We left Copacabana in Bolivia and crossed the land border to Puno, Peru. It was a four hour trip including the customs, but distance wise; its only 144km as Puno is still situated next to the massive Lake Titicaca. The main thing people do when in Puno is visit the floating Islands of the Uros people. These are man-made islands from reeds that are supposedly still inhabited today, though there is much debate as to whether the tours just show a facade or real people who live there. However, neither of us actually went. Dave had booked on to a tour the day before but unfortunately got projectile vomiting food poisoning after eating the local delicacy of guinea pig (karma?). I had never intended to go as I was now in my fourth week of being ill. Randomly, my Dad knew someone from Puno that he’d met sailing and she was able to recommend an English speaking doctor. We went again and after a few tests he just said that I was at the tail end of the stomach infection/parasites episode from Bolivia and put me on another strict diet (where I basically only ate bananas, plain bread and occasionally grilled chicken for 4 days). So unfortunately, we didn’t do much in Puno at all, and most upsettingly, don’t even have good food to report back. I did however drink a lot of the Andean tea infusion served in a clay teapot over a candle to keep warm; it has spearmint, coca leaves, eucalyptus and airampo (cactus flower) which gave the tea its vibrant majenta colouring.
Our next destination was Cusco and we decided to look in to taking a Peru Rail train called the Titicaca. We looked up the timetable and found the train that would suit us but every time we came to where you buy the tickets online, an error occurred (this becomes relevant, wait for it). So, we decided to pop down to the rail station and the ticket office. We asked how much (as we hadn’t been able to see the price on the website) and he said 384. We said, ah great, did the 384 Peruvian Soles conversion and said, £45 a ticket, great! We paid by card, and then I said, ‘hang on, I think that said US dollars, Dave?’. Turns out we’d just paid $384 USD (almost £150 each per ticket)! We felt like total muppets and had our first taste of a proper traveller error. With hindsight now, I can happily say that the hefty price tag was indisputably worth it! It’s a 338km journey taking 10.5 hours during the day. The train and service are luxury and the views are spectacular. We were seated at our own private 4 man table with arm-chair style seating, however, we were free to get up and walk around whenever. The adjacent carriage was the Bar carriage with more lovely seating and finally there was the Observatory carriage with not just panoramic windows like the rest of the train, but ceiling windows and even an open back with a railing which was lovely to be able to sit and get some fresh air on the journey. Have you ever been on a train where you can literally hang out the railings on the back?!
The train ride weaves through the Andes mountain range and it was very interesting to see so much of the “real Peru” which is vast farming landscapes with herds of wild llamas. We couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable viewing it from panoramic windows on a luxury train though. Mostly all the farming is done by hand and in the 10 hour journey we only saw 2 tractors, so it is serious back-breaking work. On the other hand, had we not taken the train, we wouldn’t have seen how so many Peruvians live and work at all. We also had a 10 minute stop at La Rays which is at 4319 metres above sea level; the highest point on the train journey (one poor guy had to be given an oxygen mask and tank because of the altitude). There were lots of vendors selling the traditional llama and alpaca wool clothing and trinkets. We were even being sold llama-wear by Peru rail as one of the bits of train entertainment was a fashion show performed by the staff! Although that was… interesting…there was far better entertainment in the form of song and dance. On the first half of the trip, we were treated to Pisco welcome drinks whilst they did a show with music and dance from the Puno region. The guy playing the panflute was particularly impressive. In the afternoon, we had another cultural session, this time with music and dance from the Cusco region. Dave was even given a maraca to join in with, which he valiantly did (predominantly out of tune). The shows really were of amazing quality and felt genuinely enriching, giving us a glimpse of Peruvian culture.
In the afternoon, the bartender explained how to make the traditional Peruvian drink, Pisco sour. We’d also been told various facts about Pisco and apparently grape trivia sticks in my head as I won a free cocktail in the competition for knowing that there are 8 different grapes used for Pisco. Dave was pleased too because I gave it to him to drink. Within the ticket price, aside from all of the entertainment and freebies, was the star of the show; the gourmet food. We had a delicious three course lunch consisting of potato & herb soup, followed by steak wrapped in bacon and finally, chocolate & praline cake. Lunch also came with wine which added to the value, and you could have unlimited water and coca tea throughout the day. We even got mini afternoon high tea with little sandwiches, cakes and lemongrass tea. Overall, an absolutely incredible experience, and in an ideal world, we’d travel everywhere by luxury train!
Join us next time as we explore Cusco and head up to Machu Picchu!
Sophie & Dave