The plan seemed simple enough. Take a taxi from Cusco, Peru to the ruins at Pisac, spend some time checking them out, then catch another taxi from Pisac to Urubamba to catch the 7:15 PM train to Aguas Calientes, the town at Machu Picchu for my two day stay. Train tickets in hand, I left my hotel in Cusco, storing my big bags there for a few days until my return from Machu Picchu as is normally done.
The hotel, Los Marqueses, is a wonderful choice in Cusco, offering a deluxe room with marble bath, big tub, big room for about $100. a night. I was also looking forward to returning to that tub after my three day adventure to the mystical city of Machu Picchu.
Pisac, an Inka (in Peru they use Inka not Inca) market town and archaeological site, is about 30 minutes from Cusco, at the entrance to the famed Sacred Valley of the Inkas. There is a large and colorful tourist and local market each Sunday, you can read about it in all the guidebooks. I’m not a big fan of that stuff, but I was excited to check out the ancient Inka fortress and buildings that are up in the the hills overlooking the town.
Getting there was easy. I had a backpack and after walking from the hotel for about 20 minutes trying to find the bus stop area, I had a revelation and decided to not waste any more time and energy walking to and trying to find the bus station, I would pay what I knew to be a $30+/- taxi fare, instead of the $5.00 bus fare. I hailed a few cabs and found one to agree to that price.
Again, getting there was easy. The drive from Cusco to Pisac is amazing, past ancient shrines and monuments, and through beautiful hills and valleys, some tiny towns but all rural. I speak Spanish and the driver pointed out many things along the way, which I photographed and videotaped.
When we arrived at the town, he dropped me off, even though I wanted to be taken up the hill to the ruins. I guess the Cusco cabs aren’t welcome to do that, you need to walk up the hill or catch a local cab for $5.00. I knew about the $5.00 fare from reading guidebooks, they said don’t pay more, even though they will try to charge more. It took 2 cabs to get one to say OK. The cab drove me from the small town, up the winding road, along hillsides terraced the Inkas to the entrance to the ruins, where they had a guard shack. I already had my $40. multi-site tourist pass, good and necessary for all the various ruins around Cusco. They stamped it and let us pass. Here’s where I got duped. The cab dropped me off in a parking area, filled with cabs waiting. At least 20. The taxi didn’t tell me anything or ask if I wanted him to wait, he just left. I assumed it would be easy to simply catch one of these waiting cabs when I was finished exploring, for the $30. cab ride to my 7:15 pm train that night. This was about 3 PM.
So feeling confident in the transportation, I spent a few leisurely hours exploring the ruins, pretty much completely alone, which was amazing. About 5:30, i began to return to the parking area, expecting to easily find a taxi to get me to my train. I was quite shocked to see now only about 5 taxis, as all the other ones had been waiting for passengers who paid them to wait while they explored the ruins. And the 5 remaining were all waiting for their own passengers. Meaning i was out of luck. Now there were cabs in the town below, but this was a 2 mile walk down the hillside, which I now did not even have time to do. I tried to get one of the waiting cabs to simply bring me down the hill, and return for their fare, but none would. I even offered $50, just for this, as I would be missing my train to Machu Picchu and really screwing things up.
At thing point you either panic or relax and think positive. I did the latter. In my bad Spanish I explained my plight to several of the drivers. One finally said, I could wait until his French passengers returned, then if it was OK, he would drop me off. After talking more, we discovered his passengers were also going to Urubamba, the town right before my destination.
So here I was, stranded on the mountain, possibly risking the loss of my Machu Picchu trip, the whole reason I went to Peru. To add to the drama, other people returned from the ruins one by one, as the sun went down and the deadline for my train approached. I kid you not, the people we were waiting for were the very last ones, meaning there was no second chance, if they said no, I was screwed.
Finally, with minutes to spare, in terms of the time it would take to drive to their hotel and then onward to my train at Ollantaytambo. We saw them on the winding path leading back to the parking area. They arrived and fortunately they were great!!! A Belgian couple, they were headed to a nice hotel in Urubamba, the town right before my town to catch the train. In fact, they were so nice, they said, hey we already paid this guy a lot to take us, you shouldn’t have to pay anything, just a tip. I appreciated it but the $30., i agreed to pay him while waiting for them, was now a bargain. Keeping my composure, I relaxed as we loaded up the taxi and started the drive.
We left Pisac at 6:30 PM, arrived at their hotel in Urubamba at 7 and with my heart racing, arrived at the train station at Ollantaytmabo about 7:10, walked, not ran to the gate, gave my ticket, got on the train, sat down, they closed the doors and left the station.
Again, sometimes you just have to relax and enjoy the scenery.