After a few days in Cuzco, we (me and the Polish I’d previously met in Guayaquil, Ecuador – readthis) decided to finally leave town, on the way to Machu Picchu.
March 19th. Got up around 5:30 am in order to meet them and go to the bus terminal from which buses to Santa María – our first checkpoint – usually leave (it’s not the main Cusco terminal). I had arranged with César (at the Huiñariy hostel, read here) to leave the backpack and most of my stuff there, since I’d be coming back. The bus to Santa María would leave early in the morning. Can’t really remember who, but someone had told me that it would be quite early. For what I recall, it actually leaves around 8am. Well that gave us enough time for breakfast, some food supplies and observing the people.
When we eventually left Cusco, everything seemed to be fine. We got to Ollantaytambo and suddenly there were news of a landslide some kilometres ahead. The bus kept going because there wasn’t much information. However, after more driving the bus stopped, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by moutains with a view to a valley on our left. There was a vote whether to go back to Cusco or not, and the majority (locals) didn’t want trouble so the bus turned back. After much discussion, we (Polish, me and four Argentinians) got out of the bus, which left. Suddenly there comes this pickup truck, most of us put our thumbs up and they stopped. We had a ride for the eight of us! The land had apparently slided when this truck was passing by, and it seemed the poor driver had been killed. These two guys were from that company and were about to face the sad task of confirming this.
Several miles further on up the road we got to the landslide. Tourist guides were helping foreigners across the very slippery grounds. This Peruvian truck driver told me that besides the deceased truck driver, it seemed a local had already fallen that afternoon also. I don’t know if any of this is true, but we figured out another way out of it: there were four other guides with machetes who were about to go up the mountain, and go around the landslide, which would take some time – but it did seem safer, at least, we all agreed on that. Well, it wasn’t. Long story short, I’d say in 2 hours we were already back on the road, the other side of the landslide. Completely dirty and smiley. Now there were no vehicles and we didn’t quite know how much would it take us to get to Santa María. Oh!, almost forgot – never came to figure out if this was also true or not, but there was in fact police on this side of the landslide, and rumour has it that they were ordering everyone climbing the landslide to turn back again because they weren’t allowed to do that.
We walked for some time, until we arrived at a small village by the side of the road. Several truck drivers were parked and seemed to be waiting, as if they knew we’d need a ride. As in business opportunity, of course. We waited a bit for more travelers and managed to get a group of people on top of an oil truck or something. The driver only accepted until he was offered 10 soles per person. After he told everyone that Santa María was 60 kilometres away, we agreed. Even walking we’d take a long time; and it would be really cold and rainy during the night, and without any camping equipment we had no choice. We climbed aboard the truck and off we went.
Night time. After a long drive (the guy did have a point – it was still a long way). We arrived to Santa María. There were the combi drivers waiting. We bargained starting on 10 soles a person, and we closed the deal on 7 soles (I’d say you can probably get it cheaper but it was night and everybody wanted to move on!). It took more or less two more hours up the mountain until we got to the “hidroeléctrica” and Santa Teresa. Three Argentinians decided to spend the night in town, resting. Me, the Polish and the other Argentine figured out the other way around: since we’d been through the whole thing up to that point, we would only stop to rest at our final destination. We asked the combi driver to leave us by the train tracks so we could start walking towards Aguas Calientes…
… we just weren’t expecting good old Mother Nature to come and greet us again.
Click here for part 2.
RESUMING (and with no landslides involved!):
1) Get the bus from Cusco to Santa María (max. 10-15 soles).
2) Once there, get a combi to Santa Teresa (a.k.a. “hidroeléctrica“, 7 soles maybe less), which will take 2 hours (by night, anyway).
3) In Santa Teresa the combi can leave you in town or drive you to the “vía” (railtracks); you should specify that to the driver.