Genial- pronounced "heny-al" means awesome, or brilliant. When I lived in Northern Peru, I really wanted to travel south to Machu Picchu, but didn't have the funds to do so. It was at least a 2 day bus ride from where I lived, and Northern roads in Peru leave a lot to be desired. I generally spent bus rides up-chucking (much to the dismay of fellow passengers) no matter how much gravol I ingested.
I was constantly ensured that a trip down south and back would cost at least 1500 American dollars per person. Maybe 3 grand doesn't sound like a lot to you, but it takes a while to make that sort of money down there and we were a bit daunted by the number. However, not being the kind of people to back down from a challenge, we decided to give it a go once we'd saved up a grand.
The problem is, a lot of people try to reach a destination the conventional way, or in relative luxuary. We were able to arrive in one piece by taking cheap, local busses all the way to Cusco. I recommened traveling with someone you love as they make great pillows. The best thing about traveling at night is that you can (try to) sleep on the bus, and then you don't incur the cost of a hostal. Once we arrived at the bus terminal in Cusco, we immediately found accomodation for $5 / night. There was no hot water though, and Cusco was freezing. One really wants a shower after traveling for days in a bus. I'm sure the receptionist thought somebody was being murdered, but at least I kind of had a shower- you know the sort- dip your feet in first, scream and retract, one shoulder in- scream- retract, bend over backwards so that you are washing your hair without water actually touching the rest of your body...you become regular gymnast in there. The second night we switched to another hostal but it stank like feces, it was actually hard to sleep beacuse it stank so bad. Nothing was dieing in our room, believe me, the first thing I do is check for bodies under the bed. Dramatic, I know. Thanks, Hollywood.
So, I can assure you, there are lots of hostals where you can stay for less that $10 a night. They aren't beautiful, but hey, you get what you pay for. We weren't anywhere near the tourist part of the city. If you want to stay there, you're going to be paying the same as you would in the U.S. or Canada. I'm sure we stayed where locals would stay, which suits me just fine! Didn't see another tourist in the whole establishment! :) We even left our bags there while we went off on our excursion to Macchu Picchu. Nobody stole them. Tipped the receptionist a few bucks upon return. Everyone was happy!
We found a local combi (that's like a van) to take us to Urubamba, and from there we found a bus to Ollantaytambo. On the bus we made friends with the only other person who wasn't a local- an Argentinean guy (hereafter N). Every Argentinean we have ever met has been awesome, seriously, they are the nicest people- always off on a backpacking adventure around South America and with a thousand interesting tales. He told us he was planning on walking from the village at K.M. 82- something we weren't aware was possible. We'd been planning on seeing if we could catch the train from Ollantaytambo, where we had heard it was a lot cheaper than if one tried to go from Cusco. (Upon arrival we found out it would only be cheaper for my Peruvian boyfriend, as foreign people weren't allowed to take local trains, so we'd have to travel seperately. Yeah, no thanks). I was a tad skeptical because it would be a 30 k.m. hike from kilometre 82 to Macchu Picchu pueblo and it was already 2p.m.- we'd be hiking in the dark. I asked N if he had a flashlight, to which he replied no. I wondered how he planned hiking down the train track in the dark. Luckily I had the light on my camara and boyfriend and I both had lanterns on our cells. We decided to go with him, and stocked up on fruit and carbs at the local market before taking a local combi to the village. The guy in the combi laughed at us, and said we'd never make it- it was too late in the day.
Here comes the train!
The first 3 hours of walking were, quite simply, genial. The views were breathtaking. The fact that we saved more than $200 by not taking the train was also pretty great, even though I'm quite sure it's frowned upon to walk down the tracks to arrive to the town. However, we do contribute to the local economy by always buying local food and staying at local hostals rather than foreign chains so I didn't feel too bad about it (also, I later found out that the train company is owned by Chile, so the money isn't staying in Peru anyway). We were able to go at our own pace and stop to take photos whenever we wanted to. It was so serene. We were the only ones out there. The local cow trail path took us above the train tracks, so we were safe.
It wasn't until it got dark that we decided to go down to the tracks so as not to get lost. The tracks are quite hard to walk on as there are lots of rocks. At first I lead the group, but then I asked one of the guys to lead, being that I couldn't see too well and I knew I was slowing them down while trying to get my footing- did I mention that the train tracks go all over the mountains, so some parts are a tad dangerous. The problem was, once I was at the back I was responsible for listening for trains. One I got a bit late and we had to jump off quickly and push ourselves as close to the mountain as possible. The train was no more than a foot away. It was kind of a surreal moment though- peaceful and scary at the same time. The men decided I'd be less of a liability in the middle, and that was good because I didn't lag behind and I just had to watch the feet of the guy in front of me. It was really tiring, but the sky was beautiful. There were a million stars, and fireflies danced around us. Nature sang and it was so calming. It took us 8 and a half hours to arrive at the village, and we were totally knackered. However, we were like best friends for having shared the experience and I don't regret a minute of it, even when I had to peel off my socks and saw the state of my feet. Even when I couldn't sleep because every muscle in my body ached. The experience was even better than seeing Machu Picchu the next day/ The whole trip for less than $400-- that's how struggling students travel!
Genial! We made it! :)