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Published: July 30th 2010
One Way In, One Way Out
All goods arrive at Aguas Calientes by rail...
On the surface, Aguas Calientes is wholly forgettable. No one ever chooses to stay here. It’s an inconvenient necessity. Now known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, it is no more than a holding tank and transfer point for the ruins above. There are three types of people in Aguas Calientes: residents who exclusively live off tourists, tourists who are going to Machu Picchu, or tourists who have been and are awaiting the train to leave. The formula is rather simple…No Machu Picchu = No Aguas Calientes. Without the ruins, this community would turn into a Nevada ghost town in a matter of weeks.
The only way to get here and to leave is by train. Every last element, material, and cement block was railed in. It is quite amazing when you think about it. Real character evades Aguas Calientes. It is reflected in its customers, who are rarely here more than twenty-four hours. There is a central market that provides produce and meats to supply the mediocre (at best) restaurants. The mini markets stock only what foreigners need: toiletries, chips, bottles of water, and batteries. Massage parlors lure men in for a relaxing, well, whatever they do. Eateries serve tasteless and undercooked
Two Types of Tourists
Either you have been to Machu Picchu or you're on the way there...
pizza. Internet cafés allow Carina to chat on Messenger with her friends back in Rio de Janeiro. Teams of porters cart mammoth packs of supplies and personal belongings for those trekkers just finishing the Inca Trail. Thin, older European women search for accommodation. They propel themselves with walking sticks. Their heavily burdened porters do not have any. Come to think of it, I have never seen a Peruvian use a walking stick.
To be fair a sedentary community does exist underneath the veneer of fifteen soles tourist menus, wooden statues of Atahualpa as the maître d’, and ceramic plates with the ruins emblazoned on them. Last night there was a festival celebrating La Virgen del Carmen. Civic groups of costumed and masked revelers under questionable sobriety dance and slide down the main drag. Danes, Canadians, and Swiss follow with the digital cameras positioned above their heads to film the parade even if they are ignorant of its significance. Men hold banners representing each individual organization. They bob up and down to the motion of the dancing and the bass band that holds up the end of the procession. The parade spills into the plaza where there is more music, dancing,
Porters lug supplies for trekking groups...
and the popping open of beer bottles.
There is no escaping the noise from the partygoers; Aguas is simply too small. In theory this Saturday night is for fun and revelry. The mass tomorrow will compose the solemn part of the celebration. I had long since retired to a basement room at a nearby guesthouse and muffled some of the noise with a pair of earplugs. I woke up when the music finally stopped and went to the lobby to see the clock. It read four fifteen, the time I needed to rise to catch the five am back to Ollantaytambo. I packed quickly but carefully and exited into the dark in the direction of the train station. There was still chatter among a few young men. They were leaning against each other so as not to fall out of exhaustion and drink. The load in my backpack shifted as I climbed the first set of stirs in order to cross a footbridge. I stumbled and quickly recovered. The two guys in front of me also tripped up over a deceptively flat part of the pavement. Sunday would be very solemn for them; I doubt they’ll see much of it.
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