- 9 September 2001
Woke early to make the 6 a.m. train to Machu Picchu, which turned out to be a delightful, relaxing train ride through villages nestled along the Andes. At certain times while descending or climbing a mountain, the train passed a point intentionally and then reversed in order to meet up with another set of tracks – zigzagging, as Jim calls it. The conductor leads the train on a 100-year-old track, which conquers high peaks by zigzagging over a smaller space instead of curving over a larger mass. Our modern “tourist” train, with every amenity – toilet, toilet paper, padded seats, a few foot rests and even a morning snack – costs more than the “Peruvian” train, which is subsidized for nationals.
After visiting the impressive Machu Picchu (see video and listen to audio for more on this), we returned to the base where the train drops off tourists for the 30-minute bus ride to the ruins. Here, oodles of stalls selling cheap tourists trinkets clutter the dirt roads. We sat in a wall-less restaurant with a cement roof and drank coca tea made from 10 coca leaves and steaming water. Mate de coca is refreshing, and, rightly or wrongly, reminds me of diluted green tea. The people of the Andes have been drinking this concoction, sometimes sweetened with sugar, for hundreds of years, and also chewing the leaves for taste and energy. Since cocaine comes from processed coca leaves, the drink isn’t easy to come by except in this part of the world, but its popularity in Bolivia and Peru has led to a booming business in coca tea bags.