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Full Circle

Day 190: Machu Picchu to Quillabamba

Machu Picchu, Peru 
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The Lost City of Machu Picchu. In the background, peak of Huayna Picchu.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe present day intrudes. A diesel horn moans down by the river and a line of buses moves into position at the station far below as the ten o'clock tourist train from Cuzco rounds the bend.

Only a handful of foreigners ever takes the train on to the other end of the line. Quillabamba is not a place of great consequence, but twenty-five thousand people live there and it is the last town of any size on the Urubamba River, which a few hundred miles north becomes the Ucayali and then the Amazon.

By the time we reach it the transition from the mountains to the rain forest is almost complete. Warm, sweet smells replace the crisp air of the altiplano. Bugs are out to greet us and banana groves flank the river banks.

We appear to have caught the hotel by surprise. The menu features only Chicken Supreme and Chicken Milanese. I ask the waiter what the difference is. 'They are both the same thing,' he shrugs, 'Flattened chicken.' As another diner enters, the door frame falls on top of him, catching him a glancing blow on the back of the leg.

Lie in bed, my eyes smarting from anti-mosquito spray, finishing Patrick Leigh-Fermor's Letters From The High Andes. He is drinking whisky to stay warm. Already his world seems a long way behind us.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 190
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Quillabamba
  • Book page no: 257

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