We are awaken by the sound of a train horn sounding in the distance. It is a reminder, if we needed it, that today we head off to Cusco aboard the Andean Explorer.
A remarkably grand form of transport compared to everything we have been on so far in S.America – a 1920s style Pullman train that will make the journey over spectacular terrain an extraordinary experience (a big thanks to my Dad for the generous Christmas gift of the tickets). In fact, by some accounts, this is the second most scenic railway journey in the world.
In the UK taking the train is normally the most time efficient option, but in Peru our choice is slow in comparison to the bus, our normally favoured transport option. It takes a leisurely 10 hours compared the 6-7 it takes by road. But this is not a journey made for the speed, but one for the sights and experience.
Our train pulls out of Puno train station bang on the scheduled 8am departure time and the railway line literally runs through the middle of the town for a few minutes before the urban landscape gives way to the open countryside.
The first part of the journey runs along the banks of the mighty Lake Titicaca, who’s beauty is only slightly marred by the site of the most expensive hotel in Puno (and perhaps Peru) – Hotel Titilaka. At $1000US a night it is prohibitively expensive for all but a fortunate few, and it is a shame that it’s architect seems to have taken inspiration from a 1960s UK housing estate.
Inside the train we are treated to a fabulously grand decor. Comfy armchairs provide seating, brass and wood decorate the interior, and the last two carriages are a cocktail bar and viewing carriage complete with glass roof and open rear section! Leaning against the brass railings in this last car and watching the track and the world drift by is truly mesmerising, with the sound of the train on the tracks softens almost into melody.
Throughout the journey we predominantly are treated to views of the Andean highlands and the sights of indigenous subsistence lifestyles which are almost unrecognisable from anything we have experience of. Families living seemingly on top of the world and in the middle of nowhere with only the food, clothes and materials that they can make themselves.
On a couple of occasions the greenery is punctuated by the sight of a town or city. Very much like Puno, the train track runs directly through them and the road transport is brought to a standstill as the train trundles through and across roads with the horn blaring loudly. It isn’t just the cars that are impacted, the train runs straight through the town market! Locals move the stalls that are directly in the way off the track temporarily before placing them back down as the train passes by – its an amazing sight – and those that remain all but touch the side of the train!
We agree that it feels a little strange being in such opulent surroundings looking at the relative poverty of the town as we slowly pass by, but the local children and adults alike seem happy to see the train and we are constantly waving and smiling back at them.
Throughout the journey we are treated to food and drink of the highest standard, a full 3 course dinner, Pisco Sour cocktails and afternoon tea of sandwiches and cakes! So much food that when we finally arrive at our destination of Cusco we are not really in need of much sustenance so just settle into our accommodation and have a brief walk round our latest destination.