What would we do without transportation? We couldn't get anywhere without it! During our mid-year school break in July, within a 48 hour time period I learned some important lessons on transportation. Here they are!
Transportation Rule #1
If the head of one the major taxi companies in your town is organizing a strike day, you had better not try to get anywhere that day no matter what hour.
Before heading off to the states for a couple of weeks, I decided that at least one Peruvian trip was in order. So, I made plans to head off to Santa Teresa for a couple of days with my friend Luz and fellow missionaries, the Shultz family. We heard that there was a transportation strike planned for Tuesday so we planned for an early train ride (5:30 am). Usually the strikes don't start until a little bit later and we knew that we would have to leave Cusco at 3:30 am in order to get to the train station in Ollantaytambo in time. All seven of us got into the last possible station wagon taxi heading off to Ollantaytambo. Our taxi driver was speeding out of Cusco and seemingly making excellent time, passing all the other collective taxis leaving at that hour.
Everything was going fine that is until we got to a small town called Chincheros right outside of Cusco where we reached a roadblock. The striking picketers were out at 4am!! Our driver pulled over and got out. A bunch of men came over yelling at him and slashed three of the tires of the taxi. Then they proceeded to move their protest to another place and leave us stranded. For the first time in my life a strike day was not working to my favor (they usually are what we call "Peruvian snow days" - an opportunity to miss school). We were stuck there for 4 hours trying to find a tire place that was open early enough and trying to keep warm. We wrapped ourselves with our beach towels and were offered coca tea by a lady in town. By the time the sun was out two things were clear: 1) we had missed our train! 2) it was still safer to go forward than to go back to Cusco that was experiencing an apparently serious transportation strike
Transportaion Rule #2
Local trains for residents are really slow because they operate basically as the only form of transportation for some people.
The tires were somewhat repaired and even though we had to stop at every available air source, we made it to Ollantaytambo without any further trouble. At the train station we were not refunded our tickets but were told we would be allowed to ride on the 9:00 local train which usually only carried local residents. We didn't complain too much since we really only lost 3 dollars for our tickets but it didn't quite seem fair. The train ride to Aguas Calientes and then to the end of the line (where we were going) took a long time. Why? because the train had to stop every once in a while to pick up people along the way. I realized that the train was functioning like a bus because it was the only way some people who lived in the countryside could get anywhere. It would be like me having to go to school every morning in a train!! Can you imagine? But there are people who do it every day around the world!
Transportation Rule #3
Sometimes the destination is worth the transportation headaches.
After arriving at the train stop and jumping in on a tourist van ride we finally made it to Santa Teresa! After lunch at one of the few selections in the small town we settled into a small hotel (they were all small). Then we headed down to the famed hot springs. They were really the best hot springs I'd been to at that point with beautiful rocky walls surrounding and nicely landscaped grounds. There were pools of varying heats and even a cold pool where you could dip in and then jump back into the hot ones (the kids loved doing that). Despite some biting flies it was a relaxing end to a crazy day!
Transportation Rule #4
Once in a while when man-made transportation fails, you have to rely on the form of transportation that God gave all man, your legs!
The next morning we awoke groggily after a noisy night. We chose a hotel right across from the only disco bar in town and I'd say that our walls were pretty much made of cardboard. oops. At about 7:30am Ron Shultz brought us quickly to our senses by saying that we either had to leave on the train at 8am or 4:30pm and if we left later that meant we would get into Cusco at 1:00 am. A quick decision brought us to the conclusion that we were eager for the earlier option! Ron ran off to get the tickets and we quickly packed up. We he got back we jumped in a taxi and made the dash for the train stop (about a 20 min. drive). The taxi driver drove as fast as he could and we prayed that we would make it in time. We were almost there when we came across a truck trying to make a turn to get on the bridge we needed to cross. He was backing up and going forward and backing up and going forward!! What to do?! We grabbed the bags and took the form of transportation God gave us, our legs! We ran and ran and Ron made it to the train first begging them to hold it. We all tumbled into the train car seriously out of breath but we made it!
Transportation Rule #5
No matter how hard you try, sometimes transportation delays can't be avoided.
The train moved on to the next town which is Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machupicchu) and we got in line at the station to buy early train tickets to our next destination Ollyantantambo. First the man said there were no tickets for the 10:30 train and then he said there might be standing tickets for the 2:30 train. But when he went to buy them they were gone!! Gone!!! No tickets for the early trains!! All our running for naught!
Now we were stuck in Aguas Calientes until 9:30 pm. Thankfully, Luz had a connection with a local pastor who let us leave our luggage at his church. Then we headed off to take a hike up a local mountain called Putucusi which overlooks Machupicchu. We did consider going up to Machupicchu but the only one who had never seen it was Luz and only on Sundays is the entrance free for Peruvians. We took on Putucusi instead and what a hike it was! The first part was in the shade but included several series of ladders which were slightly unnerving. The youngest Shultz kids were pumped and raring to go for the first part but then we hit the non-shaded areas out in the hot sun. The rest of us pushed on and made it to the gorgeous views of the area and Machupicchu. It was a tiring hike and we felt like victorious explorers finally reaching our destination! The rest of the day was spent playing on the rocks, eating at restaurants and meeting up with another teacher who happened to be in town.
Transportation Rule #8
The best kind of transportation is the kind that brings you home again!
We jumped on the 9:30 train and made it into Ollantaytambo at 11:30 pm. Of course there were no buses running at that hour and we tried to find a collective taxi. All the taxis were either taken or wanting to charge an arm and a leg to get to Cusco. We didn't know what to do so we walked to the plaza and waited with a bunch of people who were in the same situation as us. Finally a van pulled up and we all pushed our way on (I mean literally, Peruvian really are good at pushing and you just go along with it when you are desperate for a ride). Half of us were standing and half sitting but we made it back to Cusco around 1:00 am.
We got out of the van and looked around for a taxi to take us back to our respective homes. We got one and do you know who it was? Our taxi driver from the early hours the day before! The same guy with the slashed tires! So, we greeted him like an old friend and asked how the rest of his day had gone and shared our adventures and finally left him with a nice tip.
And do you know what the best part of our trip was? The taxi ride that brought us home! Hallelujah!