Cusco, Peru is a beautiful city in its own right, but it is probably mostly known for the fact that it is generally the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. At least, that is why I put it on my itinerary. The day after I arrived, I visited the travel office adjacent to my hotel to inquire about getting train tickets to this archeological wonder. The young lady behind the desk was a pretty, petite girl with a caramel-colored complexion and a mischievous smile. For the purposes of this narrative (and because I’m a fan of irony), we’ll call her “Serena.”
Serena informed me that there was a transit strike and tickets were increasingly hard to come by. Also, the fact that I wanted to go the following day would present another problem, but she said she would try her best to arrange something. I received a message from her later that night stating that she had waited in line at the train station and was able to arrange transportation to the site, but, she apologized, it would be a rather convoluted route.
I was picked up outside my hotel at 3:30 am by a taxi that took me to a bus, which took me to a train station where I boarded a train to the town of Aguas Calientes, near to the base of Machu Picchu. There, after waiting in a line that would put Space Mountain to shame, I boarded one final bus that followed a series of steep switchbacks the final few miles to the ruins.
The ruins are as spectacular as one might imagine. Possibly built as an estate for the Inca Emporer Pachacuti in the 15th century, it was later abandoned. Now the site draws hundreds of thousands of tourists a year who want to experience the incredible terraces, structures and stunning vistas high above the Sacred Valley and the Urubamba River. Despite the drizzle when I visited, it was amazing. After wandering the ruins for several hours, I found that the line for the buses down was just as long as for the buses up, so walked down the mountain back to Aguas Calientes. There I repeated the transport process in reverse, finally arriving at my hotel at 2:00 am. Everything went without a hitch, however, with the appropriate people waiting at each step with signs bearing my name.
Late the following morning I went next door to the tour office to thank Serena for her major role in my experience of the majesty of Machu Picchu. We chatted in the office for a while, which led to a two-hour lunch on the Plaza de Armas. She spoke Spanish, English and German with ease and we talked about our shared tastes in music, food and wine, and a shared love of travel. I met her again for dinner after work. We spent as much time as possible together over the next few days, wandering the city, sitting in the park watching fireworks illuminate the façade of the Cusco Cathedral, drinking Peruvian Viña Malbec on café terraces overlooking the cobblestone streets of the city, and generally enjoying each other’s company.
This budding romance was not destined to last, however. The problem wasn’t the geographical distances that separate us. It was more of an incompatibility issue. I don’t mean that in the, “I’m a Sagittarius, she’s a Virgo” kind of a way. It was more of the, “I’m a Sagittarius and she’s a potentially dangerous lunatic” sort of a way.
This is not the proper forum for an account of the events and circumstances leading up to an unprecedented and histrionic meltdown, the likes of which I’ve never seen. Those are details best left for the book. I will say, however, that my departure from Cusco felt more like a hastily planned and executed escape. I can also say that the grizzly bear that came rushing across the tundra towards me in the Arctic is no longer the most unpredictable creature I’ve met during the journey.
At any rate, I need to get back to focusing on the task at hand, which is completing the final stretch of the journey. At this point, I’m about cathedralled out and am looking forward to spending some time in the regions I’ve been dreaming about since the inception of this ride; the Uyuni Salt Flats, Atacama Desert, Patagonia…