Monday 18 May

Another early start. We have a train to catch, and have been advised to arrive thirty minutes early in order to be sure of getting our seats. This is despite the seats being reserved. We are among the first onto the train and stow our rucksacks on the rather inadequate overhead racks. Shortly after, a party of German tourists arrive. There promptly ensues a sharp dispute over luggage territory which the Germans eventually win, although they have no suggestions as to where our displaced luggage might be stored. Fortunately, as the train leaves, on the dot of 8 am, four seats at the rear of the carriage are still unoccupied—thus world war three is averted.

Puno Train

Once out of Cusco, the scenery begins to open out and we start to climb onto the Altiplano. The views would probably be better described as expansive rather than beautiful. For the first part of the journey, we follow a pleasant winding river, deeply cut into the plane so that red-earth banks rise almost vertically for a few metres up to the grassy plateau. After that, the landscape becomes dryer, though with the occasional peat bog.

The Altiplano

The track is rather more rough than any of us had expected. Despite this, it is a comfortable enough journey for all of us except for Jay who is feeling rather sick. Food is served on the train, and the waiters astound us with their skill at carrying trays of food and drinks up and down the rolling and pitching carriage without spilling a drop. I fare rather less well with my coffee.

Refuelling Stop

The Watershed

The train stops several times, once to refuel, and at the highest point to let past the train coming the other way from Puno. The watershed where we stop is a flat plane of parched grass, bordered in the distance by snow-capped peaks right and left. The altitude, about 4300 m, certainly makes itself felt; the train carries oxygen in case anyone should fall ill under the effects of the thin air, happily for one gentleman who did indeed succumb to the altitude. He would have been considerably less happy to have known that the German tourists were attempting, though considerably frustrated by the other passengers of the train, to faithfully document every moment on videotape.

The track entering Puno is laid down the centre of what is otherwise just an ordinary street, the coaches passing within mere feet of market stalls. The driver ensures that our presence is not missed by his enthusiastic use of the horn. Our hotel for the night is excellent—the Hotel Monterrey. We have hot water on tap for the first time in the holiday, and the rooms are clean and bright.