I wasn't sure whether to take the train from Puno to Cusco. It's US$ 140 for the ten hours trip. Buses do the trip a bit quicker and cost around $20, even $10 for a shabby bus. But – and it's a big but, I've been on road transport on and off for the last four weeks – and anyway, I think a train ride through the Andes sounds pretty good.
Another early start for Woz, and he's still not quite over the 'Pisco party' 36 hours ago. I have to check my bag in at the station in Puno – I'm a bit reticent to let it out of my sight in Peru, as much in case anyone turns me into an unwitting coke transporter. I think I'd have a slightly more difficult time here with the police than I did in Malaga.
On the platform and here it is – The Andean Explorer. It's much more than I expected, all first-class at-seat service on Victorian style carriages reminiscent of the 'Orient Express'. I find out later that it's owned by the Orient Express company. A smart hostess welcomes me on board and shows me to my reserved seat. Seat? It's an armchair – quite literally. The tablecloth is immaculate – as is all the silverware. I immediately think that I must not write about this on my blog – whatever will my friends think of me supposedly roughing it in Peru?
We depart on the minute at 8am – the train track runs through the streets of Puno, people watch a wave. They must do this every time the train runs – they're all very friendly. We seem to amble along at around 40kph, out of Puno and alongside Titicaca – passing closer to the Yavari.
I take a while to survey my surroundings. The carriage is all Mahogany and Brass. My carriage is full – there's a young couple from London on the seat across from me – they're on honeymoon, and he's suffering from altitude sickness. He's already asking our stewardess for oxygen. At least I think that's why he needed the oxygen – it may have just been all that honeymoon stuff...
The carriage behind me is the rear – it's an 'observation car' – complete with large windows sone the sides and the roof. It's also completely open at the back – giving an uninterrupted view from the train.
I settle back down into my seat – breakfast is being served – we're passing through the town of Juliaca – it's incredibly poor and very shabby. I have a moment of guilt as I consider my splendid surroundings , but it passes as I bite into the bacon though.
I repair to the observation car – it's quite busy. All of a sudden a Peruvian music band and a singer appear – as if from nowhere. This is becoming quite a trip. The train is still ambling along, climbing higher into the Andes. We have a stop scheduled at La Roya – the highest point on the line – in three hours time, just after lunch. So just time to sit back and relax, watching the magnificent scenery pass by.
Lunch is served, the food is well presented on the plate- but even more impressive is the carefully co-ordinated way that the staff each serve a table and place the plate down at exactly the same time. Very, very impressive.
After lunch and it's time for a stop to get off the train at La Roya, over 4,300 metres(14,000 feet) up. I guess they time it to facilitate a post-lunch stroll, we have around twenty minutes here. There is the unusual sight of 'hawkers' coming along the tracks offering wares of everything from fake watches, to chocolate and drinks. They seem a pain, but you can't fault their enterprise.
We set off, now it's downhill all the way to Cusco where we'll arrive in in around another three hours. We pass by 'Nevado Ausangate' mountain – at almost 6,400 metres (20,700 feet). It's the tallest mountain I've ever seen.
We continue our downward journey – the landscape is changing to something much more lush – well lush by Andean standards. The railway follows along the course of a river – it's a dream. It's becoming dark – we've maybe an hour or so to Cusco. Afternoon tea is served – the same immaculate service, sandwiches with the crusts cut off and proper tea.
Heading into Cusco, it's dark and difficult to see much of the sprawl of the Cusco outskirts. It's larger than I imagine – a large urban sprawl. This isn't what I expected. The diesel locomotive wheezes to a halt in Cusco station. There's a mad scramble to collect bags - and a long queue at the taxi rank. I drag my gear up to the main road – I'm there around three nanoseconds when taxis are coming at me from all directions!
It's a flat fare to travel in a taxi in Cusco – it appears to be based on the state and size of the cab. Mine was a beaten up old model that I didn't recognise – but it made a Fiat Panda appear like a stretch limo!
It's a fifteen minute ride to my hostel – the driver is obviously manic, but also friendly. It's 3 Soles ( /s) (around 60p) for the trip. I give him s/5 and he nearly hugs me.
I check into my hostal – El Triunfo. Reception is upstairs – only around 12 steps with my bags, but altitude has the effect of magnifying this into something like 50 flights of stairs. I'm really panting as I get to reception and can hardly say 'buenos tardes...' The receptionist tell me to sit and brings me 'matte de coco' (coca tea). “Drink this” she says – you can check in after. She obviously doesn't want a dead traveller on her shift.
I lie down for 10 minutes and start feeling better, the coca tea does wonders.
But, I'm ready for a pint...