Everyone was Talking on the Train, Because Everyone Had a Story to Share
The sites of Machu Picchu gave us plenty to talk about on the train ride afterward.
I couldn’t figure out why it was so loud on the train. As soon as I settled into my seat, I looked around and realized everyone was talking to the people around them — passengers and crew alike. The conversation was easily twice as loud as any other train or plane I’d ever been on, and I’d been on quite a few.
They weren’t using the typical hushed tones of an Amtrak ride from DC to NYC, but it also wasn’t a frustrating noise either. The laughter and excited conversations were reminiscent of that moment in the cocktail party when everyone is two drinks in, when the pleasantries are over, and gossip commences. I had no idea that this was just one of many ways this would be different than any train ride I’d ever taken before.
“I think I know why it’s so loud,” I leaned into my wife as the train lumbered out of the station. “Everyone has something amazing to talk about.”
This was the Peru Rail train from Machu Picchu to Poroy, just outside of Cuzco, Peru. The passengers on this train were from the four corners of the world, but they all had one thing in common — they’d just completed their visit of Machu Picchu, the Incan ruins visited by more than one million travelers annually. Machu Picchu is a destination of a lifetime — a bucket-list checkoff for hikers and history buffs alike.
There is plenty to rehash after walking through the sprawling archeological site. You’ll share your astonishment at the inexplicable precision of the stonework. After nearly 600 years, the stones remain perfectly locked in place, not even a sheet of paper could pass between them. You’ll want to ask other visitors if they believe the Temple of the Sun stones were actually used as an astronomical clock, as archeologists believe. You’ll wonder just what was running through the mind of Hiram Bingham, when he, with the aid of a local farmer who directed Bingham to the site’s location, hacked away the jungle vegetation and first set his hands on these stone walls — realizing he had made a discovery that would cement him as one of the world’s greatest archeologists (It’s said that the character Indiana Jones was modeled after Bingham.).
These are exactly the kinds of questions that had set these people buzzing, and we’d also been having the same discussions since we left Machu Picchu only a few hours before. Gentle flute music played over the train’s speakers, and I sipped on a Peruvian-brewed Cusqueña, my new favorite beer. We were still recovering from our five-day trek to Machu Picchu, an exhilarating and exhausting hike taking us over the 15,000-feet-high Sankaltay Pass and through picturesque mountain scenery and jungle trails.
The train was in no hurry, traversing 57 miles over about 3 1/2 hours, at an average speed of 16 miles per hour, and neither were we, as we were able to enjoy the spectacular mountain views not just out our side window, but from the train car roof, which was specially designed with overhead windows to help see the towering Peruvian peaks on each side.
That’s when the music changed abruptly, and the pixie-devil arrived. A colorfully-attired figure frolicked through the aisle of the train, wearing an animal mask while purring and playfully clawing at the patrons.
I began to wonder if he was in any way affiliated with the train, or if this was the beginning of an altitude sickness hallucination. It turns out he was a Saqra dancer, performing a traditional Peruvian dance normally reserved for feasts in honor of patron saints. He may not have been a figment of my imagination after all, but I ordered another Cusqueña just to be safe, and to see if it might counteract any oncoming fever-dreams.
As the train slowly snaked through the Andes mountain valley, Megan and I added to the collegial din with our own dissection of the previous five days of hiking through the Sankaltay Pass, the mysteries of Machu Picchu and the Saqra dancer. Like everyone else on the train, we knew we’d experienced something very special — something worthy of sharing.