South America 1989 travel blog

The richly fertile Urubamba Valley

I couldn't resist clicking through the taxi window

We visited the remains of another Inca fortress, high on a hill...

We visited the Sun and Moon Temples and admired the views over...

The Inca fortress afforded magnificent views over the Urubamba Valley

We did a lot of climbing to get these views!

Still unaccustomed to the altitude, the one-hour climb was hard - but...

Obviously not part of the original temple, I'm not sure we actually...

The local people we passed didn't have the same problem breathing that...

Pisac Market

Another shot of Pisac Market

The old Inca town of Ollantaytambo

We climbed hundreds of steps to reach the top of the fortress,...

Once at the top, there was a wonderful view over the whole...

Back down in the small square, there was time to check out...

We travelled in the baggage car, sitting atop a pile of very...

In the other end of the baggage car, the local people cooked...

Main Street, Aguas Calientes

This shot shows how my pictures looked when they came back from...


On our return from Sacsayhuaman, yesterday, we arranged, with a mini-bus driver in the plaza, to take us, today, to some places of interest, and then leave us at a place called Ollantaytambo, which is about half way along the Inca trail, and from where we could make our own way to Machu Picchu. We stored our luggage at the hotel, and carrying just a change of underwear and a toothbrush, reported to the bus for an eight o'clock start.

Leaving the city we passed through narrow winding streets, in what appeared to be a very poor area, but I was impressed by the absence of litter, and in fact all the streets seemed to be freshly swept. The road began to wind up the mountainside and the area became more rural. We passed sites where people were building new homes, and here building a new home includes making the bricks. Rows and rows of red adobe bricks drying by the roadside became a common sight.

Our first stop was a place called Pisac in the Urubamba Valley, a richly fertile area known as the breadbasket of Cusco. We visited the remains of another Inca fortress, high on a hill above the village. The driver left us at one point and instructed us to meet him at another point in one hours time. Another hour of climbing! After carrying my bags up and down both Miami and Lima airports, and trekking to the top of the mountain yesterday, my legs were already aching, but I made it. We visited the Sun and Moon Temples and admired the views over the lovely terraced hillsides. R1

From there we visited the village of Pisac and it's renowned Sunday market. More temptation! This time I succumbed and made several purchases, including a lovely red and green bag woven in the traditional manner.

After lunch in a lovely garden restaurant we proceeded to Ollantaytambo, which is one of the most exceptional towns in Peru. It's two thousand inhabitants dwell in a town whose houses and streets have been preserved exactly as the Incas left them when fleeing the Spanish. It is interesting to see the canals, which carry water to the houses. They are crude and unsophisticated when compared to the grandeur of the fortress, built on the town's edge, which is a massive terraced structure with hundreds of steps leading to the top. Oh! My poor legs. But what a magnificent view from the top!

At this point in our excursion we had to make a decision. We could stay the night here and catch the tourist train to Machu Picchu in the morning, or we could take the four o'clock local train and risk not being able to find a room at the other end, but with the advantage of seeing Machu Picchu early in the morning before the arrival of the tourist train. We decided to risk the local train and made our way to the station.

It was comforting to see that there were more tourists there and we joined the line and purchased our tickets. As we waited the number of locals grew. All carried large bags of vegetables or bundles of goods, which they had been unable to sell at the Sunday market, and most of the women had babies fastened to their backs and toddlers in tow. They milled around all over the place and gathered on the tracks.

Eventually we heard the hoot of the approaching train, and saw it come around the bend belching smoke and flames. The whole place erupted into utter chaos. People were running to board the train before it had come to a stop. We could see that there were already many people standing in the carriages, but still hundreds of people pushed and shoved trying to get on. The noise was deafening.

Bags of potatoes and children were being pushed in through the windows, and the passengers inside had locked the doors to keep the others out, but still they pushed and shoved. Some people climbed into the space between the carriages, so that in each space there were six or eight people standing astride the gap and hanging on. More people hung onto the outside of the doors and some climbed onto the roofs. We moved from carriage to carriage as best we could in the chaos, and satisfied that they were all the same, we stood back and decided to change our tickets for the morning train.

Half an hour had passed before the chaos had subsided and the train was ready to depart, at which point the inspector came out of his office and counted those of us still on the platform. Apart from our group of five there were eight more, all tourists like us.

He instructed the guard to let us into the baggage car, which seemed like an acceptable solution, so we climbed in. One half of the baggage car already contained a privileged group of Indians, who were sitting on the floor, actually cooking food on a small camping stove. We were to occupy the other half of the carriage, which meant climbing onto the top of a huge pile of bags of onions. The stench was overpowering, but we made ourselves as comfortable as possible.

Our new travel companions turned out to be good company and the two and a half hour journey atop the onion sacks passed quickly. In fact as darkness fell and the temperature dropped drastically we were grateful for our privileged position, especially when we caught glimpses of the back of the train with people still hanging on the outside.

As we approached Aguas Calientes we realised that our problems may not be over. Aguas Calientes is a very small village in the valley below Machu Picchu, and according to the guide book, hotel rooms are very limited. There were lots of people on the train, including an unknown number of tourists who would all need rooms.

We agreed that the only solution would be to be first off the train and run. Again we were at an advantage being in the baggage car. We wouldn't have to cope with the crowds. As the train slowed to a halt we leapt from the baggage car into the middle of a sidewalk pizzeria.

In other countries, when travelling by train, you only see the backs of buildings. In Peru everything faces into the tracks and most of the time there aren't even platforms. In effect the train goes through the middle of the street.

We ran through four or five more sidewalk cafes and into the nearest hostel. It was obviously small and full so we crossed the tracks, climbed and embankment, ran down an alley and found ourselves in a small square. There were roads going both right and left. By this time there were several groups of hasty tourists in sight.

We chose the right turn, which turned out to be the right turn, and a little way up the hill came upon the hostel we were looking for. There was plenty room and we were the first of the passengers, from the train, to arrive there. After checking in we decided to explore Aguas Calientes. Apart from a small deserted square Aguas Calientes was the short strip of offices and shops which constituted the railway station. We had a meal there, which, like the previous evening, cost about one dollar, and once again were in bed before nine o'clock.

Reflection 1 On the way up to Sacsayhuaman yesterday (1st July 1989) I slipped on a rock and banged my camera. I didn't carry much equipment in those days, just a little Olympus "Trip", which was a very popular "point and shoot" of the day. It was a film camera, of course, as it was more than ten years later that I bought my first digital camera.

Anyway, the bang caused the back of the camera to pop open a little. I closed it very quickly, but realised that the light would have spoiled a few shots, which it had! Three or four were completely lost. What I had no way of knowing, at the time, was that the seal, around the door, had been damaged and light was getting in on every shot. I didn't know until I was back in Freeport and started to get the rolls developed.

A few shots on each roll would be okay, but most would have a red band across the middle, some much worse than others. Many prints were immediately discarded and never even made it into my S. America album. Others were pasted in there with the ugly red band clearly visible!

Fortunately, I filed away all the negatives, even though they were ruined, and now twenty one years later, I have Photoshop! It's a long and difficult job fixing the colours on so many shots, but I guess it's a labour of love. Some are fixed such that you can't tell there was ever a problem but others are more difficult, as you can see with the "terrace" shot that I used to "hi-lite" this "reflection". Try as I might I could not properly match the colour of the middle section to the two sides. At the end of today's pics, I will include the unedited "terrace" shot so that you can see how far it has come from the original. No doubt you will notice a few more shots where the colour looks a bit funny across the middle, but at least now you will know why. As for me, I'm thrilled that I was able to restore so many shots that I considered were lost so many years ago.

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