La Raya to Puno

There was a shifty little shuffle at La Raya when the Cusco entertainment switched to the train going back to Cusco and the Puno brigade arrived to entertain us in the afternoon.

The train manager told me at La Raya that we had another four hours of the altiplano befor the scenery would change again. During this time we would see wild alpaca and llama.

imageOnce I had woken from my slumber I made for the bar and had another chilcano and was joined by the Australian lady from Geelong. Apparently this is not the first time travelling without husband and she is a hiker. Already been away a month and when her travelling partner returns shortly she will remain in the Amazon jungle, not returning home until the end of February.

Our conversation was somewhat interrupted by the music from Puno and we couldn’t escape. So another chilcano it was.

And so the passengers passed the remaining hours with polite conversation, looking out of the window and getting some air at the observation carriage. As we entered Puno the sun was setting, throwing a glow on the mountains the other side of Lake Titicaca. The train arrived bang on time at 6.30pm to the madness that is Puno during this festival.

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My new favourite hotel chain Tierra Viva also came up trumps in terms of service. I    had sporadic internet access as we passed through towns along the way and received a message from Cusco saying that I had left a pouch with medicines in the room. I am not taking medication but always carry some standards as a precaution. Having asked them to dispose of the bag I wondered if they could  check with sister hotel in Puno if they had received my message about arranging a taxi. These conversations went on during the day as the internet was a available and finally I had confirmation that somebody would be there to meet me.  It was a good job as roads were blocked and the streets full of bands and dancers. Made it to the hotel, only to be told that the taxi was complimentary.

Cusco to La Raya

We left Wanchaq station promptly at 8am and settled into our assigned seats with menus staring us in the face. Lunch was to be served at 1pm and but now a variety of breakfasts were offered.

We slowly wended our way out of Cusco through the urban sprawl, the train’s whistle blasting continually because of traffic and pedestrians. Next came the arable landscape with smallholdings caring for a variety of livestock.

imageWith breakfast over we were usshered into the bar area for a welome chilcano before the cabaret started.!  A small group and a single dancer assailed us with some typical music from Cusco. Now, we noticeably start to climb as our destination is La Raya, the highest we will reach and the highest point at 4319 mtrs that I have reached on this journey. We are now way above the tree line in the altiplano.

imageAt la Raya we were allowed 15 minutes off the train where artesanal sellers lay in wait. Where did they come from ? I asked one of the staff. Apparently their main stalls were hidden only 100  yards away on the Cusco to Puno road and coaches stop there all the time. I didn’t feel so bad about not buying.

Back on the train, table laid and pre-ordered cocktail, waiting. Lunch was a variety of breads, green salad with some fresh orange and grapefruit. Next up was boeuf bougignon and a glass of merlot. By the time the chocolate pudding had arrived I was asleep.

 

 

The Andean Explorer

The tail end of my journey was always focussed towards attending the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Puno. It was difficukt to plan as there is little detail to be found on the internet regarding timing which can fluctuate by a few days each year. Once I had tied down some likely dates, I had to consider how to get there. This is when I discovered the Andean Explorer. However, as it only runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays timing became critical as others had told me not to spend too many days in Puno.

So the plan was to arrive in Puno on Saturday evening, visit the stadium on Sunday where the various carnival groups compete, and watch them parade throug the streets. The event lasts two weeks and is the biggest music and dance festival in Peru and one of the biggest in South America.

The Andean Explorer is run by PeruRail and owned by the Belmond group. It was early in the morning when I arrived to check in and then board the train to get a first glimpse of what the next ten hours had in stall.

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imageWith only thirty two passengers it was inevitable we would pass some time together. It was an an interesting mix. An Australian couple who were due to be a foursome but whose respective spouses pulled out so they travelled anyway. The General Manager of the Belmond Monasterio Hotel…lots of arse licking going on. A family from Guildford with daughters of 10 and 13 who had taken the kids out of school and were travelling for nine months. Two awful Essex ladies in hiking gear who did nothing but complain about the cost and hog the rear viewing platform. Finally a charming gay couple, one a photographer from NY now living in BA with his partner an Argentine diplomat.