This was the first morning in a few days where I didn't have to get up at a time starting with 5. Today my alarm was for 6am. Baby steps.
After a mildly dramatic morning getting to the train station, we boarded the high-falutin' Andean Explorer train for the ten-hour journey from Puno to Cusco. The interior of the train is beautiful, with armchairs for every passenger, white tablecloths, etc.
As we rode north out of Puno, we alternated beautiful vistas with industrial zones and small impoverished towns. We rode parallel with a highway for a while, and the trash alongside the road was thick.
We noticed a few days ago that many (most?) of the houses and other buildings in Peru, particularly outside Lima, have rebar sticking out of the top of them. I asked Omar about it a few days ago, and he replied that the poor in Peru don't have to pay taxes, and that a way to indicate that you are poor is to have an unfinished home. Because of this, many homes will look shabby on the outside to avoid taxes, but inside it's quite nice and fancy. The government is onto this scam, and they send out auditors to check up on unfinished homes to make sure that they're poor on the inside as well.
We passed through a town's market. Like, literally through the market. The market is built along the train tracks, and every time a train rolls through, the vendors have to pull their awnings back to make room for the train. Lots of kids waved as we traversed the market, but most of the adults just went about their business buying and selling fruit, animals, car parts, cement mixers, toys, and electric looms. Our Spanish seatmates took a video off the back of the train and saw the awnings being lowered and goods being replaced on the tracks just after the train passed. In some cases, books had been placed between the rails, and the booksellers had removed just enough books so the train could pass over without destroying their wares.
We moved further north, and I killed some time watching movies. Out of the corner of my eye, the landscape changed from small dirty cement towns with a little bit of beautiful landscape to lots of beautiful landscape with small bits of dirty cement towns.
Lunch was served on the train: an amuse bouche (fruit and nuts with yogurt and granola), a salad or soup (both were delicious), a main course (chicken for me and manicotti for S), and then a passionfruit mousse. Very fancy!
Usually when I travel by train, I notice the train making sounds that fall in to a 4/4 rhythm: CHUG-chug-CHUG-chug. But this train is making a sound in five: CH-ch-ch-CH-rest-CH-ch-ch-CH.
In the middle of the lunch course, after we passed the southbound train, we made a short stop at La Raya, the highest point on the journey. At 4019m, there's not much here, but there is a small church and (bonus!) a small craft market. We stopped for ten minutes, long enough to get out, stretch your legs, take a few photos, and dodge the pushy craft-peddlers.
Back on the train for the second half of the ride. S and I spent part of the ride on the back car, half of which is a bar, and half of which is a observation car. We saw a demonstration of how to make a Pisco Sour, which included a double pour to get a foam layer.
Towards the end of the trip, the light dipped behind the mountains and the air got a little chilly. The staff came by with peach bellinis, pastries, and coca tea.
The music on the train, it should be noted, is about 40 minutes long and plays an almost constant loop. S and I can sing you most of the tunes. But we won't.
Arriving in Cusco was relatively painless, and we got out hotel in time to watch USA beat Ghana! Then, we met with our guide Janet, who explained a few unexpected details regarding baggage for the next few days. After that, we headed into the main plaza in Cusco in search of dinner.
Cusco is beautiful. Picturesque, cosmopolitan, with a nice balance of street hawkers and nice establishments. We wandered the plaza for a while, in search of guidebook-recommended restaurants that have since closed before finding a Thai place. My curry was good, but S's Pad Thai had a distinctly strong ketchup flavor. The restaurant had a strong English Pub vibe, and the music was a dance remix of Beatles classics. I was just glad it wasn't pan flute.
No photos of Cusco yet... we just grabbed a quick dinner before an evening of replacing before tomorrow's journey into the jungle. Short story (and I hope this remains true) is that Our first impressions of Cusco is that it's what we've been hoping Peru would be!