Monday, 28 January 2008

The Andean Orient Express

To our right a small flock of sheep are grazing on the scrubby grass against the backdrop of a wall daubed with advertising for a local beer. To our left a pair of dogs are chasing each other in circles around lean-tos, draped with blue tarpaulins. As we roll through the industrial town of Juliaca, en route to our final destination of Puno, the leaden skies threaten to break again. Over he last seven hours we have climbed from the green valleys surrounding Cusco to the flat Altiplano of South Eastern Peru. The boggy plain give way to low hills in the middle distance and ultimately to snow capped peaks on the horizon. The high plains play host to herds of Alpaca and Llama, their shepherds living in single story adobe buildings with corrugated iron roofs. As we climb in Altitude to over 4300m the plains become dusted with snow and the standing water is crusted with surface ice.

The bleak exterior is a far cry from our plush transport. As the railways of South America gradually disappear, we have taken the opportunity to make a trip on one of the few remaining passenger services to make our way to Lake Titicaca. The Andean Explorer is a luxurious three car train with all the trappings of a bygone age. Our carriage is wood paneled throughout with brass luggage racks and freestanding armchairs. The table on which I am writing this is covered in fresh linen with a brass lamp providing extra light in the late afternoon dusk. Waiters in crisp white shirts and sharply pressed trousers silently glide down the aisle, unobtrusively removing glasses and delivering frothy Pisco Sours.
We feel a little out of place amongst our well heeled fellow travellers, delivered and collected by their personal fixers at each end. Bar a few 'flashpackers', like ourselves, the majority of the guests are approaching retirement and talk revolves around their plans for travel during their retirement.

Ever since reading Paul Theroux's 'Old Patagonian Express' I have wanted to travel by train in South America. This trip, although outrageous in it's luxury, has sated an itch. Tomorrow we will be back to reality, but today we have been on the Andean Orient Express.

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