at these for months and this is by far the best price”. So, I am now the proud owner of a beautiful gold Tumi pendant and bracelet. The train ride was a repeat of the one up with only a few exceptions. Since it is afternoon the snacks are different and so is the entertainment. In addition to keeping an eye on the landscape moving slowly past our window, we are also marvelously and humorously entertained by the staff with music, a masked performer playing the part of a jester and even a fashion show modeling sweaters, shawls, jackets and coats all made from the wool of a baby Alpaca. However, we are tired and judging from people in the carriage around us we are not alone on that. People moved slowly and many dozed and slept all the way back to Cuzco. As arranged, our cab driver did not let us down and was waiting for us. We are all staying at the Palacio del Inka for the night before leaving tomorrow. The taxi driver asked us about Machu Picchu and we all chorused the same. Amazing. Magnificent. Outstanding.

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