Friday, January 30, 2009
Highlights: Recovering my ATM card, drinking chicha (fermented corn beer), soaking in hot springs.
Pictures taken: 187
Travel: 1.5 hours in taxi from Cusco to Ollanta, 1.5 hours from Ollanta to Aguas Calientes on a train.
Favorite Photo of the day:
I woke at about 7 because the people in the room next door were moving around. The floors are incredibly loud at Casa Grande. I took my sweet time getting up and showering. I packed and then got on Babelfish and wrote up my predicament to show to the front desk staff.
Fortunately there was a branch of the bank I needed to go to just a few blocks away. By 9:40 I was showing my message to a security guard at the bank. He showed me to a customer service agent and I showed her my translated plea for help. She understood and asked for the address of the ATM. I gave her one of my ATM slips and she looked up the ATM location, made a call and then told me to come back at 10:40.
First i bought some water and filled my Camelbak. I also bought a bottle of Inca Kola – the neon colored bubble gum flavored soda. It was pretty good! Then i went and ate breakfast. I picked Yaku Mama Grill because it had a balcony that overlooked the plaza. I had their “International Breakfast” which included bacon, ham, and sausage plus eggs and potato chips. These people love to serve steak cut fries. I have had them with every meal I think. I had their mixed juice and they brought me a half a pitcher. That was worth the 20 or so soles for the whole breakfast.
10:30 approached so I walked back down to the bank and stood by waiting while she helped another customer. Then two European fellows stood near me, one with passport in hand. I felt better knowing I wasn’t the only one who leaves valuable cards around. He was probably German and looking up the question on the screen: “Would you like another transaction?” when his card was swallowed.
All I had to do was present my passport, she wrote down my name, passport number, and debit cart type and number and then had me sign on a page with a good 10 other similar entries – all from the previous day. Suddenly I really felt less stupid. Well, maybe just as stupid but suddenly had a bunch of friends in the stupid club with me.
ATM card in hand I worked back to the hotel and had them arrange for a taxi for me to Ollanta. I could have taken the bus system or collectives for 10x less. But I wanted to make sure I made it on time for the last train to Aguas Caliente at 4 PM.
I took a taxi to the train station (for 5 soles) and bought a new ticket (making the mistake cost me a total of $43 plus my taxi fare both ways – hmmm… I wonder if I can use my travel insurance at all in this situation – or do a charge back on my credit card.) Then I grabbed a cab back to the hotel for 3 soles. I’m beginning to figure out what a good deal is for transportation and when I’m being had.
At 1:10 my driver arrived and we took off. He didn’t speak any English so it was good for me to have forced conversation with him for the next two hours. We talked about very basic things for the most part. Only twice did I pretend to understand him after the third try failed. He mentioned two times about his concern about the lack of ice and snow on the mountains.
We covered ground that I had already been on – but slept through. This time my window was down, my arm getting sun, his music playing, and me practicing Spanish talking about everything from the names of animals (I don’t ever remember learning pig or sheep) to the composition of my family.
Shortly before Ollanta I mentioned the sticks that were occasionally along the road with red bags tied to the end. They mark where chicha can be found. He said he knew a good place to pull over and get as much as I wanted.
I tried the natural chicha – fermented corn beer and the flavored one where juice is added. I ended up having two glasses of each. I faintly remember reading about this… Chicha has been made since before European contact. They chew corn and then spit it into an urn. Then the urn is covered and ferments for a few weeks. Mmmm. No really, it actually was good. While I was downing my glasses of it (it has very low alcohol content) some other travelers came through and each seemed to pretend to take a sip from the sample cup. They had the curiosity but not the bravery – or ignorance – that i has i guess.
At this same spot I saw my first game of sapo being played. This is a sort of horseshoes… you throw thick metal coins at a metal frog in a box with various openings and slots. The highest points are for getting one of your coins in the mouth of the frog. I’ll try and buy one of the kits in Cusco (sounds like this is a very regional game) when I go back through there. My time is really tight though. Perhaps this would be better to go online and have shipped home instead of packing around a metal frog and discs.
I arrived in Ollanta at a little after 3 and paid my driver 100 soles (about $35) for the ride. I tipped him 20 more soles for stopping for pictures for me on occasion, giving me a good tour despite the language barrier, and especially for stopping for the chicha.
I walked to the train station and bought an AllSport (I drink a lot of these at home too!) and Pringles. The Pringles were 20 soles (over $6!) and the AllSport was 5 soles. I’m sure I could have bought them cheaper outside of the train terminal. A little after 4 people started boarding the train and sitting in our assigned seats. I sat next to a 31 year old guy from Mexico City. He is an Architect and went to school at Harvard. He let me fumble through my conversational Spanish for a while before he told me that though.
The train ride was through spectacular country and along an amazing river. I had an aisle seat though so couldn’t take decent photos. They served a ham sandwich lunch on the train.
When we arrived in Aguas Calientes I grabbed my pack and made my way to the main street. I decided I wanted to stay at a place higher on the hill so turned my toes uphill and started eyeballing places. I’ll admit, hostels really don’t interest me. I understand that you can get to meet more people and get great tips but I really like having a private bathroom and shower. This time I decided to try a hotel not listed in the guide book – I figured they might have less expensive rates, fewer guests (this is the slowest part of the year for the tourism industry here) and better service than a place that is already “on the map.”
I settled on a clean looking and newish place after checking a room – Hotel Pachakuteq. $20 a night includes a breakfast of juice, coffee or tea, fruit, and bread. The room was quiet but I was one of perhaps two people staying at the place.
I decided to venture to the hot springs just up the hill a little ways. Entry was 10 soles (under $4) and I brought my towel from the hotel so didn’t have to rent one. Hot springs with lots of people in them are disgusting to someone that has training on proper pool and spa sterilization. But I want to experience it all!
I went back to the hotel barefoot because my shoes have been really nasty smelling. When you can smell your own feet when your shoes are on it is bad! I really need to get to the beach and start wearing cheap flip flops all day. But a visit to Peru wouldn’t be complete without this spur to Machu Picchu.
I ventured out for food and just went to Big Brother Bar just uphill from my hotel. I had a Cusquena Negro beer and more coca leaf tea. For anyone worried that I may come home with a cocaine addiction… the leaves of the coca plant have very mild properties compared to the illicit drug. Nobody is being beheaded in Mexico because of a few coca leaves in hot water. Perhaps good comparisons would be coca leaf tea is to cocaine as Sudafed ® © is to meth or cough syrup is to Everclear. I had a mixed meat kabob with – guess what – papas fritas!
I went to an internet cafe and paid for an hour of use at 1 sole per hour.
Perhaps the chicha caused my first diarrhea. Since it hit me at about 11:30 PM and I had the chicha before 3:00 I’m thinking that it could have been the dinner I had at 9 instead or more likely the time in the hot springs pools.
I sat down and rotated photos and typed this log of my experiences up.