The continuing saga of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours

Chapter 11 – The Train

Puno Railway Satation - image: AV

Puno Railway Station – image: AV

The early morning bustle of the market again, provisions for the next stage of our journey. Edgar came and saw us off after our bread rolls and strawberry jam and helped us fend off the Alpaca-wool-jersey-saleswomen, who were becoming very insistent now that we were about to escape their clutches. As we prepared to cross the road to the station, prices began to plummet and as they bottomed out at a realistic “half-price” some of them actually made some sales.

Once on the train we found that our block booking of seats had been divided neatly and conveniently (for them) by several Peruvian families. Which meant that when we tried to claim our rightful places, we less than endeared ourselves to the locals, who of course couldn’t and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Although we won the day, we became the hot gossip item amongst the deposed locals. A situation which took all of ten minutes to defuse when one of the youngsters became an ambassador, simply through childish curiosity. I had a beard, and looked like Father Christmas, this created such an urgent need to know, that he asked me impishly if I was.

My standard reply (developed over many years of the same question) was, “No, I’m just his older brother.” That was it! Within seconds the whole carriage knew that Father Christmas had a brother and he was right here in the train. So, Ho, Ho, Ho, relations became somewhat more amicable, all before we reached Juliaca Station.

A relic at Juliaca Station - image: AV

A relic at Juliaca Station – image: AV

The train stopped at Juliaca, the carriage filled with people selling everything. Tepid fizzy drinks, newspapers, sweets, and pieces of chicken, hunks of roast pork, corn on the cob and even whole plates of food. It was still not even 10 o´clock, but people were prepared to eat lunch.

After about a half hour the rest of the carriage filled and the sellers departed and the train jerked and we were underway once again. We passed an old steam locomotive as we left the station, weeds growing around the wheels testimony to its fall from grace and days of glory past.

The train passed the flat terrain north of Juliaca, small farmlets divided by their stone walls dotted the landscape. We stopped at several small townships, whistled as we past  through their markets. The people seemingly unaware of the danger at their proximity to the tracks as they continued bartering with the train careening past less than a metre’s distance.

Main form of transport, on foot  - image: AV

Main form of transport, on foot – image: AV

The terrain changed, flat lands became hills and hills became mountains and the note of the diesel engine deepened as it became evident that we were climbing rapidly. We made a stop at Santa Rosa, again the train was assailed by sellers. More meals, fried chicken and roast pork, the tepid Inka Kola, that disgusting Peruvian oddity, were sold. The kids looked at the food as it was whisked past on trays, their parents oblivious to their desires. The tourists came to the rescue, we pooled together and bought a dozen plates of assorted chicken and pork and distributed them to the kids. Faces beamed as they accepted the fare, a few murmured thanks, some too embarrassed by their good fortune to speak.

We watched them gorge themselves happily with sticky fingers and smiling faces. Our little ambassador looked up at me, pork grease smeared from ear to ear. “You really are Father Christmas’ brother, aren’t you?” he asked, placing his luck on the benevolence of the Christmas spirit. I assured him I was. Satisfied with the answer he stuffed another bit of crackling in an already half-full mouth crunching it noisily between his teeth.

People selling everything  - image: AV

People selling everything – image: AV

Soon we were on our way once more, and it was evident that we were in the mountains. There was snow covering the peaks, we were approaching the La Raya pass. It was harder to breathe. It required some effort, for we had reached 4,321m a.s.l. and the train stopped. Everybody seemed to get off, so we did too. We were on a siding, apparently waiting for the train from Cusco to pass, which it eventually did a half hour later. There was obviously great rivalry between the two train loads, much shouting and taunting. It seemed as though the locals knew everybody and everybody knew them.

The mountains at La Raya, alt 4,200m asl - image: AV

The mountains at La Raya, alt 4,321m asl – image: AV

The south bound train passed and it seemed to be the signal for us all to board again, so we did and just as we had found our seats again, the trained jerked in its customary fashion and be shunted off the siding back onto the main track, stopped, jerked and changed direction. Once more we were off to Cusco.

Natural hot pools descending from La Raya  - image: AV

Natural hot pools descending from La Raya – image: AV

Going downhill the trip seemed almost jaunty, the train rocked merrily from side to side as though it seemed happy the uphill part was over.

We found some hot pools off to the right, natural springs, there were people over there having a closer look that was denied to us through our apparent urgency.

We also saw swampy areas, where the water literally trickled off the mountain sides, forming little rivulets, these became little streams, then bigger and bigger until we were travelling alongside a substantial river. This river was the Vilcanota. The Vilcanota flowed past Pisac, near Cusco, and became the Urubamba that flowed through the Sacred Valley of the Inca and onward past Machu Picchu until it became the Ucayli and flowed past Pilcopata and Manu Nature Reserve, then northward past Pullcapa and Iquitos until it became the Amazon and flowed all the way across Brazil to Belém on the Atlantic coast..

These little trickles, that we had witnessed coming down the mountain sides, would one day become the mightiest of the world’s rivers.

The scenery changed, forested areas, many of the imported eucalyptus trees which abounded throughout the Altiplano crowded the railway, framing small farms and villages and stood lone sentinels on hill sides. Still the river kept us company, sometimes on the right and then on the left as we zig-zagged across echoing rail bridges the singing iron tracks reverberating beneath us. Still we wove our way through small towns, a sign that we were nearing civilisation and we started the descent into Cusco. The city was lit brightly, houses sparkled on the hill sides in the dark, for it was now night as we chugged into the station, and our journey was over.

"Will Father Christmas forget me this year?" - image: AV

“Will Father Christmas forget me this year?” – image: AV

As we pulled our baggage from the overhead racks and pulled bags that had been squashed from under seats, we said our farewells to our small companions. We had fed them, played cards with them, laughed with them and sang with them, and now our small ambassador was in tears. “Would Father Christmas forget him this year?” No, he wouldn’t I assured him, he wouldn’t. It was an emotional moment, enough to bring tears to an overweight fool. I don’t think I have ever been hugged so hard in my life. I set him on his feet so he could join his mother, he took her hand and looked back giving me the loveliest little wave goodbye.

We were met at the station by a van and taken to our hotel. It was 9 o´clock a night and after a tiring 12-hour journey, all we wanted was bed.

 

NB: Sorry, some pics B&W couldn’t find the original colour ones.

Advertisements