(This post arrives out of chronological order, having been delayed a few times by diabolicly slow internet connections.)
Aguascalientes is now officially known as Machupicchu Pueblo, but travellers still call it Aguascalientes. There are only two ways to get there – on foot, or by train. This (and the fact that most visitors are foreigners with dough) means that the train, and most everything in Aguascalientes, is expensive. The crowd on the train is different than the crowd we have been hanging out with at hostels – richer, heaver, older, whiter. But the train is pretty fantastic. Even at the cheapest level, the cars on PeruRail have windows in the ceiling which are necessary to see most of the mountaintops we pass under. A few days ago the trains did not run for two days due to high water on the Rio Urubamba, and the river still is an impressive brown churning mass. The tracks hug the river the whole way, and in 40 kilometers the river drops about 2000 feet. Some of the rapids along the way and in Aguascalientes seem more like volcanic eruptions.
The only vehicles in Aguascalientes are the train, the shuttle busses that run back and forth to Machu Picchu, and contruction equipment. Thus the town is really a walking down. It is, though, completely dedicated to tourism, and many restaurants have people out in the streets trying to lure you in with menus and pictures of food. We decided to walk the 2 km along the river out to the site museum, more than halfway to the ruins but before the ten or more switchbacks needed to get up the mountain. Even without Machu Picchu near (and it is not visible from town), Aguas Calientes is in a breathtaking location, with the Urubamba thundering by and ridiculously steep mountains towering above in all directions. Two years ago there were serious floods here, and all over town are signs saying “via de salida” (the way out, basically). These lead to steps that, I suppose, head up one of the steep steep mountainsides. The road to Machu Picchu follows the river, and after a few bends, one can look up – way up – and see the silhouette of Machu Picchu on the mountaintop. Here at 7000 feet high, it is much warmer than in Ollantaytambo or Cusco. We are in the ceja de la selva (eyebrow of the jungle) and plant life is lush and dense. Tomorrow, we go up the mountain.