Day 10 — Back to Cusco and an "Uh Oh" Moment!

Sunday — April 12

After a quick stop at the Café Inkaterra to check email and make contact with loved ones, we found the daily tea service set up by the bar near the dining room. A cup of hot tea hit the spot after our rather wet orchid walk; the bite-size cakes and cookies weren’t bad either (wink)! Afterwards we found a spot on the covered porch of the lobby building where, protected from the rain that continued to fall, we whiled away our time reading and writing blog entries.

Mui reads up on things to do in Cusco now that we have an extra day there.

Around 5:00p, we bid adios to the Inkaterra staff, confirmed that our bags would be at the train station at 6:30p, and headed into Aguas Calientes for dinner. The second restaurant recommendation we’d been given was a place called Indio Feliz, but when we arrived at the restaurant, it didn’t look like they were ready to serve dinner — the lights were out, and the few people that were around did not acknowledge our presence even after we asked to see the menu. Looking for a familiar alternative, we went to Toto’s House next, but found it closed for dinner. Odd, considering its location and popularity.

In the end, noting that the tables were occupied by what looked to be satisfied customers, we went into Fortaleza. All I can say is “DON’T.” Don’t go in there; don’t eat there. I’m not sure what the attraction was for all the other people who were dining at Fortaleza, but the food was horrible and the service was miserable. I’m still amazed we didn’t walk out after our watered-down, tasteless soup was served. As for the quinoa risotto — it had the consistency and the taste of wallpaper paste. Starving kids in third world countries notwithstanding, we left the food untouched!

With our unpleasant dining experience behind us, we headed to the train station. What a zoo!!! Or more accurately, what a mob scene!!! People were tightly packed together, bags and cloth-bundles everywhere. Children crying; adults yelling — the racket they were making was incredible. Were we going to have to enter the fray to board our train? Luckily, the answer was no. It turns out that the crowd consisted of locals vying to board the next and only “local train” out of Aguas Calientes ahead of the strike. We later saw the train leave the station just ahead of ours — the cars looked like sardine cans packed thrice over. Even so, if the roar of dismay we heard is any indication, I don’t think that everyone was able to board.

Happy that we were not traveling on the local train — it’s not even an option available to tourists — we collected our bags from the Inkaterra porter and walked through the gate leading into a much calmer waiting area open only to people traveling on the more expensive train services. The rain had finally ended, so we sat outside, watching the activity around us until it was time to board. Unlike our experience in Ollantaytambo, boarding here was a bit disorganized — perhaps because of the crowds generated by the extra train cars that had been put into service due to the impending strike. Once we made our way onto the platform and found the right car, the rest was easy.

The “backpacker” service turned out to be OK, but I’m glad we were on it just for the short haul to Ollantaytambo and not all the way to Cusco. The train is so named because the cheaper fare tends to attract trekkers. There’s also no snack service. Nor is there a fashion show (don’t ask; glad I missed that on the Vistadome). In this case, we were in a “backpacker” train car, but it was attached to the 7:00p “vistadome” train. The primary difference between the two levels of service — seat configuration. On the “backpacker,” the configuration is two sets of two seats facing each other — this was the reason why we had opted for the more expensive service to begin with. But beggars can’t be choosers. Luckily, our companions were a couple from Germany who had the decency not to sprawl, so it wasn’t too bad.

There’s not much legroom on the backpacker train.
(photo by one of our German companions)

We passed the 1½-hour ride trading travel stories with the German couple and working on the blog. I also used the time to download and cull through my photographs from today — a necessary evil in the world of digital photography. Before we knew it, we were in Ollantaytambo, being greeted by Vidal’s friendly face.

Add the twice as many people arriving from Machu Picchu to the people trying to get out of town before the strike, and you end up with a big traffic jam. Thinking ahead, Vidal had left Joaquin and the van at Hostal Sauce where we needed to go to pick up our luggage anyway. His foresight gave us a much needed chance to stretch our cramped legs as we walked the short distance to El Sauce, so no complaints on our part. Twenty minutes later, luggage loaded, we joined the convoy of vehicles departing Ollantaytambo.

Once on the main road, the two hour or so drive to Cusco was uneventful. By 11:00p, we were at Hotel Los Apus. The manager was very apologetic that he was unable to give us the room we had stayed in the first time we were there, but promised to move us the next day. No problem — our return a day early was just as unexpected for the hotel as it was for us. In fact, after seeing the room, we told the manager not to worry and that we would just stay put the next night as well. Or so we thought!

After bidding Vidal goodnight, we set about getting settled for the night. It wasn’t long before we were ready to put our heads down on a pillow. But, uh oh!!! Where was the pitter-patter of water drops coming from? And how did that puddle on the floor form? Looking up at the ceiling, we found the answer to our questions — there was a leak. A closer inspection revealed another leak, this one targeting Mui’s bed.

We called the front desk and explained that it was “llueve” (raining) in the room. OK, so it wasn’t really raining, but we didn’t know the words to explain that we had a leak; nor were we about to dig out our phrase book. They got the message anyway. Ten minutes later, we were settled into another room. The room was “cozy” and had a slightly odd set up, with the en suite shower located behind what looked like sliding, mirrored doors to a closet … but we didn’t care. The beds were comfortable and there was no water dripping from the ceiling — that’s all that mattered.

Next Up: Day 11 — Can't Leave Town; Let's Wander Around Cusco

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