It's a creekmore world

Peru Day 3 – Sacred Horseback Riding

Family shot.  Thank you Juan!


In the early morning dark, I can find my clothes by smell.  They are the same ones I wore yesterday and the day before.  Maybe my bag will come today.

The hotel has internet access, so I check online for my bag status.  It says ‘delivered’.  Lol.  I need coffee before I can deal with baggage customer dis-service.


The ancient streets of Ollantaytambo have the same layout and running water systems from hundreds of years ago.
Outside, the narrow cobblestone streets of Ollantaytambo shine with moonlight.  It’s 5am.  There are a few people here and there delivering goods or going to work.  None of the cafes seem open on the main square but a mile away at the train station, I find a restaurant that will serve me coffee.

Today, Ollantaytambo is best known for it’s train station, which is the closest by bus to Cusco and by train to Machu Picchu.  The most common way to get to Machu Picchu is to ride cheap surface transport here and then take the train.

Centuries ago, Ollantaytambo was the site of one of the few Inca victories over the Spanish, and is still considered one of the best ruins.  We’ll go there in a few days I think.  It also has a real backpacker feel, and there are lots of bike and horesback tours around.

My psychological baggage

Ollantaytambo ruins and main street.  Our hotel, KB tambo is on the right.
I try again for my bags, and connect with the US.  I’m using skype, which is at least cheap.  I fortunately put my computer power adapter in with my hand luggage, and I always carry a small headset.  Skype was critical to us in Mexico when my wallet was stolen.  It’s so much easier to find internet access than it is to deal with expensive phone calls and local mobile networks.

American Airlines people feel sorry for me, but they don’t have much that they can do.  They call the Lima airport and again get various answers.  The biggest problem is that my bags are shown as ‘delivered’ in their systems.  So it’s difficult to get someone locally to take it seriously.  But it’s also frustrating that they can’t (or won’t) give me the name of the local delivery company so I can call them to find my bag.

Ruins off Ollantaytambo
For the first time I consider what I would do without my luggage.  Yes, it sucks to be in the same clothes, but I can buy new ones even if they are crappy. (Although socks are underwear are very had to find in a backpacker town.  I don’t want alpaca wool tightie – whities)  I don’t have a warm jacket, which is a drag.

The biggest losses are the equipment.  I put the charger and the camera data cord in my bags, without which we can only take photos with our phones.  It’s crushing to think that we would lose an entire trip of photos because of the airline mistake.   I blame myself for bad packing, even though it could have been a thousand times worse if I had left medicine, paperwork or proper footwear in that bag.

Your bags are your home when you travel.  It doesn’t even matter what I lost, I feel exposed.

Juan teaches Lily to ride.

Horseback Riding in the Sacred Valley

The sacred Valley is at about 7,000 feet, and altitude sickness or fatigue is a real issue for travellers.  It affects everyone differently and can kick-in with only a few thousand feet change. A horseback ride is the perfect thing to start with on our 5 days of Sacred Valley fun.  Our horseback tour today goes up the Patacancha valley to the Pumamarka ruins for a three hour tour.   (…a three hour tour!)

They are getting our horses ready for the trek.
The horses are smallish, but that’s fine. We don’t want to go fast and it helps Lily adjust.  It’s her first time and she cries hystericaly when the horse moves.   Juan, our guide, leads her horse on foot for the first part of the trip until Lily gets the hang of it.  We’re reminded of our camelback ride in the Sahara, which was a thousand times more painful on the ass.

Nothing could be more beautiful than this valley.  Trish and I said to each other multiple times that this is the most georgous place we’ve ever seen.  The red rocky sides of the canyon rise vertically up to a blue sky.  At the center is a small river, bubbling with whitewater.  Things are green and wildflowers are everywhere.  Farm animals cross our path nonchalantly; sheep, goats, pigs, cows, horses, llamas, and a million birds.

The Patacancha valley, close to our destination, the Pumamarka ruins.
We’re lucky to be here this week.  It’s that peak week in spring where everything is green and the flowers are in bloom, but the rainy season is over.  The morning mist burns off and the sun shines brightly.  Other times of year it gets yellow.

The Pumamarka ruins
Our destination are ruins at the high-up at the base of the little Patacancha river valley.  We hang out for 30 minutes and take in the scenery.  Trish and I keep taking the same pictures over and over with our smartphones (stupid American Airlines!), because we want to capture the sensation of being there. But pictures can’t tell the story.

Lily has a little trouble controlling her horse, but does great for her first time.

On the way back, Lily gets so comfortable she starts to sing Baby Monkey Riding Backwards on a Pig, over and over at full volume.

I look down at my arm and it’s bright red from sunburn!  WTF?  I never burn, and I typically wear high SPF sunscreen.  I didn’t today, but still, I’ve only been in direct sunlight for an hour at most.  It’s chilly enough that I wore my jacket for most of the ride.

We cross farm animals everywhere, sheep, pigs, cows, horses, goats, dogs and chickens.
My face, neck and right arm are burnt pretty badly.  Trish got some too even though she put on sunscreen.  We both feel really dumb. Avoiding sunburn is like Beginner travel, and we consider ourselves experts.  Maybe the year off put us out of practice.

Sun is stronger at high altitude.  We knew that.  No excuses.   (Later, over Dinner, I realize it’s a new medication that I”m on which lists as it’s side effects ‘increased sensitivity to the sun.’  I’ve never burned like this in my life!)

The flowers were in bloom everywhere

They have located my bags!

Back at the hotel, I get someone from American to tell me that she thinks they have located my bag, but I should call back in 2 hours to work out the delivery.  Hooray!  I might get fresh underwear soon.

Unfortunately, we are headed deeper in the Urubamba valley tonight for the signature event of Peru: Machu Picchu.  As always, when you shift hotels, you don’t know if you can get an adequate connection to make the skype call.  But I tell her I’ll call back in two hours after our train ride into Aquas Callientes.

To Aquas Callientes and Machu Picchu

Horesback riding is done.  We head to Aguas Callientes.
Machu Picchu is neither easy to arrange, nor cheap.   At a minimum, you will need round trip train tickets on the monopolistic Perurail train, bus tickets to the ruins from Aquas Callientes, and entrance tickets – at least $120 per person total.

But most likely, you’ll also stay a night in the tourist trap, Aguas Callientes (which they are unsuccessfully trying to rename Machu Picchu Pueblo,) eat an overpriced dinner, lunch at the ruins.  And that’s not counting a guide if you want one (we didn’t) or other services.

You MUST get your peru rail tickets far in advance in and out of Aguas Callientes.  If you walk up, you will wait at least 2 days unless you are extremely lucky. Several backpackers in our hotel in Ollantaytambo were dissapointedly waiting an extra day or two because they hadn’t gotten the tickets.

Unusual trees for a train station.
It means you are locked into your Machu Picchu plans.  If you want to stay an extra day because the wewather is bad, tough.  If you need to postpone a day because you lost luggage or are sick, tough.  You will go to Machu Picchu when you reserved!

Since guests are so locked into their schedules, tourists are hostage to whatever aquas callentes offers, which isn’t much.  ALthough it’s lively enough, there are hawkers and loud restaurants serving bad, expensive food.  (There is one upscale place to dine and stay, but it’s not mid-ranged in price.)

I havn’t made reservations for a hotel, because the advance booking was exorbitantly expensive.  I guessed correctly that we can get a cheaper rate on site.  And we do, at Gringo Bill’s, a Lonley Planet Editor’s pick for AC.  We get a great, last minute rate of $70 for a quad room.

Tomorrow will be better.

The girls by the Urubamba river at the Train Station
And they have internet!  I connect with skype and go through the worst of my baggage customer dis-service experience.  The first woman gets angry with me and doesn’t believe that I don’t have my bags.  I ask for the supervisor and she hangs up.  The second person is actually a frequent flyer miles representative that is ‘helping’ the baggage claim people and really can’t do anything at all.

Finally, Tom gets on, and is helpful.  But there is no new news as was promised.  In fact, there is no record of my earlier call where they said they had tracked my bag.  He can only suggest that I call back again in the morning when the Lima people get back to work.  That won’t happen becuase we’ll be at Machu Picchu.

Another two days without bags.  And we have to shoot Machu Picchu’s glory with smartphones.  To add insult to injury, the restaurant we pick for dinner is horrible.  Trish and the girls try to cheer me up.  I need it.

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