Monday, September 21, 2009

Orient-Express Had Me by the Balls

I may have refused to enthuse about Machu Picchu, but I won't refuse to bitch about the company that has a lock on tourism to the site.

Peru gave away the store to a single company, Orient-Express, as far as tourism to Machu Picchu is concerned. If you want to take the train and you're not a Peruvian citizen, you have to take the expensive private trains they run from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo. And they're even allowed to call their private train company Perurail. You'll pay $60-150 round trip, depending on the departure station and level of service. I took the Vistadome Valley from Ollantaytambo, for about $100 r/t. But my morning train didn't have the panoramic dome that's one of the selling points of the service. "Why do they call this the Vistadome if there's no dome," I asked one of the car attendants who was serving me the crappy 50-cent snack box that comes with your ticket. "It's the Vistadome service," he replied. Whatever the fuck that means.

The same company owns the only hotel by the ruins, the grossly expensive Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Rooms go from about $600-$1,000 a night. Fine, nobody's forcing you to stay there. But they also control all food concessions. They run the overpriced snack bar by the site and the two restaurants at the hotel.

When I took a break for lunch I tried to eat at the hotel's a la carte restaurant, as I didn't want to do the big buffet at their other restaurant. I was told that I could only eat there if I was staying at the hotel. The restaurant was virtually empty. So I ponied up $33 for the buffet. Actually, it was quite a good buffet, with standouts being a whole roast pig, some fabulous ceviche de dorado (mahi mahi) and poached trout with julienned vegetables, plus about 5 excellent desserts. Well, dinner that night was a granola bar.

I had run out of water after the first half of my visit to the site, in the morning. I hadn't known that there would be no vendors anywhere in the vicinity selling water, as there would be at any other archeological site in Peru. So not only did I have to pay about 5 times the normal price for water from the snack bar, but they only had it in glass bottles! I had to lug glass bottles of overpriced water around in my day bag while I visited the other half of Machu Picchu.

Allow Word of Mouth to convey a warm FUCK YOU to the Orient-Express company.


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