November 10, 2017
This writer knew enough Spanish to understand that the Peru Rail workman at the gate to the train at 4 a.m. was saying, “No trains today.”
This was alarming.
Anyone who had booked a ticket for the 5:05 a.m. train likely had similar thoughts of getting to the Machu Picchu ruins before the crowds arrived and making optimal use of their entrance fee, acquired separately from the train and bus tickets required to get there. Gaggles of worried tourists moved from the Peru Rail ticket office to the gate in the dark, hungry for information.
A man approached, saying in a noticeably lowered voice, as though he were afraid to be heard,
“There wasn’t much rain last night. It was the people making the landslide on the tracks to protest…”
He elaborated—there were issues with the foreign-owned bus company that takes people from the train to the ruins. And, he said, there is concern too that the government is allowing too many tourists into Machu Picchu, an Inka era marvel of engineering.
The man, a taxi cab driver, had recognized us from the Ollantaytambo town square the day before when he solicited us for a ride in his taxi, which we had emphatically declined. While he wasn’t memorable to us, what did strike in the early morning the day before, was the wary looks of the police at the workers assembling in the square awaiting pickup for work shortly after dawn.
Indeed, in Cusco, fellow tourists had scoffed at our concern about potential robberies of our valuables, explaining that “Tourism is so big here..they just won’t allow crime.”
Rumors of Unrest Among Machu Picchu Locals
As we were digesting this nearly whispered report of unrest among the Machu Picchu locals, smartly dressed Peru Rail customer service reps with impeccable English and broad smiles came to tell the throngs of tourists gathering in the dark that we would be updated every 15 minutes or so and that we could go get coffee, food etc. as the shops were now beginning to open. We learned from these Peru Rail reps that tourists on the train the night before who were heading to Cusco, had actually, due to the rock slide, been stuck on the tracks through the night.
One couldn’t help but admire their customer service crowd control savvy, though their suave also reminded of the too easily given assurances offered the day before at the ticket office that the trains “always” run on time. A few hours later when the train did arrive, this same demonstration of organizational prowess managed to sort the throng into respective train cars in record time.
Upon arrival at this wonder of the world, in the swirl of whispered rumors, it made this writer acutely aware of how all the Machu Picchu guards appeared to be very, very local.
Rocks loosened by heavy rains a few weeks ago? Or, sabotage on the tracks? Rebellion in the works?? The latter is for sure the whispered rumor, if not also the fact.
Can saboteurs hold back the tourists coming to Machu Picchu?
It strikes this writer that such events are likely to have quite the opposite effect. Exhibit A were the two young women from Michigan with whom we shared train seats, who had the foresight to book two full days at Machu Picchu, so that mishaps like this would not keep them from fulfilling a dream on the top of their bucket list.
Stay tuned to these pages for an account of the scene at Machu Picchu later in theday—when tourist throngs from around the world made this pilgrimage to the remarkable Inka ruins only “discovered” by non-locals in 1911.