Thursday, August 27, 2015

Adventures in Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, and Santa Teresa

After receiving an invitation from Elder and Hermana Rhoades to accompany them on a short trip to Santa Teresa during "cambios" or changes/transfers, the day arrived, and we got ready to go.  The first step is buying train tickets.  I won't say that it is the most efficient process we have ever gone through here, it could be the opposite.  The frustrating thing is that after waiting in line for at least one hour each of 3 separate times - the tickets only cost 10 Soles:  $3.25.  In Cusco, there were several unused computer kiosks obviously installed for ticket purchases, but they were dark, and it was the old "take a number" process. 

It was an easy walk from the Rhoades apartment to the train station, and as usual, there is always something new and unusual.  Where do you park your llama?  Well, right next to where you park your car.

 In the ticket queue at the Hidroelectrica train station.  Yes, an hour to buy a $3.25 ticket

They finally make it to the window.  All tickets are hand-written.  Why not just peel them off a roll?

 A nice late lunch before we board the train.  I will say that the trains do run exactly on schedule, and we had allowed plenty of time to enjoy this meal before we boarded.  Our "carnets" or resident cards allow us to buy in-country transportation (air and rail) at substantial discounts over what the tourists pay.  The luxury train all the way from Cusco to Aguas Calientes can cost the tourists up to $300!!

Why is Elder Rhoades holding Hna J's purse?  Well, because she forgot it at the restaurant and didn't realize it until we had boarded the train - 20 minutes before departure time.  Before I could head back to get it, E. Rhoades took off at a sprint, up the hill, and got back with it before we left.  The total distance up and back was about 1.25 miles as close as we could guess.  He was puffing, but made the run without triggering the big one.  Guess all those years of fireman training pay off.

Peruvians rank at the top for cleverness!  Can't say they are the most advanced or efficient, but when it comes to getting the job done, give me a crew of Peruanos any day!  So if you have a pile of big rocks, but you need gravel to build your house, what do you do?  Easy, just bring in a portable rock crusher!  Obviously this is tiny compared to the ones I have seen in the US, but it gets the job done, and pretty soon there is a pile of sized gravel, just right for the job.

Aguas Calientes (Hot Water) is at the foot of Macchu Picchu.  It has been built up into quite a bustling tourist town to serve all the visitors to MP, and there are a LOT, from all over the world.  In the morning, the street to the left will be lined with buses past the bridge, just to get the first load of tourists up the hill to MP.  Think of a bus ride from Farmington to the radar towers, and it's about the same, maybe a little shorter, but more switchbacks, and mostly through the jungle growth.

Elder and Hna Rhoades get a good look at the countryside from the train.  They don't do a real good job of trimming the growth, and some of the tunnels are quite narrow, so E. Rhoades was pretty watchful.

As always, another combi ride.  The train ends at Hidroelectrica, and we get jammed into a combi for the last leg to Santa Teresa.  Its uncomfortable and crammed, but its such a unique experience that we always enjoy it - you never know who (or what) your traveling companions may be.  I've had everything from freshly skinned llama hides to live cui under my seat.  As always, the Hnas enjoy each other and the whole experience.

Some time ago, there was a fairly major construction and hydroelectric plant installed here to provide the electrical power for Cusco.  This is the outlet for the water that has already spun the turbines.

The Rhoades made reservations in a jungle lodge just outside of Santa Teresa.  No 5-start accomodations here, they promote the natural experience, and it was quite enjoyable.

Yes, that is mosquito netting, and it's not just for decor.  Protects us at night from mosquitos, and other flying or creeping critters.

What do you get in the jungle?  Why fresh fruit of course.  They just hack off a hand (yes that's what they call it" of bananas and hang them on a rope, and the guests can take the ones they like.  Several varieties of oranges and avacados were also ripe and available at this time, and we really enjoyed them.

Santa Teresa is known for its thermal springs, and that was the objective of our trip.  OK, it's no Lava Hot Springs, but the pools were well built and clean, and we really enjoyed the soak.  We met people from all over South America enjoying the springs.  As usual, E. Rhoades easily engages everyone in conversation, and we met a delightful couple from Argentina.  I managed to sputter a few words, but I really could understand a lot of it.

Time to head back.  Here comes the train engine to hook up to the cars.  It's a single track up and down, so they switch the engine at the end of the line to pull rather than push.  There are also a few sidings where trains can pass each other.

 Here we go around the curves.  There is a walking path (sometimes just the train tracks) where backpacking tourists can make the walk, and we saw a lot of them - mostly young people.  I'd rather pay $3.50 and enjoy the ride.

I've never been called a raging environmentalist, but it was good to see these poly bags filled with discarded plastic that has been collected, and will be tossed into an empty freight car to head back to civilization and get recycled.

 Hna Rhoades negotiates for some gifts for her grandchildren at a local market in Aguas Calientes.

Hna. J makes a new friend, like she does everywhere.

During the "wet" season, the small river can rage up to the high water mark.  Aguas Calientes is at the bottom of some near-vertical mountains, and over the eons, many large rocks have falllen off the side and end up in the riverbed.  They are mostly some variety of limestone, and you can see how the currents and debris have shaped and worn some of them.

A view up the river back towards Aguas Calientes.

What grows in the jungle, well bananas of course, and here's a big "hand" of them that are still ripening.  

Aguas Calientes is built on the side of the mountain, like a lot of places here, and sometimes the only way to get goods up and down is by hand, as shown here.  This guy's got a heavy load, and its at least half a mile from the bottom of town to the top.

Money for sale!  These are Peruvan "Incas", which were the currency before soles, which was the currency before Nuevo (new) Soles, which are now used.  These are only good for souvenirs, and I bought 500 and 1000 Inca bills in excellent condition, 3 Nuevo Soles for both.

The interior of the Catholic church in Aguas Calientes has very ornate altars and frontspieces.  It's open for tourists to visit.  The "saints" on the right are carried out and paraded through town at several times during the year for celebrations.  Those processions are always quite colorful and interesting to watch.

Where do you set up a market?  Anyplace that there's people, which in Peru is most places.  This one sets up at the rail terminus at Hidroelectrica.  Always easy to grab a snack before the train leaves.

Back in Ollantaytambo, we buy a big ear of "choclo", which is giant-sized corn.  Its freshly boiled, and delicious with salt.  One of these was a good snack for 2 of us, and it only cost 3 Soles, less than $1

Better be prepared for sudden rainstorms, as we always are (note Hna J's raincoat in the pictures).  A quick cloudburst here, but it only lasted about 20 min.

The original smiley face!  I don't think the Incas carved this in their wall, my guess is that some jokester did it not too long ago.  This was a very quick and enjoyable 3-day trip, and we got to see some very interesting places, and some things that we had heard of, but had never seen before.  We scheduled this trip over the "cambio" or change/transfer day that the mission has every 6 weeks.  Our schedule is a little disrupted over this time, as missionaries may be transferred in or out.   Knowing when these happen, we can schedule little adventures like this one when we would otherwise have downtime.  And being able to spend a few days with the Rhoades was a delight all in itself!

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