Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cusco, part 2: Machu Picchu

The Peruvian Government, in regards to Machu Picchu, is properly thought of as a really hot, materialistic, 16 year old girl.
Travelers to South America are a blindingly horny teenage boy, i.e. a normal teenage boy, with a predictably singular focus.

Basically, the PG knows that it has something that this teenage boy REALLY, REALLY wants and they are going to squeeze as much money, time, and energy out of him as possible in order to get what he really came for.

No matter how many people a teenage boy, er, traveler, talks to who have been there firsthand-for asking everyone in envious, reverent tones is unavoidable.

No matter how many pictures they see of the real thing, in all of its far-off, unspeakably-alluring-and-magical-to-the-unitiated-glory, the motivation to get there is, to say the least, powerful.

When all your older, more experienced friends have been there to tell the tale, it only adds to the determination to get there, to do whatever it takes to get some. Of that Machu Picchu.

Thus, you can see how like that moneygrubbing cheerleader in that so-hot short skirt, the PG does all it can to squeeze as much cash out of you as possible before giving it up what you are really there for in the first place.

And they do not make it easy either. The only way to get there-on a continent where you can get anywhere by bus- is an overpriced, rickety train. Think of it as the gaspingly expensive dinner in uncomfortable clothes listening to her talk about how the coach hates her because she picked that trampy bitch Kirsten Simmons for Captain. We all have to pay a price, but we pay it and keep moving.

Why? Because we all know that our friends are going to ask about MP when its over.


Don't believe me? Let's imagine together:

Cue: "I went out with '___' "

or

"I went travelling in South America"

"Did you get there? Was it amazing? It was amazing, wasn't it? Damn you are lucky! I have only seen it in glossy pictures!"

Having been a teenage boy, and thankfully that time of my life is over so I can finally concentrate, I knew this feeling and realized, yes I want to become a man, so I had to do it.

So what the Pervuian government offers you is the chance to pay several hundred dollars to walk there, or just under 50 bucks to take the "cheap" train. I have done a lot of hiking, and I do not need to fork out a significant percentage of my dwindling savings account for the pleasure of humping a backpack through the jungle for 4 days.

So in other words I took the train to Machu Picchu. Wait, that is a lie too, because the train drops you at Aguas Calientes. "Aguas Calientes" apparently is Peruvian for "Where to go to feel like a badly treated ATM" and that typical Latin warmth and charm quickly evaporates and is replaced by a bitchy, disinterested, impolite price quote.

Having forked out 44 bucks for the short, rickety train ride that is the cheapest option, one still has to get oneself up the mountain to the actual Machu Picchu proper, which is around 1200 feet, almost straight up, above the town.

You can pay 6 bucks for a 10 minute bus ride (normal peruvian bus rates get you about 10 hours down the road for that price), or you can walk. We (myself, an Italian girl I met in Bolivia, and this couple made up by a girl from Boston and her 21 year old Newfoundlander with a shaved head and an incredibly friendly disposition with whom we had killed a bottle of stoli before taking over a disco and getting the dj to play billie jean and prince two days earlier) got up at 4:00 AM to make the opening of the ticket booth (5:30 according to the guide), get in to MP catch the sunrise, supposed to be legendary from the ruins, and make our travel memories and photos as magical as possible.

So we got up REALLY EARLY. Then again, there is a self-satisfaction that comes with getting up early, knowing you are up when the rest of what becomes the "lazy" world sleeps. One quickly realizes this entitlement to judge, dismiss, or following the lead of my friend Ian Mackay, to gleefully berate the rest of the world that wants a decent night's rest.

We were cheering ourselves and mocking those losers still in town waiting for the first bus at 6:30 (again according to the guidebook), as we hoofed, stumbled, and sweated our way up original Inca steps through the still-completely-dark-but-very-humid-enough-to-soak-your-shirt-jungle (one of many lessons that morning: check your headlamp the night before) as buses start roaring by us around quarter after 5.

Lesson 2, episode 1: ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK THE GUIDEBOOK INFORMATION.

After an hour and a half of hurriedly, excitedly hoofing uphill, we finally arrive to a big line of not-sweaty, properly informed, and eager tourists to find out from the woman at the front of the line after 20 minutes of waiting, the following information: you can not buy tickets to actually enter MP here, only in Aguas Calientes, 1 and half hours, lots of sweat, early rising, and 1200 feet below.

All I could manage is to blurt, open jawed, which accidentally came out in English: "You have got to be f*****g kidding me." At this point, the desire to make a pile of Lonely Planets and set them ablaze, and to wish their authors eyebrows would fall out (or something equally vindictive but somewhat comic) was so palpable I could taste it.

10 minutes of angry, semi-frantic investigation later, we realized there was a ticket booth at the entrance, again, like ALL THE GUIDEBOOKS SAID, which apparently was too much relevant information for the woman who punched tickets all day to know, as it is not like it directly pertained to her job or happened to be 50 feet from where she worked.

But this is Latin America. Much like lots of llama related fashion options, short people with black hair, cheap beer, and frequent digestive distress, this sort of thing comes with the territory.

Tranquilo, amigo. Or so I told myself to limited effect.

It did not get any better when we got to the "ticket booth" a room with a counter and no one in it despite the fact they had "opened" half an hour earlier. We asked anyone who came by what was going on, who we were supposed to talk to, etc, and of course, no one knew. In fact, they mostly avoided eye contact and/or mumbled, which did nothing for my non-tranquilo outlook at that point.

I took a deep breath, well several, since we had to wait another half hour for the lady who had the tickets to arrive, get her coffee, leave, come back, leave again, and finally come back to sell us the entry tickets (25 bucks, US, and they do not even throw in a map, which even Disneyland does when they scalp you) , at which point she decided my brand new 100 dollar bill was not acceptable because of a tear, I swear I am not exaggerating, as long as a dime is thick.

I hated this woman.

I read once loving someone is similar to hating someone. Sound shocking? Think about it. They are both infatuatingly powerful emotions, involve some degree of shared experience, and often a fixation on details that the rest of the world would never notice.

When this woman was smarmingly announcing to us that she would not accept our money (NO ME ENTIENDES; NO ME ENTIENDES), smug look on her tilted head, and just oozing a squat sense of entitlement, I realized that fat women with long fake nails, overdone bangs, heavy makeup, and nylon warmup jackets as acceptable work attire serve as the marker of evil trashy witch-hags the world over.

So, trying to be reasonable and also wanting to get what we came for, we gave her another 100 dollar bill our friends had. She wouldn't take that either, without examining it, as there had been a counterfeit problem a few years ago with that bill series, so she just pronounced it as counterfeit, dismissing us in the process, again proving the awful insidiousness of her shriveled blackened heart.

So after two days of travelling to get to Aguas Calientes, then waking up at 4 AM to hoof it up a hill to get to the sweet soft feminine center of South America to finally shake this travel virgin thing (okay, maybe taking this metaphor a bit far) we couldn't buy a ticket to get in.

It felt like being in the back of your dad's car, windows fogged, finally it is going to happen, she is not saying no anymore, and under that little cheerleading outfit, there was a chastity belt with a huge lock and with a picture on it of Peruvian version of a Jerry Springer guest on it, laughing.

After my friends all but held me back from strangling this she-devil, we finally scraped together enough American Green between the four of us in smaller bills to get in, finally. All of our effort was finally going to payoff. We overcame the overpriced train, the awful people in Aguas Calientes, our fatigue from a ridiculously early morning, stumbling uphill through the dark, skipping breakfast, near disaster from misinformation, waiting, the awful waiting for buying tickets, and finally the dragon guarding the princess, the revenge of the Incas ticket booth lady, for the big payoff:

We got to see a glorious sunrise at the historic, majestic Machu Picchu COMPLETELY BLOCKED BY PEA SOUP FOG.

All I could do was laugh. And curse, there was a little bit of cursing.

To Be continued...

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