Day One, Cuzco to Santa Maria
There is something about witnessing a city before it awakes. It’s as if you were allowed into someone’s home, and saw them the way they act when alone. And Cuzco was no different that morning, as we set off for the bus terminal where we hoped to find a ride to the village of Pisac.
Walking by an ancient wall, set in place centuries ago by the hands of some long-forgotten Inca labourer, I linger momentarily to snap a photo and suddenly it occurs to me that very wall must have watched countless generations pass by it without a care. So, who is truly watching who here?
The fairly well-maintained Inca citadel near Pisac is fascinating and crowded, but we climb higher and higher within its labyrinth of ruins, until there is no one but us around and then we too separate until we have each found our own corner of solitude. Back at Pisac, we stop for lunch and I order a plate of chicken and rice and proceed to enjoy it thoroughly too. We caught a local bus to Urubamba and then hop on a collectivo to Ollantaytambo where I close my eyes and decide to take a cheeky nap.
“The road into town the closed. He says we must get off here.” I hear Mikel say to Danni in my delirium. I force open my sleep-laden eyelids and yell across the aisle at Nick asking him if we are already in Ollantaytambo? He isn’t sure and tries asking the woman next to him where we are in his patched up Spanish but soon gets lost in her rapid-fire Spanish.
But then we see everyone on the minibus begin to indicate to us that this is our stop and we grab our backpacks and follow the others off the bus.
“What happened Mikel?”
“Why did they drop us off here?”
“I think the road into town is closed.”
“Ah, really? for fuck’s sake.”
We sit on our backpacks on the outskirts of town waiting for a ride to Santa Maria, our final destination for the day, and watch tour-bus after tour-bus pass us by, their old, well-manicured passengers waving at us heartily yet none of them stops to offer us a ride even though most are half empty.
When a derelict bus eventually does appear in the distance we know it’s our kind of ride. The bus is so packed we have no choice but to squatter down on the bus aisle where some guy’s shoes are touching my back.
I detect a peculiar, sour odour down here like chicken soup or old vomit but it’s too dark and I’m too tired to contemplate the smell for too long. But then I feel the stench becoming unbearable and I know something wasn’t right because it’s not like it’s my first time squatting on a bus aisle surrounded by feet.
And then it hits me like a sledgehammer; I’m going to be sick. Another hairpin-turn in the road and I know for certain that the chicken I had for lunch would soon make a glorious reappearance.
Overcome with nausea, I spring up to my feet and hang my head out the window of the bus like cattle and discharge a torrent of half-digested chicken and rice, and as the frigid mountain wind slaps me across the face, it suddenly occurs to me that I would give anything right now to turn the clock back by only a few hours to this morning; when we were leaving Cusco and I was fit and Machu Picchu still within my grasp.
Once in Santa Maria, we check into a surprisingly affordable hotel and make our way to one of the two restaurants in town, where I have a sad plate of plain rice for dinner, after which I go straight to bed, feeling shattered and miserable.