After another sleepless night I ended up crawling out of bed at 5 a.m., showering, and grabbing a “breakfast” of toast and Tang that was waiting for me downstairs. From there I headed to Pomoy train station, which was a pretty interesting taxi ride for all the rolling, mist-covered hills and the city-outskirt activities I could see. It wasn’t long before I got on the train heading to Aguas Calientes, the town on the doorstep to Machu Picchu.
I took the second class train, which costs $71 for the three-hour trip, which is about $350 less than the first class train, and the views were great. For the first half of my trip I alternated conversations with a couple from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and a couple from Queretaro, Mexico. During the second half of the trip I either had my eyes riveted to the stunning landscape or else was fighting to keep from falling asleep.
One thing that helped was the unexpected breakfast that was served on board. It wasn’t much, but I needed the energy, and it tasted pretty good. They served fruit, two kinds of cheese, two kinds of meat, and I also managed to get coco leaf bread as well as a mini-cinnamon roll.
The train follows a river that is easily the roughest I’ve seen anywhere – the rapids’ churning waves often reached four or five feet.
We occasionally passed small towns and villages, and the closer we got to Aguas Calientes the more frequently we saw local Indians and the more spectacular the mountain scenery became.
For lunch I headed to the only place in Aguas Calientes that my guidebook said served Peruvian food, and even this had many “French touches.” At first I found it hard to believe that the entire town didn’t have Peruvian food, but the overabundance of restaurants, which appeared literally every few feet as I made my way to my hostal, quickly made it clear that the town catered in a limited way to a very particular kind of tourist: pizza eaters. Now, I love pizza, but this was disappointing.
Before I went to have lunch, I moseyed through the local market, if it can be called that. The market doesn’t even have a name, apparently. People just know where it is and go there for fairly basic needs. It contained a few things I hadn’t seen before – certain types of fruits, beans, and potatoes – and asking about them in my limited Spanish hardly helped me learn anything.
Once I’d seen the market – that is, three minutes later – I tracked down a restaurant called Indio Feliz. I was welcomed at the door by a Frenchman named Patrick, and he ushered me in to his empty restaurant, which was by far the most unexpected thing I’d seen in Aguas Calientes.
The interior was decorated in a fusion of Peruvian antiques and French seafaring. Yet, somehow it seemed to work.
I ordered the most Peruvian items I could find on the menu: “Peruvian Creole Soup” (cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and parmesan cheese from the Altiplano) and “Pepper Chicken with Peruvian Ocucaje Pisco Sauce,” which came with fried sweet potatoes, a cooked tomato topped with pesto sauce, steamed beans, and a plate of thick homemade garlic and dill potato chips. The “Homemade Orange Pie with Custard and Ice Cream” made the lunch set, though it obviously wasn’t Peruvian.
Indio Feliz can be found at Calle Lloque Yupanqui Lote 4 M-12. Their telephone and fax numbers are (084) 211090 / 211320. Their website is www.indiofeliz.com, and according to their business card “[They] welcome national, international and extra terrestrial tourists.”
I went to dinner rather early, partly because I had lunch early and partly because I wanted to get to bed in time for a decent sleep since I have to be at the bus station at the crack of dawn. I ended up crossing the footbridge to the local side of Aguas Calientes and wandering around.
It’s an interesting enough area to visit, though I did get a lot of looks, perhaps because there weren’t a lot of other foreigners around. I came across some pollerias and other local restaurants, but for some reason I decided to eat closer to my hostal. The walk was nice in parts, especially when crossing the river, which cascades toward town from the mountains.
I ended up choosing a place that advertised “tipical Peruvian food,” which included guinea pig, alpaca, trout, pig, lamb, and stuffed potatoes. I went with the Peruvian oven-baked trout (trucho de horna). For 30 soles ($10.38), that’s a bargain in Aguas Calientes.
I also ordered a medium-sized Peruvian beer called Cusqueña (8 soles); unfortunately, this ended up being the highlight of my meal.
The presentation of the dish, as you can see in the photo below, was quite nice. A fried trout fillet with half-caramelized onions, large circular wedges of fried potato, a small salad, and some rice. Sounds good, right?
Well, the first potato I tried had a big black hair cooked into it. Okay, I’ve dealt with this sort of thing before – I just set it aside and went on with things. But my first bite of trout tasted like dirt, and the fish had very little give to it. My second bite was the same, and I’m starting to wonder how fresh this fish actually was. Trout sometimes has that taste to it, though, and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. In the end, I ate most of the meal. He charged me 4 soles as a service tax, which is a first for me here, and since my meal was not very good I decided to consider the service tax his tip (which in Peru is at most about 10%). The total for my meal was 42 soles, or US$14.53.
The restaurant was named Caminos del Inka II and was right across the entrance to the alley that leads to Indio Feliz. I would not recommend this restaurant, though the man who ran it was nice.