After the stress of being robbed in Puno, staying ten nights in an apartment in Cusco offered us much-needed space and time to decompress. The relief we all felt at being allowed on the train, and watching Puno fade into the distance, is indescribable.
The train ride could not have been better. After all we had been through with the police in Puno the day before, we probably would have been quite happy with anything, really, that got us out of that town. We had no idea that we were to be treated to a day of luxury and entertainment!
There were only four other passengers on the train, and the entire day was thoughtfully planned out with an attentive staff to see to every need. The tables were decorated with white tablecloths and fresh flowers. There were breakfast menus with coffee and tea available from the start. We were concerned about access to funds, so we didn’t order a full breakfast, but we did order a couple of items to share. The ham and cheese omelet and the fried eggs with toast offered a much better breakfast than the chips and crackers we’d grabbed from a tiende close to the station before boarding.
After breakfast, entertainment was offered in the bar car. We were served citrus pisco beverages and got to listen to live Peruvian folk music while being entertained with Peruvian costumes and dances as well as a fashion show. The view from the bar car and the observation car was gorgeous and the entertainment was great! A gourmet lunch followed sometime later, then afternoon entertainment, teatime with sandwiches and sweets, pisco sours, and more live music. All of this, combined with a stop at an outdoor market and gorgeous views of farmland, pueblos, and the Andes mountains throughout, made the ten-hour journey fly by. We forgot all of our troubles and had to ask ourselves, repeatedly, if we were in a dream. It was an amazing journey and it offered us a beautiful distraction from our worries. I would strongly recommend this ride, on PeruRail, for families traveling either direction between Cusco and Puno. It was well worth the ticket price, which was not much more than plane fare between the cities.
In Cusco, we found a taxi driver at the train station who took us to our apartment, booked on Homestay.com, near the historic center. Our driver, David, didn’t speak much English, but he was kind enough to help us locate the slightly hidden apartment, and he waited with us until our host came out to greet us. So, we took his number to use for future transportation needs while in Cusco and this turned out to be a great help!
Our hosts, Fernando and his girlfriend, Ingrid, showed us around the two bedroom, third-floor apartment. It was very comfortable and cozy with a lovely view of the city, and it was a great deal at about $35/night.
Once we were alone and safely settled into the apartment, we were finally able to let go of some of our stress and plan our next steps. There was still a lot of anxiety around replacing our passports, accessing funds, and completing our travels. But, with a place to stay and contact information for the U.S. Consulate in Cusco, we felt better equipped to handle the situation.
Our stay in Cusco was really lovely because we spent a lot of time relaxing in the apartment and walking around the city. We couldn’t venture too far or make too many plans until our passport situation was resolved, so our visit turned into some forced down time, which was fine. We had long enough in the area that we experienced the pleasure of developing certain homey routines, such as dropping off our laundry at the place down the street, taking the trash out to the corner each night, shopping at the market around the corner, enjoying pizza for dinner from the wonderful family trattoria down the block, getting fresh churros from the competing cafes on Plaza San Francisco, and exploring San Pedro Market. I love that we had time in Cusco to find favorite spots, build memories, and make friends.
A few special adventures included a Peruvian cooking class for Jon and Daisy, a truffle-making workshop for the whole family at ChocoMuseo, and a scenic day trip out to the Maras salt pools and the Moray agricultural site (which we didn’t actually get to see because, apparently, admission has gone from 10 soles to 130 soles per person in the last couple of years).
Of course, once we had completed our applications for new passports Tuesday morning, and had received a helpful wire transfer from some very supportive friends, we were able to focus on making the journey to Machu Picchu!
With access to funds (which we’d lost with our debit cards and credit card), and nothing to do but wait for our passports to arrive, we could look forward to completing our journey as originally planned. We had reserved one night at a hostel in Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu and, on Tuesday, we were finally able to purchase our train tickets to get there. Early Wednesday morning, David drove us to the train station where we boarded a bus to Ollayantambo, where we switched to a train that took us on a scenic ride through the Andes to the town of Aguas Calientes. There, around noon, our host from Qhaqya met us at the station to walk us through the town to the hostel, where we had reserved a family room.
Aguas Calientes is a walking town; the only vehicles allowed are the buses that shuttle visitors to Machu Picchu every hour. So, after settling into our room, we took a walk around the small town to explore. When we learned that the thermal pools were open until evening, we bought tickets and headed back through town to our room in order to change. We spent a lovely late afternoon at the hot springs, enjoying the thermal waters and poolside drinks.
After showering back in our room, we went out for dinner. We tried to find something delicious but ended up spending way too much money on a horrible dinner. It was a reminder of my rule to avoid eating at restaurants that offer cuisine from too many different regions. If pancakes, burgers, Italian food, traditional dishes, and Mexican food are all on the same menu, it’s likely that none of it will be good! That was certainly the case at this restaurant. At least the second-story view of the Plaza de Armas was lovely, but that’s pretty much all this place had to recommend it.
We tried to get to bed early because we had 8:00 a.m. tickets for the shuttle to Machu Picchu and everyone recommended getting in line at least one hour early. Breakfast was offered at our lodging, so we set our alarms for 5:45, and packed up our belongings. Early Thursday morning, we stashed our bag at the front desk, had some breakfast, and headed out into the rain for our day at Machu Picchu!
At the shuttle stop, we immediately decided that there was no way we would join the fools standing in a long line in the rain. Our rain jackets had been stolen with our backpack in Puno, so we bought 50 cent ponchos and a $1 umbrella. Still, we decided to enter a cafe right next to the line, order some mochas, and sit down on the warm, dry sofas until people started actually boarding the shuttles.
We weren’t sure what to expect from Machu Picchu in the rain. We could barely see out the windows as the shuttle wound it’s way up the hillside. Then, when we got to the top, it was another chaotic, wet line just to get in. However, once we were in and on the path, the rain lightened and it felt amazing to be there. Then, we got to the first view point and tears came to my eyes. It was amazing- as beautiful, majestic, and awe-inspiring as I’d always imagined it to be!
We spent about three hours exploring the site, and we probably could have easily spent twice as long. Despite the persistent drizzle, it was a beautiful morning. When we took the shuttle back down to town, it was with a sense of amazement at what we had seen and experienced.
Back in town, we had a couple hours until our train departure. We found a lovely cafe around the corner from our hostel. At Tao, we enjoyed burgers and limonadas as well as some gelato for dessert. After picking up our bag, we were off to the train station. The train ride back to Ollayantambo was gorgeous, and the evening bus ride into Cusco was long and tiring. We caught a cab back to our apartment and happily ordered pizza from Trattoria Allin, the place around the corner that had quickly become one of our favorite spots for dinner.
Our passports did not arrive on Friday, as we’d hoped, but we were assured that they would be arriving on Monday. We got a little anxious because our flight out of Cusco was supposed to be on Tuesday. Fortunately, we enjoyed our weekend and then got word, on Monday afternoon, that our passports had arrived and we could pick them up. By Tuesday morning, we were able to say goodbye to our lovely little apartment in Cusco. We hopped into David’s taxi ready for our next adventure, but with a little sadness in our hearts to be leaving such an amazing city.