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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

January 4th: Aguas Calientes, near Machu Picchu

On January 4th 1976 I was on a train from Aguas Calientes to Cuzco.  I'd been to Machu Picchu the day before and stayed in Aguas Calientes in a sort of hostel which was part of the string of buildings along the railway line, effectively the main street of the little town.  From there it was an easy walk along the rails to Machu Picchu station; you went through a couple of tunnels, the air was humid and flocks of parrots crossed the river.  Then you climbed up 500 metres to the ruins.

This day I only just made it to the train.  I had tried to find out the times but got conflicting reports.  So when I heard the whistle blow, I had to collect my things, check and jump on the train very quickly.  At first I had to stand but later I got a seat and tried to reflect on where I was now and where I'd been the day before:  
Perched on the edge of a seat sharing with a family, father, mother, four kids and one at the breast and some chickens.  Full of the idea that I am lucky to get on the train, that my boots and socks are still wet after the descent yesterday,  We're past the violent bit of the river and the hills are lower and more covered by scrub now that we have climbed higher.

Train at Aguas Calientes:  My picture taken in 1986
I'll long remember Machu Picchu, sitting on a terrace above, seeing all the outline of the city below, the houses, streets, walls, palaces, like it had only just been destroyed.  The tourists around, click, click, an argumentative young blond German, an elderly American couple, a group of English women admiring the flowers.  People leaving almost in a file, quickly.  The Japanese with their cameras.  The tourist train just passed, could be the same lot, anxious faces photographing everything, the station, the Indians, the train, leaning out of windows and platforms.

Above all Huayna Picchu, the long steep climb and sitting on a few rocks above, looking down on the valley 750 metres below, the railway and the tourists arriving, the steep walls of the hills in every direction, green and cloud-covered, some bare patches, the valley winding and twisting through the canyons.  The ruins looking small below, people like ants, the mess of the hotel and the zigzagging scar of the road.
The departure from Cuzco had been just as dramatic.  The train had been very crowded, Indian women sitting all over the place.  The train climbed slowly out of the city at first, going to and fro up the steep hill on a steep zigzag, while I was looking over the red roofs of the Plaza de Armas, adobe houses and mud streets, dogs and sheep and half-naked children.  One woman sat in the corridor in the middle of all the chaos, her skirts and petticoats filling up the space.  We climbed out of the valley and circled around the high grasslands down through a little canyon into a series of fertile valleys.  It got dark as the Urubamba gorge got really narrow.  Through the window all I saw was a brown, rocky, violent river.

Machu Picchu under Huayna Picchu;  My picture taken in 1982

Machu Picchu;  My picture taken in 1982

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