Monday, June 21, 2010

Back to Cusco with a sweet old grandmother

Our next plan was to retrace our steps along the rail tracks, back to the town of Santa Teresa.  Though backtracking often seems to take longer than it did the first time around, we were still so high after our visit to Machu Picchu that our step must have been a little livlier, because we made it back to the train station, about 12 kilometers away in just two hours.  There we found a mini-van that wanted to take us back to Cusco for about $12, which would have been a good deal, but with our achy bones and muscles we wanted to stop in Santa Teresa, which the guidebook promised had a spectacular set of hot springs.  Not finding any other transportation, we just kept walking, another eight kilometers along a hot, dusty road.  Along the way we passed several groups of people walking the opposite direction towards Aguas Calientes, and we stopped and swapped info.  Thus we got a recommendation for a guesthouse and a restaurant in Santa Teresa, which we went straight to as soon as we arrived in town.  My lunch was particularly delicious.  For an appetizer I had a half an avacado, stuffed with pieces of carrot, green beans, cauliflower and tomato in some kind of mayonaise sauce.  It was soooo good.

After we ate, we went back to the hotel to pack up our swim suits, and on the way out asked the proprietor where the best place to find a cab would be to take us the couple of kilometers out of town to the hot springs.  He just looked at us sadly and said, "Oh, those washed away during the floods in January."  What?!?!  This was terrible news indeed, since we had just walked 20 kilometers specifically to come here FOR the hot springs.  But what can you do?  We adjusted our plans, and spent a pleasant evening walking around the small town.

The next day we got in a shared taxi to take us back to the town of Santa Maria, where we were going to catch a bus to Ollanta, a town in the Sacred Valley with some Incan ruins of its own.  A young man that shared our taxi struck up a conversation, one of the most satisfying conversations I´ve been able to carry out completely in Spanish.  He said his main job was as a nurse, but that he also worked as some kind of engineer.  After a while we mentioned we were heading to the Sacred Valley, and he said "Well don´t forget about the strike."  What?!?!  He elaborated that for the next two days there was going to be a transportation strike that would completely shut down all roads in the region.  We really wanted to see the ruins at Ollanta, but we knew it was a small town and did not want to be stranded there for three nights.  So once again we adjusted our plans, and in Santa Maria booked a ticket all the way back to Cusco.

The bus was full and we were very lucky that we were able to get two seats together, albeit in the very back row of the bus.  In front of us was sitting a kindly looking grandmother type, with grey hair and several missing teeth, who kept looking back and smiling at me.  She finally picked up a small package, a plastic shopping bag that was all taped up shut, and made to hand it to me.  She was saying something, but in a near whisper, making it impossible for me to understand what she wanted me to do.  Finally I heard the word "mochilla", which means backpack, so I confusedly started looking around for something that might be her luggage, when she gave up and turned back around.  David and I just shrugged.  A few minutes later we stop, and several policemen board and start searching the bus!  They smiled at us, barely checking under our seats for whatever it was they might be looking for.  But they were a little more thorough with others, and were looking around all the luggage in the overhead compartments, although oddly they didn´t actually open up any bags.  After they had worked their way up to the front of the bus, suddenly people all around us started pulling out taped up bags they had been sitting on and handed them back to the sweet old grandmother!  I have no idea what was in the bags, but for once I was glad for my lack of Spanish, which saved me from being the smuggling grandmothers mule.

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