Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Remembering Machu Picchu

Recently my mother came from Waco for a little Hoosier visitation. She had just returned from a cruise with my aunt down the Danube River and through Eastern Europe. My mom is a bit of a world traveler. She has been to Europe on these cruises at least twice and to England, Scotland and Ireland. She has even visited my niece who lives in Palau.

When I was taking her to the airport to return to Waco I commented on all of her “worldliness”. She marveled at how wonderful all of the places were especially Scotland and Ireland. However, she noted that the trip to Machu Picchu was the best. I found this to be very interesting.

She went to Machu Picchu in 1979 when I was living in Bolivia. I had planned quite a trip for her. We flew to Santiago, Chile took a train to Temuco in the south then a bus ride to Arrica, Chile and then flew to Arequipa, Peru and then to Cuzco. In fact the stop at Arequipa was unexpected. We had plane trouble and were forced to land.

Upon arrival in Cuzco we encountered a teachers’ strike. As we walked the streets seeing the highlights in town we were forced to take refuge in a hotel because the police were shooting water cannons at the striking teachers.

Our schedule included a train ride out to Machu Picchu and back to Cuzco. Following Machu Picchu we planned to take a train to Puno, Peru on the banks of Lake Titicaca. There we border a fifty year old steam boat and cross the lake to La Paz, staying overnight on the steam boat.

Machu Picchu was remarkable. The stone work was incredible. Large heavy perfectly shaped stones were stacked upon each other sin mortar. It was definitely one of the wonders of the world. I could understand why she thought it was one of the highlights of her travels. But it also amused me because the rest of the trip did not turn out as wonderfully.

Two days before we were scheduled to take the train to Puno to catch the steamboat that sailed only on Tuesdays there was a transportation strike in Peru. No trains were running. If we did not get to Puno we would be delayed a week in Peru which was not possible since she was to return to the States the next week. So we worried.

Eventually I decided that I would visit a travel agent to see what our options were. The official answer was –no options! I had learned that in South America in the seventies that “no options” was only an official answer. So I asked what if I really, really needed to get there and was willing to pay.

The agent explained the only way would be to find a taxi driver who was willing to break the strike. Taxi drivers at that time were real mavericks. They had to have the money to buy their own automobile and the fares they earned were all theirs, not to mention what they charged. It usually took hailing three or four taxis before you found out what a reasonable price really was. Of course this was the case for Yankees; everyone else knew what the real rate was and would not pay more.

Understanding the Maverick Cab driver as I did, I asked the agent, “Just where would I find a taxi driver who might be interested in breaking the strike?” The agent replied that the cab drivers congregated just off the plaza.

I waited until dusk and left my traveling companions in the hotel. I walked to the plaza and hit the side streets until I found a long row of taxis. I walked up to some drivers and made my inquiry with no success. I surmised that my mistake was that I was asking drivers to break the strike in front of other drivers. So I found a driver who was standing alone by his cab. I explained my situation in Spanish. He seemed agreeable after explaining that we would need to leave very early in the morning and that he could not guarantee safe passage. Oh what the hell! We were up a creek without a paddle so we started talking fare. We agreed on a price. I told him what hotel we were in and he said he would see me at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. We shook hands in the dark and bid each other “hasta luego”.

We were up and ready and waiting. He arrived and we loaded our luggage in the trunk. We were leaving Cuzco in the dark. Transportation strike my ass! I thought. Then a short distance out of town we encountered somewhat of a barricade. Lumber, garbage and glass was strewn in the street. The maverick driver weaved through the obstacle sin problema. Of course he had to repeat that maneuver a number of times until we were away from civilization and out in the campo (country).

The rest of the trip was less eventful. We did stop on the altiplano at a research site where they were cross breeding alpaca and sheep. Boy, were they funny looking beasts! White curly furred llama looking animals.

We arrived in Puno very early and wondered what we would do until time to board. The taxi driver said he had relatives in Puno and he would take us there. They were very hospitable offering us cool lemonade and tea before leaving for the steamboat.

So I wonder just what my “worldly” mother meant when she said the best of her travels was the trip to Machu Picchu.


No Americana music, theology or political blither; just a South American adventure for MJD.


Blogger gawilli said...

Thanks for sharing this part of your life with me. I sure enjoy the stories you tell.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what an adventure, you have described complete with strikes, intrigue, culture, history, and science. Life in our part of the United States seems tame compared to your South American adventures. Thank you for this most recent edition of your time in South America.

I would love to see Machu Picchu and the funny white curly furred llama looking animals.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story, such an adventure… Teacher strikes were settled with water cannons? That must indicate very oppressed working conditions. Wow, the class sizes must be in the 50s.

However, the cab driver part of the journey shows that even within that social context, the person-to-person dealings are key. Perhaps, the reason your mother liked the trip to South America the best was that she saw her son work-out a person-to-person solution to a problem within a rough social setting. This must bring joy to a mother’s heart.

8:29 PM  

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