Sunday — April 12In no time, the check-out formalities were completed. The bellman picked up our luggage for storage, promising that it would be delivered to the train station around 6:30p. Unencumbered by bags and armed with a couple of restaurant recommendations from the Inkaterra staff, we then headed into town. Somewhere along the way, I became the proud owner of a baby alpaca cardigan … very soft and cozy, and eye catching, if I do say so myself.
The latest addition to my alpaca wardrobe.We took a meandering walk around Aguas Calientes, checking out the Plaza de Armas where a statue of Inca Pachacutec is juxtaposed with a Spanish-style church. As expected, there wasn’t much to see around town. We were soon back in the area around the train station. After spending a few minutes at the artisan market, looking for a Machu Picchu pin to add to our collection, it was time for lunch.
Plaza de Armas in Aguas Calientes.
The scene depicted in this mural is commonly seen on tapestries woven locally.Noting that Toto’s House, one of the eateries recommended to us, had outdoor seating overlooking the rail tracks, we headed there. It was just past noon and tourist groups were already filling up the tables inside. There was an extensive buffet set up, but we ordered off the menu — a thin crust, chorizo-mushroom-pineapple pizza. Add a couple of cokes and we had a simple meal to tide us over until dinnertime. While we ate, we watched locals and tourists wandering around, often walking down the middle of the train tracks until the sound of an oncoming train had them scurrying out of the way. Having trains go by within a few feet of where we were eating our meal was a first for us.
Toto’s House serves a pretty good pizza.
The plates and cutlery rattle when the train goes by.After lunch, undaunted by skies that were becoming progressively overcast, we decided to do a bit more sightseeing in town. We headed downriver along the Rio Vilcanota (aka Urubamba River; Vilcanota translates as “Sacred River” — perfect for an area that is home to one of the most sacred sites of the ancient Inca Empire.) Our destination was the strip garden we’d caught a glimpse of a few days before. It turns out, the variety of flowers in bloom were few — the only ones we recognized were the poinsettia plants and the banana trees. Regardless, they added color to a day that was fast becoming grey and dull.
The strip garden along the Rio Vilcanota.
Rio Vilcanota (or Urubamba) is the partially navigable headwaters of the Amazon River.During lunch, we had made the decision to postpone the Orchid Walk at the Inkaterra in lieu of a trek to Mandor Falls — a 2-to-3 hour hike downriver from town. When Mother Nature decided to grace us with liquid sunshine, we reverted back to our original plans. Kitted out in our trusty rain ponchos, we returned to the Inkaterra just in time to join the next group going out. The couple that went to see the bears with us made up the balance of our group of four, but they begged off halfway through to catch their train to Cusco. So, we ended up having a private tour of the orchids. Magnifying glasses in hand, we headed deeper into the orchid trail to learn a bit about these hothouse flowers that have no problem growing in the wild here. Why the magnifying glasses — because some orchids are microscopic in size. In fact, had our guide not pointed them out specifically, we would have never known that we were walking by an orchid; not only were they tiny, but they also looked nothing like what I imagine when I hear the word orchid. The rain fell in earnest throughout the walk, making it nearly impossible to take pictures — especially of the amazingly tiny orchids — but the information our guide gave us was very interesting and we enjoyed the walk anyway. A few things we learned (I hope I am recalling them accurately): orchids evolved 40-80 million years ago from a lily-like plant; they are the largest flowering plant family in the world (30,000 estimated species) — there are 372 species on the grounds of the Inkaterra alone; they usually have simple leaves with parallel veins; some unique characteristics (1) a showy, large petal, called the lip or labellum (which serves as a landing platform for the pollinator), (2) a column, which contains a fusion of the reproductive parts (normally separate in other flowers), and (3) sepals and petals that come in sets of three.
Lady’s SlipperWith a finer appreciation for orchids, we bid our guide adios and went off in search of a cup of tea. Next Up: Day 10 — Back to Cusco and an "Uh Oh" Moment!