The train from Cusco and Puno was one of my most cherished memories from my trip to Peru. It is almost tied with hiking the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu.
While planning our trip, we had decided that we wanted to go to two places for sure in Peru- Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. We had read about the beautiful train ride from Cusco (launching town to Machu Picchu) and Puno (launching town to Lake Titicaca) and decided to splurge. The train is run by the Orient Express owned “Peru Rail” and is not the cheapest or quickest way to get between these two places. The cost is approximately $250 and it takes 10 hours. By comparison, you can fly there ($150, 1 hour) or take the bus ($50, 10 hours) faster or cheaper.
The train definitely feels like you stepped back in time. A time when train travel was a glamorous thing to do.
The trip starts in Cusco. You will see the downtown, replaced by the suburbs and then followed by the farming community. I continues by following the Vilcanota River. You see people in a very intimate way, plowing the fields, building mud homes, burning crops before for the winter and standing in their yards.
At some point the river fades away and you are in the high plain. There are snow capped mountains and empty fields as far as you can see. The train stops for a little tourist shopping. Unfortunately, the vendors are aggressive and selling the same things as everywhere else in Peru. But if you just go onto the other side of the train, the scenery is amazing.
This is the point at which I discover the observatory car. I can’t believe I waited until this point to check this out. I wish I had spent the first two hours here as we whizzed past farmers and people in the most picturesque settings. I spent the majority of the next 4 hours hanging off the back railing.
Some of my favorite scenes.
One of the most striking things during any travel in Peru, especially on this train ride, is the extensive amount of trash and garbage everywhere. It was scattered across the roads, in piles in fields and strewn throughout the rivers. It was everywhere.
I waved at every person I saw, especially the kids. They all waved back. I sat and contemplated poverty, including my own childhood and how strangely similar my childhood was like the kids I was waving at. When I spent summers with my Dad in Trout Creek, Montana, we lived on property that was off the grid. No electricity, no running water, no phones. We grew, picked and shot our own food. We lived in a house that my dad had built off of a trailer. It was never finished, so the insulation was exposed and the house was never painted. I went to a school that had 12 people in my class. This story is probably best told in another post, but I am only sharing why I felt like I could relate to the people I saw along this train ride. And yet, here I was, on the “rich” train, on my way to Lake Titicaca on my 4th international trip that year. It felt bizarre and it made me very reflective on my own life.
Around 4:30pm, we pulled into Juliaca. Juliaca is known for its riots, black market of electronics, and it’s dislike of wealthy tourists. A security guard came to the Observatory Car and told us to not lean out and to stay back. There were rumors of rocks being thrown, people jumping onto the car to steal your camera and a general negative response to the Andean Explorer.
Sure enough, right as we come into town we see four boys. They flip us off and start throwing rocks. None of the rocks hit us. We start going through a market that seems to be centered around the train tracks. Products are lined along the tracks, between the tracks and everywhere you can see. They are selling everything from auto parts, fruit, electronics and beans.
I kept waving.
Even though there was still a clear dislike (which I can hardly blame them for), I decided that there were enough good people that would wave back and I was right. In the video, you can see a little girl waving back.