As the train pulled out of the station I began to forward all thoughts to what lay ahead. Aguas Caliente had been resigned to nothing but pictures and memories whilst Ollantaytambo drew nearer and nearer. I was finally backtracking, looping back the way to which I came. I had reached my limit for how far west I could go. That’s not to say it was going to be a straightforward journey back to Potosi however, far from it.
The following morning in the picturesque Ollantaytambo I decided to set off on a random walk. If mapping out my every step using my phone’s GPS can be classified as random that is. To be fair I still didn’t know where exactly I was going or where I was going to end up. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t on course to enter into someone’s back garden or something. As it turned out, stepping off the tarmac and on to what took the appearance of some sort of dirt track proved a good move. After leaping a small stream then wading through somebodies field whilst exchanging good mornings with some of the local cows, I scaled a stone wall which brought me to some Incan ruins on the other side. A small band of tourists, fresh on the scene, were listening attentively to their tour guide as I appeared from over the wall. Some didn’t notice me, some did, and it wasn’t long before I was being asked for my photo, I had stumbled into local celebrity stardom, oddly. Now I don’t have a problem with this generally, it has, in fact, happened to me before when I was in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Some people just don’t see that many white guys, let alone ones that approach them from beyond the wilderness like Bigfoot. If you had never seen a particular ethnic race in your entire life, I guess at least a little part of you would be itching to reach for the camera. It’s a strange one, but then so is human behaviour at times. Curious but strange.
After I had finished the unscheduled photo-shoot, it was time to get back to exploring. Moving on from the ruins I soon found myself standing at the foot of yet more ruins. Towering above the previous ruins, and indeed all of Ollantaytambo, it was certainly an impressive sight, and climbing them was no mean feat. I steadied my hat in the midst of a strong wind that had blustered it’s way out of nowhere, threw back some water to quench my thirst then began to climb. As my legs took me up the steps my mind instantly took me back to Machu Picchu and that blasted mountain. Even after a good rest it only took a couple of steps for me to become weary again. Earlier in the day I had clocked an inviting looking hammock in the utopia like garden that my hostel stood proudly alongside, oh how I wish I was in that hammock now, resting, recharging, sunning myself with just me and my Jack Reacher novel, but what would Reacher do if he were in my tired shoes? Probably not go looking at ruins I guess, but only because he is always swept up in some local murder or worse still, a national emergency. Oh how I hate Tom Cruise for casting himself as Reacher. What a tool! That almost ruined the entire series for me, but thankfully the real image of the 6’5” 250 pound Reacher has clung on to the inside of my head with both hands. You’d struggle to punch a hobbit Cruise, so awa’ an boil yer pint sized heid!
Anyway, as I digress in this blog, I am currently climbing up another sordid mountain. The view was a handsome one as is every view in Peru. Ollantaytambo, which I thought to be quite large, looked remarkably small. Surrounding the main square, which stood out in the centre of town was a mere scattering of buildings, with more ancient ruins carved into the mountains on the far side. Beautiful, if not surprising. I then noticed more ruins far below to my right. Having approached from the left it wasn’t until I had reached anything resembling altitude that they became apparent. I scanned all that lay below me, mapping my next route in my head just like Reacher would, and set off back down the steps. To my even bigger surprise however, a smallish box like building lay waiting for me near the bottom. As I passed by I read the sign nailed to the side. Entrance fees were listed in both Spanish and English. This little box was in fact a small ticket booth, and as I had climbed in via some random field towards the rear of the entire site, I guess I had just got in for free. “Whoops!” Best not hang about near the box then. “Oh look, more ruins, think I’ll go look at them, out of sight.”
After leaving my unintentionally free stroll around some especially cool Incan ruins, I headed for lunch. Now before arriving in Peru, in fact before leaving Potosi, I had found out that somewhere in Ollantaytambo stood a wee cafe that ran as a charity for the benefit of some of the local inhabitants that lived here. It’s name, ‘Hearts Cafe’. Now being the obvious Jambo (and charitable chap) that I am, there was utterly no contest on where I was going to be eating my lunch. Furthermore, it was, fortunately for me, sheer luck that I found this place. If truth be told I had actually clean forgotten that it even existed. What I shall never forget though will be the price for the 3 course meal that I had there. 20 Sol it cost me. 20 Sol!!! That’s £4.25! The food however? A lovely traditional soup, a fantastic chicken main and a chocolate brownie which to be honest, was a bit crap. Oh but I did also get a lemonade as well. Score! Even the large table of noisy Americans who insisted on ordering every western type food on the menu whilst making little or no attempt to speak Spanish didn’t bug me (too much). To get away from such tourists, I would unfortunately need to get away from Ollantaytambo, which I had actually began to love a little, and with my brief passing through Cusco, I arrived back at the familiarly ugly yet pleasantly friendly city of Puno, where I quickly learned that all buses crossing the border into Bolivia were fully booked. Great!
A trip in person to the bus station proved fruitless. After asking at every single ticket kiosk in the entire station I was left with only one option, and that was to try my luck at the smaller and to be honest, far less appealing station for my departure. Spurred on by the unwelcome thought of spending another night in Puno, I hopped onto a sort of half motorbike, half wheelbarrow. The kind of mini taxi hybrid only the geniuses of ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ or the insanity of a ‘Top Gear’ challenge would dare come up with. A fraction of the cost compared to the proper buses later and I was in a small town not too far from the Bolivian border. To this day I still have no idea what the town was called but the local school children did take an exceptional delight in saying hello to me. I was in a non-touristy place that’s for sure! A small wander around brought me to the central plaza. Here, a rather intriguing set of human and animal like bushes, carved out by Edward Scissorhands himself no doubt, were proudly on display. It made for an alternative plaza compared to the usual church and a few fancy buildings scattered about that I had so far become accustomed to. Upon finding more hybrid means of travel I quickly found myself at the border. Being a bit more hassle and definitely a bit less comfortable, there remained, strangely, an overriding sense of achievement in reaching the border in such a manner, for I had truly travelled like a local to reach this point. No tourist buses or even the ‘normal’ buses that so often cater for tourists anyway, it was great to be there having managed it all on my own. True backpacking style.
Oh, and do you remember when I mentioned the problems of the Bolivian border in a previous post? Those problems, it seemed, were not quite over…