Friday, December 16, 2005

Machu Picchu to Santa Teresa

A street in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo)

Enjoyed a great rest last night. Before departing the hostel, ate a continental breakfast (included in the $15, of course.)

My plan for the day was to hike back to Santa Teresa by 11:00, then board my bike and ride back to Cusco. Another possible scenario had me camping tonight up near Puerto Malaga.

On the rails by 8:45 or so (not as early as expected), under sunny skies. It's about a 12-mile hike from Aguas Calientes to Santa Teresa, about half of it along the railroad tracks.

One finds things to do. I counted ties (14 to 16 per rail), measured rails (40'), measured my strides (2.5' average), 116 per minute, figured out my pace (3.3 mph). ("How do they do this in two hours???")

Along the tracks, I'm shocked at the amount of plastic refuse - it's everywhere. Every foot of the way. Amazing!

Off to work at the hydro plant along the Rio Urubamba

Reached the halfway point (10 kilometers) after two hours, right on schedule. The trip back would be at least a half hour shorter than the hike up.

The day grew quite warm, and at lower elevations the temperature increased even more. I was pretty drained by the time I reached the cable crossing. And this time, I had to pull myself across. The apprehension about crossing had disappeared, but the effort seemed to sap the last of my energy.

Crossing the Rio Urubamba again. That's Santa Teresa on the distant bluffs.

Chris and Amber, here's some good kayaking for you! Many of those boulders are house-sized.

It took four hours to arrive at the base of the bluffs upon which Santa Teresa rests. I stood looking up at the long stone staircase that ascends the cliff. "I don't think I can climb this! Well, maybe one step at a time."

Hernan and a friend came along and he asked if I needed help, offering to carry my pack. "Sure!" Perfect timing. After about ten steps, I had to rest. Hernan patiently waited, but I finally told him to give me back the pack and go on ahead.

Another ten or so steps, and I was exhausted again. I sought shaded spots against the rocks to catch my breath. Beneath the bluffs is a school, and the children were now getting out of class and climbing up to their homes. They were so sweet, as each one passed and timidly said "caballero, buenas tardes," some offering concerned looks as I leaned against the side of the path.

I think this was about as close to heat stroke as I want to come. I was momentarily dizzy, nauseous and out of breath. I had to calmly talk myself through the worst of it. A half hour, and I was about half way up the bluff. Hernan reappeared with his friend. They had tiny popsicles, and he offered me one. An angel sent from heaven! We stood silently sucking on the icy treats, then they went on their way. That little jolt seemed to give me the energy to finish the job.

I walked to the polleria to pick up my room key, pausing there to enjoy a soda. It had taken an hour to arrive here from the river bottom. A half hour longer than yesterday's hike.

I decided I wasn't going anywhere else today, but would go back to the room and lay down for a while. It was a long time before I was feeling refreshed.

Around sunset, I took a walk up to the sports field a couple blocks away. It's a concrete slab that doubles as a football (soccer) field and basketball court. A popular gathering spot. Watched the kids play football until it was getting too dark to see.

A fellow named Uriel greeted me as he was leaving. We started talking. He works most of the month in Aguas Calientes as a waiter, then hikes back to Santa Teresa to spend a few days at home before repeating the cycle.

I was pretty hungry now and invited him to join me for dinner at the polleria. He gladly accepted. Walking over to the restaurant, he was teased for hanging out with the gringo. He bantered with his friends. He was well-known to the polleria staff. Our 15-year-old server stuck her tongue out at him and made faces. They teased each other throughout the meal.

Uriel is 23 years old (same age as my daughter) and offered his services as a guide to the region for me or my daughter when she comes here! ("Wait a minute! I'm her father. I don't know if I like that idea!")

The chicken tonight was outstanding - really unexpected in such a modest restaurant. 8 Soles for the dinner, well under $3.

Uriel told me that a 1998 slide and flood destroyed much of Santa Teresa, which was formerly below the bluffs. After the disaster, the town was rebuilt in its present location.

He talked about a new route from Cusco to Quillabamba following the Rio Urubamba beneath Machu Picchu, but in the end I was confused whether he was talking of a railway or highway. It would be a disaster if they routed a highway through that canyon. The noise would destroy Machu Picchu's solitude.

I retired early, hoping to get an early start tomorrow. Rains came on and intensified throughout the night. As they did, so did my concern for crossing some of those creeks tomorrow. The rain pounded on the corrugated steel roof, but I enjoyed the sound (though I didn't sleep well.)

1 comment:

Genevieve said...

It looks like a pleasant place to catch your breath. :) (I am noting the up and down streets which can be a bit of exertion at high altitude.)