THE TRAIN TO MACHU PICCHU
Map of the trip
Until a few years ago, the train to Machu Pichu left
from San Pedro Train Station near the Central Market of the City
of Cusco. Nowadays, the train departs from the Poroy station on
the outskirts of the city, to save you from climbing the paths that
zigzag up the hills surrounding Cusco. If, early in the morning,
you find yourself at the train station surrounded by tourists, baggage
and couriers, and your head aches a little because of the "soroche"
(mountain sickness brought about by the 3,360 meters altitude),
just think of the trip that you are going to make. Think not only
of a train making its way along a narrow track, but also of how
excited you are going to feel when the train inches along the brink
of an abyss with a river flowing far below.
The train at Machu Picchu is not just an ordinary
train. There are three passenger classes: one is tourist class,
where you share your part of the trip with town-dwellers. They just
ponder on their everyday activities whilst you, the tourist, undergo
a fascinating experience. The first class, Vista Dome, carries only
tourists. Finally, The Hiram Bingham class is incredibly expensive.
Even if you have enough money to spend on it, it is not worthwhile
to do so.
Whether you opt for one class or the other, what is important is that people from all over the world will make the same trip as you do, because they are also intent on the same thing as you, encountering this magic place. All of them want to build indelible memories of this wonderful trip.
The landscape starts to change outside. We go into the amazing Canyon of Urubamba. The train track, running parallel to the river, goes along an increasingly narrow space bounded by precipitous, almost vertical walls, topped by impossibly fantastic peaks.
As the train moves forward, we get closer to the mythical "kilometer
80". This is the point of departure of the Famous Inca Trail. We
can see that many travelers leave the train. They carry backpacks,
camping gear and tents. They know that for several days they will
walk through thickly forested woods, along tracks 4,200 meters above
sea level, over ancient bridges and cliffs with breathtaking precipices.
However, they also know that they will spend nights looking at the
stars in their tents near one of the many Inca ruins that dot the
trail. They will have to walk 40 kilometers to enter the fortress
of Machu Pichu through Inti-Punku or "Sun Gate",
where the sun rises, and you are able to view the Sanctuary for
the first time.
When the travelers stand up to prepare their baggage, we can feel a strange sensation in the train. These are not just travelers, adventurers or simply people with backpacks. They are travelers of this century who are about to go back in time to walk along a track that five hundred years ago had already connected Cusco, the Capital of Tahuantisuyo with the mysterious fortress built overlooking the mountains.
After a long, two or three hour-trip, depending on the service, we will arrive at Puente Ruinas, at the foot of Machu Pichu fortress. When the train stops, you will see, at either side of the track, groups of carriers waiting for customers.
Their stolid faces and traditional attire give one the impression that time has stopped somewhere between the past and the present. The train keeps stopping. You start to see the faces of carriers, couriers, sellers and all the other people more clearly. They are no longer just spots on the other side of the train.
We arrive at Aguas Calientes Station. A this Station, there are small fruit and souvenir shops that occupy the small spaces at the side of the track. There are also restaurants with chairs and tables that are so close to the track that you can touch them from the train. We can also see travel agencies and hotels that seize the opportunity to occupy every single centimeter of the platforms.
Finally, we arrive at Puente Ruinas, a station even smaller than Aguas Calientes. Puente Ruinas is literally "jammed" into the space between two steep slopes. Again, there are several small fruit and souvenir shops that festoon the track and the small platform. There is an exchange office in front of the Station, and you can see the impenetrable mountains descending towards the river further ahead.
But, where is Machu Picchu?
We still have to travel by bus. As a matter of fact, this is a "peculiar" bus that, with a few problems, will go through an unthinkable "slalom" of four hundred vertical meters. Then, the bus will go straight uphill for eight kilometers, until it arrives at the foot of the Ruins.
After this, we will have to go to the Admissions Office where we still will not be able to see the fortress. We will walk on a slippery track until suddenly the fortress will come into view, peacefully emerging from the clouds. This is the "magic moment".