Peru Christmas 2013
This trip had been a long, long, time overdue and very likely too late with Peru Rail having modified their train service over the last 10 years quite dramatically; there now being no service at all to Arequipa and the trains to Machu Picchu no longer start at Cusco San Pedro. Still, things are what they are and as the trip was actually more of a holiday than a cranking trip everything train wise was a bonus. The trip was however based around getting around by train; the only unfortunate thing being that the tourist train from Lima to Huancayo didn’t run over the Christmas or New Year period at all.
Having booked everything hotel & logistics wise online before we went, all we had to do was get on the plane and take some spending money for the day trips etc…….
Booked through Expedia – £1349.30 each
IB3179 1850 Heathrow – Madrid (Iberia)
LA2707 0035 Madrid – Lima (LAN Chile)
LA2075 0925 Lima – Cusco (LAN Chile)
LA2111 1645 Cusco – Arequipa (LAN Chile)
LA2140 1655 Arequipa – Lima (LAN Chile)
IB6650 2105 Lima – Madrid (Iberia)
IB3164 1635 Madrid – Heathrow (Iberia)
We went hand luggage only throughout with 40L rucksacks. Both LAN and Iberia have decent hand luggage allowances but beware Iberia have “Hand Luggage Monitors” at Madrid airport. Also be warned that Iberia (in my opinion) are a shocking airline and the service they offered wasn’t adequate; neither the planes, staff or food/drinks service were anywhere near what I’d have expected.
Cusco – Kenamari Hotel; we used this place on three separate occasions during our trip, spending 4 nights in total. It was clean, had hot water and a heater in the small rooms. Unfortunately our room was over the side street adjacent and right above the Chinese restaurant opposite; from which we could hear the woks being tossed every time a meal was being cooked. The staff were friendly enough and breakfast is included in the room rate.
The location of the hotel was convenient for Avenue El Sol, which leads to Plaza de Armas, a 10 minute walk away, and is home to most of the tour operator shacks and money changing places. It is also a 5 minute walk away from Cusco Wanchaq train station.
Ollantaytambo – El Albergue Hotel; this place is a cracking place to stay and is very convenient for the trains to Machu Picchu with it being located on the station premises of Ollantaytambo station itself! The room we had was spacious, kept clean and tidy by the maid, had hot water, heater and free bottled water which was replaced every day.
The hotel staff were very pleasant and even collected my bags off a train from Cusco to Machu Picchu as we passed through on our first day; they were in our room waiting for us when we arrived that night. All spoke good English and the food in the hotel’s restaurant was excellent every time. Breakfast was included and cooked freshly once you’d chosen from the menu. The attached café had a relaxed feeling about it; allowing you to just watch the world go by as trains arrive and depart with their train loads of passengers; feet from the railway tracks.
Puno – Intiqa Hotel; it’s a short walk from Puno Railway Station but also offers free pick-up from the Andean Explorer to save the walk. Return transfers to the station or airport are charged for. The hotel is a short walk from Puno centre. The room we were given was massive, with two double and one single bed! It was clean had a heater and hot water. Breakfast was included in the room rate and the staff at the hotel reception were attentive and helpful; giving a welcome explanation of the local area and sites with every check-in.
Arequipa – Tierra Viva Arequipa Plaza; this hotel was by far the best of the trip and had us wishing we’d paid the minimal amount more to use Tierra Viva hotels for the rest of our trip (taking nothing away from the other hotels mind). The Tierra Viva has a modern outlook with spotless, clean and very well presented rooms, with massive beds in them (way beyond king size!). Toiletries were included in the bathrooms and the shower pumped out red hot water. Breakfast was included and the breakfast room was kept spotless and tidy by the staff on duty, we never saw a dirty table at all. The staff at the front desk were helpful and answered everything we threw at them; ultimately giving us all the direction we needed and even printing our plane boarding cards out when the printer in the hotel business centre was out of ink.
All train tickets were booked online through the Peru Rail website. PDF tickets can then be downloaded and printed before your trip. Ticket prices for the Machu Picchu trains differ based on their train type (Expedition or Vistadome) and the time of day the train runs; these do not increase as the trains fill, or the booking date gets closer. The price for that train is the price for that train.
Our trains booked through Peru Rail included the following:
Cusco Poroy – Machu Picchu & Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu & return
Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu & Machu Picchu – Cusco Poroy
(Above between $48 & $71 depending on time of day train operated; all were Expedition Trains)
Cusco Wanchaq – Puno (Andean Explorer) ($255 each)
Puno – Cusco Wanchaq (Andean Explorer) ($153 each)
The only tickets we didn’t book online were the following; which were booked on the day at Machu Picchu station:
Machu Picchu – Hidroelectrica & return ($18 per person, each way, on both Expedition & Vistadome)
These were not available online and the route doesn’t even get a mention on the Peru Rail website; it wasn’t until I picked up a 2013 timetable in their office at Cusco that it became apparent that trains ran to Hidroelectrica that foreigners were allowed to travel on. Previously Hidroelectrica had been served by local’s only trains.
Friday 20th December 2013
Our Doncaster to Cusco journey started with the 1245 train from Doncaster and would end at 1045 (local time) the following day, after 27 hours of travelling! The train journey to London was harmless but the tube journey onwards was standing room only virtually the whole way.
As I’d already checked in for all the flights online it was plain sailing once we arrived at Heathrow and we had plenty of time to spare before boarding flight 1 of 3. This was my first taste of Iberia; having never flown with them before. They say first impressions last; well it seemed the first impression gave a very true taste of what Iberia would offer on the return trip also! As with many short-haul flights these days a trolley service was offered yet the only money the staff would take was Euro’s, which of course I didn’t have and didn’t need for where I was going. The result being I couldn’t buy any drinks so I asked for a glass of water for us both, from the galley. The response I got was “I must finish the trolley service first” and that is exactly what the guy did before bringing one small glass of water which we had to share; first impressions lasted alright and I was so glad to get off the plane at Madrid.
Saturday 21st December 2013
With plane 2 of 3 began the very long day that would be 21st December; as we departed Madrid at 00:35. The long-haul flight from Madrid to Lima was operated by LAN Chile; another airline I’d never flown with. The plane, staff and service on-board was refreshing compared to that of Iberia and was ultimately very acceptable.
Arrival into Lima was early but any spare time we had was eaten up by the fact that all arriving passengers from outside Peru have to go through immigration and ultimately exit the airport; thus anyone with a connecting internal flight must then re-enter the domestic part of the airport and go through the rigmarole of security again! Luckily we had 2h30m between flights; and needed it with the queue lengths. The queues not being very well sign-posted or coordinated either. Plane 3 of 3 was also operated by LAN Chile and unlike the short-haul from London to Madrid it had a free meal service of light snacks and drinks; despite being only 1h30m in duration.
Cusco airport is only a small airport and once outside it didn’t take long to spot my name being held up and a piece of paper; this being the collection arranged by our hotel. While transfer to the Hotel Kenamari wasn’t free, it only cost 20 Soles and the journey only took 15 minutes. The hotel had to pay the taxi driver for me as I hadn’t had chance to change any money at that point. We were treated to our first Coca Tea of the trip upon arrival, while we filled in the relevant arrival paperwork. The staff were friendly and told us what we needed to know about the hotel as well as giving out a map while pointing out where everything of interest was. The room wasn’t a big room but was clean; it was also quite cool but did have a heater that soon warned it up a little. It took no encouraging to lay down on the bed, once we’d finished our Coca Tea; it had been a long trip and a little solitude was welcome at that point.
After we’d recovered a little from our flying we used the remaining daylight hours deal with the necessities like getting some money and eating! Money changing places are plentiful along Avenue El Sol and the going rate appeared to be 2.75 Soles to the $US. Also scattered along Avenue El Sol were banks and tour operator shops, most of the latter having a money changing facility.
Of course we were at 3300m above sea level and the walk to Cusco’s Plaza de Armas is uphill along Avenue El Sol; we had no immediate effects of altitude sickness (and thankfully didn’t suffer from it at all during the trip) but we could tell we were at altitude; neither of us feeling the need to rush about at all, due to the thinner air.
Having had a quick scan round the Plaza we chose a place called PaititiPlaza, in the Plaza itself, for a much needed lunch. While the pizza served wasn’t bad, it wasn’t cracking either. A siesta followed lunch but I managed to drag myself out of bed to walk down to Wanchaq station to watch the Andean Explorer arrive from Puno. Of course I was concerned that it might not be the “correct” traction and wanted to see what had been used on it that day.
As the station entrance was locked up I followed the wall down Avenue El Sol until the roadway crossed the line, where I found the gates that allow trains access into the station area were still closed. I was getting dark anyway and the fact that the train turned up 15 minutes after its booked arrival of 1800 didn’t help for photographs. The good thing was that it was worked by Peru Rail MLW DL560 #654 with only 4 coaches (baggage van, kitchen car & two passenger coaches); on-board which, I could only count 6 people! The train was preceded into the station by a track machine, which at the time I didn’t really know why; ultimately every train on the broad gauge was preceded by a track machine through large towns to prevent accidents on the road crossings; all of which have no barriers or warning lights at all.
The necessity to eat saw us walking back to Plaza de Armas that evening; where we found a far better place to eat and used it for every meal we ate in Cusco from that point on. Don Marcelo, an Italian based restaurant, is tucked in the corner of Plaza de Armas; immediately to the right of the Cathedral. We only went in because it was the only place in the whole of the Plaza that didn’t have someone at the door, menu in hand, trying to entice you into their restaurant. It was also quite busy but with a bit of space. The Lomo Saltado (Peruvian dish of fried beef, peppers & onions mixed with chips) was excellent, and reasonably priced.
Thankfully our evening out had us back at the Kenamari before the heavens opened and it literally hammered it down; it was the Peruvian rainy season after all……..
Sunday 22nd December 2013
A day spent sight-seeing in Cusco; with Sacsaywaman being well worth the uphill hike and the best sight of the day. Once back in the Plaza de Armas though I had to get some questions answered, that were rattling around in my head, based on the Peru Rail timetable I’d picked up from their office in Plaza de Armas the previous day.
The rear cover of the Peru Rail timetable showed 3 sets of trains (2 x Expedition & 1 x Vistadome) that ran from Machu Picchu (or Aguas Calientes) to Hidroelectrica and return. Firstly I hadn’t even realized that there were now trains to Hidroelectrica that foreigners could travel on as previously the only trains running were for locals only. Secondly I wanted to confirm if the trains were full and thirdly I noticed that one of the trains listed was in fact the locals only train (trains 21/22) from Cusco San Pedro and I wanted to know it the Expedition class was available from Cusco or not. None of this information is shown on the Peru Rail website!
It turns out that each single journey between the two points is $18, regardless of train type. The Expedition accommodation is not available on trains 21/22 from/to Cusco at all and this train is definitely for locals only Cusco – Machu Picchu & return. By the time I left the Peru Rail office I’d changed my arrangements for 26/12, which had originally been just a return from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu on my own. I’d now booked the 0745 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu vice the 0610, for both of us, and had also booked tickets for the following: Train 21 1235 Aguas Calientes – Hidroelectrica (Expedition) and Train 504 1500 Hidroelectrica – Machu Picchu (Vistadome); resigning myself to the fact that I’d be having a DMU back on the Vistadome service! Little did I realize at the time that I’d be getting myself out of being bowled by a GM and that the Vistadome service was actually hauled, as were other Vistadome services to/from both Cusco & Ollantaytambo!
As we were up early the following morning to travel to Cusco Poroy for our train to Machu Picchu, we retired early that night; to the sound of the wok, from the Chinese restaurant opposite our room window, being tossed about as it was used to cook food!
Monday 23rd December 2013
As the hotel staff had told me a taxi would take moments to arrive at the hotel I ordered on the moment we got down for breakfast; it was sat outside waiting 5 minutes later! Of course we finished breakfast before setting off for Poroy.
The journey cost 30 Soles and took 30 minutes for the 7km trip; taking us up steep hills and narrow streets to get to the opposite side of the dominant hill that splits Cusco City from the outskirts town of Poroy. We crossed the railway lines as we headed out of town, that form part of the zig-zag section from Cusco San Pedro to Poroy; which is now only plied by one train a day in each direction and is for the use of locals only. Hence the mass exodus of taxis and mini-buses to Poroy of a morning to transfer passengers making their way to Machu Picchu!
Poroy station has its own booking office, a decent sized card park and a covered waiting area with a buffet type place selling hot/cold drinks and snacks. Coaching stock is stabled in the adjacent sidings and about 5 minutes after we arrived Alco DL532 #358 turned up light engine (presumably from San Pedro) and shunted the stock for train 33 0742 Poroy – Machu Picchu Expedition service into the platform. Shortly afterwards Alco DL532 rebuild #487 (now a DL535) turned up and began shunting the Hiram Bingham Express stock together in the sidings.
Our train was boarded approx 30 minutes before departure. To get through the entrance to the platform we had to show our tickets and were directed to our respective coaches; all of which had coach letters attached to the side before boarding. To get on the train we had to show both our tickets and passports, before half of your ticket is taken by the Peru Rail staff and you’re directed to your allocated seat.
We were in coach A, seats 48 & 49, which were in the bay right at the front of the train, behind the loco. Unfortunately though this wouldn’t make much difference on the way to Machu Picchu as it was downhill all the way; but I was told in the Peru Rail office at Cusco that coach A is always at the front of the train, in both directions and we were booked in coach A on every journey I’d booked!
Prior to leaving the UK I’d had a lengthy discussion with Peru Rail regarding me being able to drop our big bags off at Ollantaytambo when we passed through on train 33. Initially I’d been concerned that they were too large to convey on the train but once I’d figured out they were well within size my next concern was to confirm that I’d be allowed to hand the bags from the train to the hotel staff on the platform at Ollantaytambo on our way through; the train isn’t shown to stop there to pick-up passengers but I was given it’s arrival time by the guy I’d been in conversation with so at least I was able to make the relevant arrangements with out hotel staff in Ollantaytambo. I was given assurance by Peru Rail that the train staff on the day knew of what I wanted to do and that everything was in hand; they didn’t even know my name, let alone understand what it was I wanted to do!
We departed bang on time at 0742 and visible in the middle road as we did was Peru Rail GM G12 #500. Once on the move I approached the on-train staff to resolve my still outstanding issue of dropping our bags off. They spent time on the phone to their control office and then thrust the phone in my face; the woman at the other end thought I had left some baggage in the Peru Rail luggage office at Ollantaytambo in September and that I wanted to collect it. The staff had drawn this from me telling them I wanted to drop luggage off at Ollantaytambo and had made the arrangements through their customer services, via e-mail, back in September! When I produced my hotel booking form it engaged the right switch and everyone understood what I wanted to do; at last! At Ollantaytambo I was allowed to step off the train, where it was actually picking up people anyway, hand my bags to the hotel receptionist and even have a conversation with him; we were staying at the El Albergue Hotel, which is actually the station building at Ollantaytambo! All I needed from Peru Rail in the first instance was confirmation that our train actually stopped at Ollantaytambo and that I would be allowed onto the platform for 30 seconds but no it had to be turned into some sort of endurance test rather than just giving the answers required.
Other than the obvious the journey to Machu Picchu was simple enough, the on-board staff were friendly enough and a trolley service was run offering a free drink and muffin as part of the ticket price. Further to that the staff also try and sell books and Peru Rail memorabilia and during the whole journey Peruvian music is played over the speaker system; which I have to say wasn’t that bad and was definitely non-offensive to the ears.
The scenery en-route is a lot better beyond Ollantaytambo where the train stays close to the UrubambaRiver as it snakes towards Aguas Calientes and the terrain is more mountainous; various ruins are visible en-route if you keep your eyes peeled.
Upon arrival at Machu Picchu station I spotted Alco DL532 #353 & MLW DL535 #481 in the sidings at the station. Once off the train there are facilities to use prior to making your way to the buses that run up to Machu Picchu ruins; the walkway to the buses is through a makeshift market, rigged up to sell souvenirs to tourists only, and isn’t very well signposted at all. We found the correct route signposted better when we returned later that evening; having only then realised where we’d gone wrong. Either way you wont miss where the buses depart from and tickets are available at the yellow hut adjacent to the bus stand; do make sure you have a ticket to enter Machu Picchu before you get on the bus as they are not available at the entrance to the ruins; we bought ours online before leaving the UK but they’re available in Aguas Calientes, with signs directing to the offices where they can be purchased from.
Buses depart from Aguas Calientes when they’re full and the journey is nothing short of a 20 minute uphill slog, following a series of zig-zag roads all the way from Puente Ruinas (once across the UrubambaRiver) all the way to the entrance to Machu Picchu ruins. When we arrived there was no queue at all to get into the ruins; at approx 1130. We produced our tickets, as printed in the UK, showed our passport to match with the name on the tickets, they were stamped to allow access and that was us into Machu Picchu.
Decent maps are available on the counters as you enter the ruins and they give suggested routes round the place, along with other guidelines that should be met while inside the ruins. Anything you hear about not being able to take plastic bottles inside the ruins, or food, is true; however nobody checks bags as you enter and even the tour guides we saw had plastic bottles of water clearly visible in the side pockets of their rucksacks! So the rules seem to be very lax indeed……..
Again, despite the weather forecast being rubbish, it was a lovely sunny afternoon and we kept well protected after our burning related incident the previous day in Cusco. While you know what to expect from Machu Picchu, as regards the famous views across it, it doesn’t stop that awe inspiring moment when your eyes are cast across the ruins for the first time; the best views being from the Guardhouse and terraces nearby. Of course the views offered from Machu PicchuMountain and Wayanapicchu give a much better perspective of the city itself from an elevated viewpoint.
Tour guides are available at the entrance to the ruins, offering their services to all as they walk in. Its easy enough to cling on to a tour group as they’re walked round the ruins as well; we chose to go it alone and amble around at our own pace as opposed to someone else’s; after all everything the tour guides are telling their groups is based on hearsay and not fact and we even heard one guide telling his group that “perhaps this room was occupied………”. Personally I didn’t want to hear perhaps and was happy enjoying the ruins for the sight that they are as opposed to trying to understand what they “may” have been used for.
Our walk round took no more than 2h30m and we didn’t rush at all. Not only are the views over the ruins exceptional but the views of the surrounding mountains, partially shrouded by cloud, and down into the valley below, carved by the Urubamba River are also as spectacular; and from the ruins near the Main Gate to the city you can see the railway line that runs from Machu Picchu to Hidroelectrica; we watched MLW DL535 #482 with train 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hidroelectrica, appear round the mountain, having heard it leaving Puente Ruinas, stop at San Miguel in the valley below, cross the Urubamba River and reverse on the zig-zag as it approached Hidroelectrica in the distance. Attached to the rear of the four local coaches and van was one Expedition coach…
We were back in Aguas Calientes by 1430 having thoroughly enjoyed our time at the ruins. MLW DL535 #487 was sat at Puente Ruins with the Hiram Bingham stock and we found Alco DL532 #352 attached to a rake of vans/coaches in town, just up from Aguas Calientes local station, and nearer to town in the station itself was Alco DL535 #400; both locos were shut down. While we were walking up the road Alco DL535 #358 ran up the hill dragging GM G12 #510, both having been to turn on the wye, which is out of town beyond Puente Ruinas. By the time we walked up the railway line towards the gated entrance to the station 500 had already departed with train 74 1455 to Ollantaytambo and 358 was sat with the Expedition set for train 33 1643 to Cusco Poroy; the same set we’d had it up on that morning. Also in the station was DL535 #484 attached to a Vistadome set; which I can only assume was the set for train 32 1520 to Cusco Poroy. It was at that point that I realised that not all Vistadome trains were DMUs and that some had to be loco-hauled; it was just a matter of figuring out which!
To allow me to keep an eye on things going into town off the Hidroelectrica line we chose a restaurant by the railway line, which also had a great view of the UrubambaRiver. La Payacha didn’t really have anything else going for it other than its location as the food wasn’t up to much and the pizza bases were of the pre-made variety and not fresh at all. The food was overpriced as well; which is apparently the case for Aguas Calientes. I guess though that for a place that is connected only by railway the transfer costs of the goods the restaurants use has to be passed on somewhere; although I guess it could also be that Aguas Calientes has a niche market and the prices are just what they are!?
While in the restaurant we watched GM G12 #500 climb the gradient towards Machu Picchu with train 504 1500 Hidroelectrica – Machu Picchu (Vistadome) and its one coach. Having then walked up the tracks towards and past the Inkaterra restaurant to where the Hidroelectrica line met with the line to Cusco I managed to photograph 500 departing Machu Picchu with train 504 1622 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo (Expedition) it definitely having swapped the Vistadome coach it had arrived with for and Expedition coach instead.
Unfortunately the light had deteriorated quite badly by the time Alco DL532 #358 appeared round the corner from Machu Picchu station with train 33 1643 Machu Picchu – Cusco Poroy so my evening of photography was cut short; it had been interesting watching the locals hump their wheelbarrows backwards and forwards with whatever they seemed to be collecting from out of town. I did feel for the guy that managed to wheel his over the wrong piece of ballast and tip his load all over the tracks; he looked distraught at the fact he would have to carefully reload, especially as it started to rain……
Back at the station Alco DL532 #352 was shunting some Expedition coaches and Alco DL532 #400 was in the station attached to a Vistadome rake which worked train 604 1727 to Cusco Poroy (Vistadome); this moment confirming that all the trains that ran to/from Cusco were indeed loco-hauled. Just as we were about to go and seek a hot drink from somewhere DL535 #487 joined the party when it brought the Hiram Bingham set up from Puente Ruinas and backed it into the station; which then had a line-up of three Alco’s!
I’d been trying to second guess which loco we’d have back to Ollantaytambo that evening but hadn’t quite predicted that it would indeed be #352. Once train 22 1635 Hidroelectrica – Cusco San Pedro Local Train had been reversed into the station by MLW DL535 #482, #352 shunted the set for train 84 1845 to Ollantaytambo into platform 3; the back platform. Once “the local” had departed at 1820 our train was boarded through the far left hand gate; just as it started to hammer down with rain quite heavily. What I’d been told by the woman in Peru Rail’s office in Cusco about coach A always being the front coach was not true; it seemed that train 84 was the exception to this rule with coach A being at the rear. This was not a bonus at all for me as we were booked on this train every time we travelled in the uphill direction towards Ollantaytambo, with the exception of our journey back to Cusco! Thankfully that night rain had stopped play in regard to opening the windows and getting any thrash anyway.
The return journey to Ollantaytambo was not without its surprises. Over the staff radio I’d heard the words “cambio, cambio, cambio”, which of course I assumed meant “change, change, change” literally translated. When we were held in a loop to await train 75 1900 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu to arrive, late, I thought I understood why. It turned up with GM G12 #500 and I’d expected GM G12 #510 off train 74. When we got to Ollantaytambo I actually figured that there was a little more to the evening’s loco swap than I’d realised, when I found DL535 #484 sat with the stock for train 51 2100 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu; which of course had worked 32 1520 Machu Picchu – Cusco Poroy from Machu Picchu! I don’t know why it happened but it appears that 484 had been replaced on train 32 by GM G12 #510, off train 74 1455 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo; this then resulted in GM G12 #500 stepping up to replace 510 with train 75 1900 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, albeit late, and DL535 #484 then back-filling the gap that 500 then left!
When we arrived into Ollantaytambo it was absolutely pounding it down; I’d never been so glad to step off a train, take four steps, and enter my hotel! Check-in was straight forward and the bags I’d dropped off that morning we already in our room waiting for us. The room was an annexe at the rear of the main station building, it was quite large, clean, offered hot water and toiletries but strangely no TV; the latter not bothering us at all.
After a quick wash we were straight into the hotel restaurant; which closes at 2100 with only 30 minutes to spare. The menu wasn’t too diverse but the food served was nothing short of excellent and surprisingly plentiful. The price reflected the food quality and the staff in the restaurant were a friendly bunch. The El Albergue is actually self-sustained with all their produce being farmed on site; tours of the farm are available during your stay.
It had been a very long day and we’d been on the go constantly we were both looking forward to the lay-in the following morning when we went to bed that night; with the heater very much on to take the chill out of the air.
Gen for Monday 23rd December 2013
Alco DL532/5 & MLW DL535
352 – 84 1845 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo
353 – seen at Machu Picchu at 1100
358 – 33 0743 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 34 1643 Machu Picchu – Poroy
400 – stabled in Aguas Calientes all day then 604 1727 Machu Picchu – Poroy
481 – seen at Machu Picchu at 1100
482 – 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hirdoelectrica, 22 1635 Hidroelectrica – Cusco San Pedro
484 – 32 1520 Machu Picchu – Poroy (to Ollanta, replaced by GM G12 #510), 51 2100 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
487 – 11 0905 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 12 1750 Machu Picchu – Poroy (Hiram Bingham Express)
General Motors G12
500 – 203 0825 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 501 1330 Machu Micchu – Hidroelectrica, 504 1500 Hidroelectrica – Machu Picchu, 504 1622 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 75 1900 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
510 – 71 0507 Ollantaytambo – Hidroelectrica, 72 0754 Hidroelectrica – Ollantaytambo, 73 1258 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, 74 1455 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 32 1520 Machu Picchu – Poroy (forward from Ollantaytambo after replacing MLW DL535 #484)
Tuesday 24th December 2013
A leisurely morning with breakfast being done at the last minute but with a birds eye view of the platform! What could be better than stuffing your face while watching passing Alco’s? Well one anyway; MLW DL535 #484 arrived late with the stock to form 501 0853 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu; having presumably worked in with train 50 0535 from Machu Picchu earlier and run through to wherever the wye is located to turn. It appeared as though we’d picked the right day to travel on train 33 0742 Cusco Poroy – Machu Picchu the day before as on this morning it rolled in the GM G12 #510 at its helm; not something I hoped would happen the day we returned to Cusco! The only other train we saw that morning was the local train for local people; just as we were heading out to Ollantaytambo ruins train 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hidroelectrica arrived with Alco DL532 #356, which we’d not seen the previous day.
While not quite as spectacular a location as Machu Pichhu the ruins at Ollantaytambo are still very much worth spending some time at. While most of what you want to see is at the top of the hillside it also appears that plenty of what you might like to see is buried beneath your feet as you walk around the base of the hillside. Randomly dug holes in the ground, which are cordoned off, reveal ruins that have yet to be full excavated. Other ruins at the base of the hillside reveal intricate water delivery systems which channelled water to where it was needed; this still evident today after a heavy downpour the night before.
The afternoon walk up to the Pinkulluna ruins is via a not so well kept footpath but it was easy enough; it seemed like everyone had ventured up there earlier in the morning as we’d seen quite a lot of people up there when we were on the Ollantaytambo ruins; which made sense as the sun was perfect on the Ollantaytambo ruins earlier in the morning, prior to midday. Again the views over the town below and across to the Ollantaytambo ruins were excellent; and again the site offered a panoramic view in every direction!
Having walked up and down two quite steep hillsides we were ready for a rest when we got back to the El Albergue; 5 hours after we’d set off that morning. I chose to attempt to do some photographing in the late afternoon, which turned into one of the worst hours of photography I’d ever done. Firstly it started to rain the moment I walk out but as it was only a light rain I was determined not to be beaten by it. Secondly I did eventually get beaten by it but not before I managed to get photos of a Vistadome DMU on the 1537 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, an Inca Rail DMU on the 1636 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu and GM G12 #500 approaching Ollantaytambo with train 74 1455 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo; not the most productive hour I’d ever had by a long shot and I literally just managed to get back to the station before the rain began bouncing off the floor! Something it barely stopped doing for the rest of the evening.
Not being able to photograph anything, I settled for the next best thing in watching everything from the comfort of the El Albergue café while drinking hot chocolate. Once the hotel restaurant actually opened for its food service we had our table set and even ate our evening meal while watching the evening precession return folk from Machu Picchu. By the end of the evening I’d at least worked out all the Vistadome trains that were DMU so not as unproductive an afternoon/evening as you’d initially think.
The food in the restaurant was just as good as it had been the previous night and the whole chilling out in the hotel topped off a nice relaxing Christmas Eve indeed; which would be very unlike Christmas Day…….
Gen for Tuesday 24th December 2013
Alco DL532/5 & MLW DL535
352 – 12 1750 Machu Picchu – Poroy
356 – 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hirdoelectrica, 22 1635 Hidroelectrica – Cusco San Pedro
358 – 32 1520 Machu Picchu – Poroy
400 – 504 1622 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 51 2100 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
482 – 604 1727 Machu Picchu – Poroy
484 – 501 0853 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, 84 1845 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo
General Motors G12
500 – 74 1455 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 75 1900 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
510 – 33 0742 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 34 1643 Machu Picchu – Poroy
Wednesday 25th December 2013 (The Christmas Morning Dreams are made of!)
As if our Christmas Day wasn’t starting early enough with the 0610 departure from Ollantaytambo; we were both rudely awoken by the sound of GM G12 #500 starting up in the station at 0428! In a twisted way this actually brought a smile to my face as it meant that it was working the 0507 to Hidroelectrica and wouldn’t be on our 0610 departure to Machu Picchu.
We didn’t really sleep again after 500 had interrupted our slumber; the constant drone from it was quite noisy and there was a revving up every now an again as it shunted. I was guessing it made quite a racket when on full power.
As breakfast in the hotel didn’t start until 0530 we didn’t have a lot of time before our 0540 boarding time for the 0610 departure to Machu Picchu so breakfast was taken onto the train in a takeaway carton; which was awfully nice of the staff to do. Christmas Day got off to a good start with Alco DL535 #484 sat purring away at the head of train 81 0610 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu.
Christmas morning or not the train’s atmosphere reflected everyone’s mood; which still seemed like one of general tiredness. Of course there’s always one boisterous one who wanted to “get this party started”; his words! Thankfully said person was someone who didn’t want to travel backwards and ultimately moved seats shortly after his comment which allowed everyone else to wake up at their own pace and not have to listen to him.
After the morning Coca Tea & muffin from the trolley everyone seemed that bit more lively and we got chatting to the group of Americans in the from bay with us; we thought we’d been up early but they’d started their day before the GM had even woken us up! They’d been staying in Urubamba and hadn’t been able to get a reservation on the only train of the day out of there so had to travel to Ollantaytambo in a minibus for the 0610 departure; this vice the 0650 departure from Urubamba which does make quite a difference. Still they were in good spirits about things and were a nice sociable bunch.
We wasted absolutely no time at all as we arrived into Machu Picchu and followed the Americans off the train through the door at the opposite end of the coach to where everyone else was exiting; this was something that wasn’t allowed but as the door was wide open it would have been rude not to; it did give us a head start on everyone else but did get us all a telling off from the staff mind…..
There were only two people in front of us at the ticket office for bus tickets to Machu Picchu yet it took almost 10 minutes to get served. One woman was buying tickets for a large group and then the guy in front had some of his US Dollars thrown back at him as they were not in the “just printed” condition that everyone in Peru expected! Still, the bus waited until it was full anyway so it didn’t matter how long it took; although time was of the essence as the sun seemed to be breaking through the cloud and burning it off quite quickly and we wanted to be at the ruins before this happened.
We were at the ruins by just after 8 o’clock and the cloud was still clinging to the surrounding hills. As we walked into Machu Picchu we could hear a racket coming from the railway down below in the valley; it was of course GM G12 #500 disturbing the Christmas morning karma as it headed back towards Machu Picchu from Hidroelectrica with train 72 0754 Hidroelectrica – Ollantaytambo. I was right, it did make quite a racket and was essentially louder than the Alcos working the Machu Picchu line but not as pleasant on the ears.
While there is that sense of awe when you stare at Machu Picchu’s ruins for the first time, there is also that sense of I’ve seen this before and know what to expect; let me tell you that the latter sense doesn’t even enter your head when your eyes cast themselves over the ruins when they are shrouded in cloud. Your senses hardly have time to process what you’re witnessing and every second offers a different perspective while the panoramic landscape is constantly changing as the cloud glides silently between the mountains. For me this sense of awe was far more prominent than the first visit, two days previous. It’s a far more atmospheric location when seen as we saw it, on what will likely remain one of the most memorable Christmas Morning’s of our lives! As we’d already done the walking round two days previous we chose to work our way round to the terraces by the Guardhouse and just sit and watch; as the skies literally passed us by. Despite the people about it was a tranquil morning and we admired it for what it was for over an hour; once the sun had burnt off the remaining cloud though the whole complexion of the place changed dramatically and it turned from a tranquil haven in the skies to “just Machu Picchu”, at which time we chose to head back down to Aguas Calientes.
Despite having tickets booked to Hidroelectrica the following day we opted to go on Christmas Day as well and what a good move it turned out to be as well. Tickets were purchased from the empty booking office at Machu Picchu station and the lady explained that the train would depart from Aguas Calientes station; in the “Main Square” as everyone refers to it as, which is not a square at all! Basically Aguas Calientes station is just down the tracks from where the buses to Machu Picchu depart from and there’s a booking office for the locals to buy their tickets from on the right hand side as you look down the tracks. We bode our time at the Hot Springs II restaurant, one of the many that line the railway tracks near Aguas Calientes station, while waiting for our train to arrive.
Train 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hidroelectrica arrived round about 1130 with Alco DL532 #353, a van right behind the engine and load 5 local coaches only. I’d suspected that what happened next would do so having seen MLW DL535 #482 in Machu Picchu station sidings attached to a coach. #482 shunted Expedition coach #1529 onto the rear of the train almost immediately after it had arrived; this of course begged the question as to why tourists weren’t boarded at Machu Picchu station and then transferred down to the train via the shunt move. One staff member soon turned up to allow people to board the Expedition coach yet strangely he boarded people from the booking office side of the train, which opened straight onto the tracks as the train had run into the left hand loop, and while there were no platforms at all it was easier to get out on the opposite side onto the elevated public walkways by the restaurants. All was kind of irrelevant as we’d already boarded when he turned up, along with the other couple waiting. While I’d nipped out to get a photo the coach attendant had told Danielle that I should not get out of the train on the wrong side and only board through the door he had open on the track side……..
When taking my photos of DL532 #353 it became apparent why the train had arrived so early when I spotted all the goods being offloaded from the van at the front and a group of folk waiting patiently to collect what was theirs. This didn’t stop a right time departure from Aguas Calientes at 1235, 1h05m after the train had arrived.
Unfortunately it had started to rain before we’d departed so our view through the panoramic windows was obscured but it didn’t stop us moving around the empty coach in our attempts to spot Machu Picchu as we skirted the base of the mountain it is perched on. Views of the ruins are clear at Puente Ruinas station, this is the station that can be seen from the ruins and as you travel up the roadway to the ruins by bus. The ruins can also be seen at the opposite side of the valley as the train approaches San Miguel station; this section of line is visible when at the ruins from the far end of the terraces by the Guardhouse and the ruins by the Main Gate.
At San Miguel station one of the local coaches is knocked out of the train; it became clear why when we entered the only zig-zag of the Machu Picchu – Hidrelectrica section. This zig-zag is on the approach to Hidroelectrica itself, and you can see trains doing the zig-zag from the ruins. It drops trains down towards Hidroelectrica and can only take a finite amount of coaches. When the Expedition coach is added at Aguas Calientes it makes the train too long so the solution is to knock a coach out at San Miguel so the train will fit. When the coach was being knocked out at San Miguel I also noticed that the loco had been turned prior to us leaving Aguas Calientes as it was the opposite way round to when I’d photographed it prior to boarding; it was obvious on arrival at Hidroelectrica that there was no way of turning it there, the station area consisting of just two roads.
Hidroelectrica station has its own booking office, covered waiting area and toilet facilities and the whole station is lined with makeshift stalls selling water, pop and snacks. Immediately after arrival the locals made a mad dash for the waiting transport to take them on towards Santa Teresa; some of the tourists from our coach looked to be hiking onwards to Santa Teresa and while we were at Hidroelectrica we saw other hikers going in both directions, as well as plenty between there and Machu Picchu also. Others arrived in a hiking group and bought train tickets forward to Machu Picchu; so many options I guess but now people have the option to use the train to/from Hirdoelectrica it allows for options to be factored into a days hike.
Once the people had disappeared, leaving the tracks clear, 353 ran round and shunted the van from the Santa Teresa end of the train to the Machu Picchu end and then stood off its stock but was left running. Some local village idiot, who’d clearly had a bit much to drink I reckon, was walking around the place with a 2 litre bottle of Coke and was trying to get the attention of any train crew he could by hammering on the cab sides of 353! All he wanted to do was give them a glass of Coke and judging by the train crew’s reaction they didn’t want to offend and accepted his offer; whether it actually contained Coke, and only Coke, I don’t know, and whether the crew actually drank it or threw it straight out of the opposite cab window I also don’t know but the plastic cup the guy was using came back quite quickly both times it had gone into the cab……..
What I’d been trying to work out, right up until the train arrived, was just how the loco off train 501 1330 Machu Picchu – Hidroelectrica was going to run round and depart with train 504 back to Machu Picchu at 1500; all while #353 was occupying one of the roads with its train that wouldn’t depart until 1635. All became apparent when MLW DL535 #481 detached from the front of train 501, just beyond the points as it approached the station, and then drew into the unoccupied loop. Meanwhile #353 then attached to train 501 and drew it into the loop it had already been sat on; and in doing so it went right to the stock of its train which meant that the shunter could detach/couple everything where it needed to be without any further shunts. #481 was then attached to the Machu Picchu end of the train, ready for its return to Machu Picchu; only then were all the passengers on board train 501 allowed off, having had a bonus engine, albeit for a few coach lengths……
Train 504 1500 Hidroelectrica – Machu Picchu only had about a dozen folk on board which allowed us to sit where we wanted. Of course we sat at the front, where the nearest opening windows to #481 were situated. This was my first sample of any decent thrash since arriving in Peru, other than listening to the GM pass through the valley earlier that morning; and cracking thrash it was too. While only on load 2, 481 had to work had to climb the gradients back towards Aguas Calientes and what made it even better was the fact that more coaches were added to the rear of the train at Puente Ruinas as we passed through; making the run up the hill, through the street, at Aguas Calientes very noisy indeed. Unlike our outbound run to Hidroelectrica the return dropped us into Machu Picchu station as the set, after a bit of shunting to lose the Vistadome coach, then forms Expedition train 504 1622 forward to Ollantaytambo.
A cheeky ploy of getting a photo of #481 after arrival at Machu Picchu gave us the prime motive to just walk off the end of the platform and the 50 yards further up the tracks to the Inkaterra restaurant; which we’d chosen from Lonely Planet to have our Christmas lunch at. This move saved a 10 minute walk round the roadway.
The restaurant was just emptying out, although I don’t want to give the impression it was full as it was far from it, with probably only 4 tables being used and they had the cheek to ask if we had a reservation! Despite the slow start to proceedings, while a table was freshly set for us in the area being used by the staff at that time, the Christmas Lunch of Lomo Saltado was excellent. Unfortunately what wasn’t excellent was the price of hot drinks and I ordered hot chocolate based on the prices I’d paid in other places; big mistake! Lomo Saltado was reasonable priced at 30 Soles but the two hot chocolates I had cost the same at 15 Soles each; beware! The one thing that the Inkaterra does have going for it is that any train movements have to pass by the front door, even if only a shunt move in the station area; so it allowed me to see everything that was going on that evening while we ate.
The rain hadn’t really eased much all afternoon and we used the dead time after lunch to roam round the souvenir market outside the station entrance; more to keep dry than anything else. As per two nights previous our train 84 1845 to Ollantaytambo was boarded after train 22 1635 Hidroelectrica – Cusco San Pedro local train had departed at 1820; with of course Alco DL532 #353 at its helm. Our train departed from platform 3 and Alco DL535 #400 had already back the stock in some time after train 22 had arrived into Machu Picchu. We’d already met with the group of Americans we’d travelled up with on the station concourse before boarding; both them and us had exactly the same seats on the return journey to Ollantaytambo as we’d had on the outward journey so we all got to discuss our day’s expeditions during the trip back. By the time we’d all got our day’s stories out of the way the mood of the train was pretty much the same as it had been when we’d set off that morning; at least half of the coach was asleep!
Stepping off the train and straight into the hotel was definitely a luxury; the poor Americans still had a 30 minute taxi journey ahead of them! Unfortunately I’d made the mistake of not reserving a table for dinner that night; which almost completely ruined our Christmas Dinner. Luckily the very accommodating staff turned one of the small café tables into something like and we had a makeshift table to eat our Christmas Dinner from. The food was as good as any previous meal, as were the puddings which we treat ourselves to. A thoroughly enjoyable end to a very long but equally as memorable Christmas Day it was.
Gen for Wednesday 25th December 2013
Alco DL532/5 & MLW DL535
352 – 12 1750 Machu Picchu – Poroy (Hiram Bingham Express)
353 – 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hirdoelectrica, drag 501 1330 Machu Picchu – Hidroelectrica into Hidroelectrica after #481 had detached at the pointwork, 22 1635 Hidroelectrica – Cusco San Pedro
358 – 31 0640 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 32 1520 Machu Picchu – Poroy
400 – 50 0535 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 501 0853 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, 84 1845 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo
481 – 501 1330 Machu Picchu – Hidroelectrica (dragged into station by #353 after 481 detached at points on approach to station), 504 1500 Hidroelectrica – Machu Picchu, 504 1622 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, Freight at approx 2115 towards Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo
482 – 83 0745 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, shunt Expedition coach #1529 onto rear of train 21 at Aguas Calientes, 604 1727 Machu Picchu – Poroy
484 – 81 0610 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, ???? Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 51 2100 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
General Motors G12
500 – 71 0507 Ollantaytambo – Hidroelectrica, 72 0754 Hidroelectrica – Ollantaytambo, 73 1258 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, 74 1455 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 75 1900 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
510 – 33 0742 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 34 1643 Machu Picchu – Poroy
Thursday 26th December 2013 (Boxing Day Blues…..)
De ja vu! The only difference being was that GM G12 #500 woke me at 0432, 4 minutes later than it had done the previous morning. While again I was glad of the fact it was working the 0507 service to Hidroelectrica, this time I managed to get back to sleep; despite its drone.
We didn’t get up until 0630 and had time for breakfast before our 0745 train to Machu Picchu. MLW DL535 #484 was our loco to Machu Picchu for the second day running; just on a different train. Upon arrival at Machu Picchu this morning there wasn’t any urgency to be anywhere and we let everyone else get on with their own sense of urgency; we used the morning to amble round Aguas Calientes. Our plan had been to go to the hot springs at the top of town but once we saw the pictures at the entrance gate we soon turned round and walked away. Unless you want to take a dip in the springs I wouldn’t waste my time even walking up to them; they’re nothing more than glorified hot-tubs!
A bit of photographing followed as Aguas Calientes only just seemed to be waking up and there was very little open. Observations included Alco DL535 #400 attached to the freight vehicles just beyond Aguas Calientes station; my prediction was that it would work train 84 1845 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo that evening and also that whatever ended up being parked on top of it later in the morning would work train 604 1727 Machu Picchu – Poroy. Also spotted in the street was MLW DL535 #484 returning from the wye, having been turned after fetching us to Machu Picchu that morning, and Alco DL532 #358 on its way to the wye having worked in to Machu Picchu with train 31 0640 Poroy – Machu Picchu. MLW DL535 #481 seemed to be the most active loco of the morning, having arrived with 501 0853 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu it then shunted its stock down to Puente Ruinas and returned to Machu Picchu, after being turned on the wye, to then be station pilot. While we were sat at the Hot Springs II restaurant having an early lunch it shunted down and into the loop with coach #1529; to attach to the rear of train 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hirdoelectrica when it arrived.
Train 21 was a good 25 minutes later than it had been the previous day; hence 481 already being sat waiting in the loop with the Expedition coach I guess. As a result of this later arrival there hadn’t been enough time to turn 353 on the wye before departure so we pulled up alongside it en-route and it turned while we waited. The local coach was knocked out at San Miguel again; the biggest difference from the previous day was the weather in that it wasn’t raining and it allowed for cracking views of the Machu Picchu ruins during the run round the base of the mountain.
The heavens opened at Hidroelectrica though and there seemed to be more people about than there had been on Christmas Day; some were having a rest before carrying on to Santa Teresa while others were just sheltering from the rain. Some people that had set off towards Aguas Calientes returned when the heavy rain started and chose to take the train instead; lightweights eh?
MLW DL535 #482 arrived with train 501 1330 from Machu Picchu and exactly the same shunting manoeuvre took place as had done the previous day to get it from the front on arrival to the rear for departure back to Machu Picchu. There were a lot more people getting off than the previous day though, with the coach being almost full. There were also quite a few more people on train 504 back to Machu Picchu that there had been the previous day, although it wasn’t full at all. #482 didn’t disappoint at all as it hammered back up the valley to Machu Picchu, it also using the wye en-route to turn; much to the amusement of the folk on the train who though their engine was leaving them in the woodland.
The late afternoon was spent at Totos House restaurant, keeping warm with hot drinks, while sitting outside and videoing every set of stock that was being hauled up to Machu Picchu station as it passed through the streets of Aguas Calientes. An entertaining afternoon it was too with #481 being the start performer of the three trains that passed by as it took the stock for 604 1727 Machu Picchu – Poroy towards the station; as predicted in the morning it had been parked on top of DL535 #400 by Aguas Calientes station as we rolled by on our return from Hidroelectrica and was doing exactly as expected. Also as expected #400 was sat at the helm of train 84 1845 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo when we got onto the station; having been attached to the freight wagons by Aguas Calientes station all day! This was the third day in a row we’d been on this train and the third day in a row we’d been in the back coach for the uphill section back towards Ollantaytambo. I was hoping for better the following day when we returned to Cusco but my hopes weren’t that high! We were booked on the 1258 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu and then 1643 Machu Picchu – Poroy; for the previous 3 days the former had been worked by GM G12 #500 and the latter by GM G12 #510. You’d have to say that things didn’t look good; and I’d already checked the trains to Cusco the following day and all were fully booked, except, would you believe it, the one we were booked on!
Having almost made a mess of dinner arrangements on Christmas Day I’d made a reservation at the El Albergue for Boxing Day; which of course I hadn’t needed to as there were plenty of tables free when we walked in at 2030. Our last meal at the El Albergue was just as good as the first and every other in between; the staff seemed to know we were leaving the following morning and truthfully we could probably have stayed there for another 4 nights as it was a lovely place, with friendly people and everyone was helpful. We went to bed that night knowing there was nothing to get up for the following morning and it seemed to make a difference to our sleep.
Gen for Thursday 26th December 2013
Alco DL532/5 & MLW DL535
352 – 11 0905 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 12 1750 Machu Picchu – Poroy (Hiram Bingham Express)
353 – 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hirdoelectrica, drag 501 1330 Machu Picchu – Hidroelectrica into Hidroelectrica after #482 had detached at the pointwork, 22 1635 Hidroelectrica – Cusco San Pedro
358 – 31 0640 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 32 1520 Machu Picchu – Poroy
400 – 81 0610 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, 84 1845 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo
481 – 50 0535 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 501 0853 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, shunt Expedition coach #1529 onto rear of train 21 at Aguas Calientes, 604 1727 Machu Picchu – Poroy
482 – 501 1330 Machu Picchu – Hidroelectrica (dragged into station by #353 after 482 detached at points on approach to station), 504 1500 Hidroelectrica – Machu Picchu, 504 1622 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 51 2100 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
484 – 83 0745 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
General Motors G12
500 – 71 0507 Ollantaytambo – Hidroelectrica, 72 0754 Hidroelectrica – Ollantaytambo, 73 1258 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, 74 1455 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 75 1900 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
510 – 33 0742 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 34 1643 Machu Picchu – Poroy
Friday 27th December 2013
For the first morning in three we hadn’t been woken by the drone of the GM starting up for the 0507 departure to Hidroelectrica; although on this morning it was the first thing on my mind when I did get up as I wanted to know if indeed my final day of travel on the Machu Picchu system was going to be a complete and utter bowl out!
With the late breakfast I had absolutely no clue at all what had gone towards Machu Picchu that morning, or indeed on which train so it wouldn’t become clear until later that morning what GM #500 was up to but at around 0910 it would become very clear how bad our day was going to turn out; I could stomach having to have 500 to Machu Picchu but then having to suffer 510 all the way back to Cusco, when I’d not actually had an uphill run in that direction behind an Alco yet, made it all the more annoying thinking about the fact that it was very likely to happen! I was on the verge of thanking god when Alco DL532 #356 arrived with train 33 0742 Poroy – Machu Picchu and even more so when shortly afterwards DL532 #353 arrived with train 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hirdoelectrica local train; with the Vistadome coaches of what should have been train 203 0825 Poroy – Machu Picchu attached to the rear! Not only was there no sign of GM #510 but it appeared to me that it may well have failed and Cusco appeared to be an engine short. Of course there was the Hiram Bingham to go yet and that could well be #510 but whatever worked that up would work it back so when we nipped out for a walk round town, having witnessed what train 21 had to offer, I was a very happy man that morning; and would be no matter what conveyed us to Machu Picchu!
As we had to vacate our room at the El Albergue by 1000 we left our bags at the hotel reception while we walked into town. I’d already paid the bill and changed some more money as I was running out of Soles. A word of warning though if paying by credit card the price in $US has to be converted to Soles, which is generally at a rate of 10 Soles more to the $US than you’d get when exchanging money in Cusco so ultimately it costs more and you’d be better off paying cash where you can. Also the exchange rate for cash at the hotel was 10 Soles less to the $US so I got screwed both ways! The guy at reception couldn’t apologise enough though and was almost embarrassed to have to charge me what he did.
The morning passed us by while we ambled round Ollantaytambo’s Plaza and people watched for a while. Back at the station for our train I wasn’t surprised to find GM #500 sat with the stock for train 73 1258 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu; after all it had worked the turn solid since we’d been in town! It was maybe a little unfortunate that we were at the rear of the 6 coach train, which was made up of both local and Expedition coaches, as I was a little curious to see what it sounded like; but it wasn’t to be.
Train 73 actually terminated at Aguas Calientes rather than run into Machu Picchu station; I thought people might be allowed on for the shunt back up to Machu Picchu but everyone was turfed off before Alco DL532 #358 dragged the empty train back up the hill to Machu Picchu; where the set would then form train 74 1455 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo. Meanwhile Alco DL532 #356 had been waiting immediately in front of us as we’d arrived and it instantly dragged GM #500 off to be turned on the wye and then deposited it back at Machu Picchu in time to work back to Ollantaytambo with train 74. It was a tight turnaround as it was and made perfect sense to terminate the train at Aguas Calientes to save on the shunting in Machu Picchu station. I’d seen the light engine move heading back up the hill after turning twice during our trip, which consisted of the loco off train 33 from Cusco & train 73 from Ollantaytambo, so this must have been the regular operation.
With only a couple of hours to spare before we set sail for Cusco again we ate at the Hot Springs II again; knowing the food was ok and in full view of train movements as well. While I’d never actually seen train 203 0825 Cusco Poroy – Machu Picchu, other than attached to the rear of train 21 earlier that morning, I was convinced that this turn fed train 501 1330 Machu Picchu – Hidroelectrica to put a loco from Cusco into the Ollantaytambo circuit. The opposite balancing move seemed to be off train 501 0853 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu and then onto train 604 1727 Machu Picchu – Cusco Poroy. Of course on this day one of the Ollantaytambo starters was likely going to feed into train 501 to Hidroelectrica, as train 203 hadn’t provided it’s own loco, and sure enough we watched Alco DL535 #400 run back up the hill towards Machu Picchu with train 504 1500 Hidroelectrica – Machu Picchu. Also parked in the street, just beyond Aguas Calientes station were MLW DL535’s #481, attached to the freight vans, and #482 parked on top of it. The former was shunting stock in the station area when we boarded our train to Cusco, which by previous sightings would mean it should work train 84 1845 to Ollantaytambo (as would where it had been stabled predict the same) and if previous sightings are to go on #482 would work train 604 1727 to Cusco (again based on where it had been stabled it had been true every day I’d seen it). Where the balancing loco was lost during the day I couldn’t figure out as I hadn’t seen enough trains to work it out; either way Ollantaytambo should have been turning engines round quickly that night (in theory). None of that was my concern though as the best was quite rightly saved while last and we departed bang on time with train 34 1643 Machu Picchu – Poroy; with Alco DL532 #356 leading the way. At last some front coach action up the hill and it was so worth the wait; not only did #356 sound the part it clagged the part too! As it was quite a warm evening most windows in the coach were open and as we were sat at the rear of the coach I managed to keep mine open all the way to Poroy; I did find that the best thrash was from the toilet at the front of the coach, and I also found a queue waiting for me to come out when I’d been listening to 356 departing Ollantaytambo. The run back to Cusco was a fitting end to a cracking 5 days in the area travelling by Peru Rail Alco’s.
Unfortunately the Kenamari Hotel seemed to have forgotten to send a taxi to Poroy to collect us as nobody was holding a sign with my name on it when we got back; thankfully though there was no shortage of taxi drivers wanting to take us back to Cusco and none wanted to overcharge us either. We paid 30 Soles, which was exactly what we’d paid on the outbound run, and we were back at the hotel before 2100. A quick bag dump has us at the Don Marcelo restaurant in the Plaza de Armas by 2130 and we were back at the hotel and in bed by 2300!
Gen for Friday 27th December 2013
Alco DL532/5 & MLW DL535
353 – 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hirdoelectrica (combined with train 203 0825 Poroy – Machu Picchu; Vistadome coaches attached to the rear)
356 – 33 0742 Poroy – Machu Picchu, 34 1643 Machu Picchu – Poroy
358 – 31 0640 Poroy – Machu Picchu, ecs off train 73 1258 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu, 32 1520 Machu Picchu – Poroy
400 – 501 1330 Machu Picchu – Hidroelectrica (assumed – dragged into station by #353 after #400 detached at points at end of station), 504 1500 Hidroelectrica – Machu Picchu, 504 1622 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo
481 – 83 0745 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, shunted stock into position to work 84 1845 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo
482 – 50 0535 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 501 0853 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, stabled in position to work 604 1727 Machu Picchu – Poroy
General Motors G12
500 – 71 0507 Ollantaytambo – Hidroelectrica, 72 0754 Hidroelectrica – Ollantaytambo, 73 1258 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu, 74 1455 Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo, 75 1900 Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu
Saturday 28th December 2013
We were up at 6am for an 0630 breakfast, followed by the short walk to Peru Rail’s Cusco Wanchaq station. The entrance to the station isn’t very visible and we walked straight past it while trying to locate it earlier in the week; its just a metal door in the wall, which was open when we arrived just after 0700. We were soon checked in, at the check-in desk, for our day’s train journey to Puno aboard Peru Rail’s Andean Explorer train. While checking in we were moved to different seats; which we were told were two seats together and not sat with other people like our original seats were.
The waiting hall is a grand affair with comfy seats and has a band playing traditional pipe music while you wait; the same band then accompany the train.
The train was boarded at 0730, for its 0800 departure, and was done in very much the same way that the Machu Picchu trains were, the only exception being that our passports were shown at the check-in desk so weren’t needed again to get onto the train. As we passed through the access door to the platform I could hear a familiar sound and thankfully my ears were telling me that the loco at the head of the 7 coach train was the correct type; it turned out to be MLW DL560 #659 when I went to investigate.
With Peru Rail being run by the same group that run the Orient Express I’d expected the train to be very well kept and well presented on board, and it was; it was just freezing cold with no heat. Peru Rail’s solution to the cold morning was to hand out blankets and pillows; airline style. Unfortunately it took us 1h15m from departure to get a warm drink to take the edge off the morning; and when that came the Coca Tea had no taste at all so it was returned and we asked for the next one to have the tea bag left in to brew a little. Unfortunately that request got lost in translation and we ended up using two Coca Teabags I had in my bag to give the tea some taste; further to that the 2nd cup was only lukewarm! The third cup we eventually got was piping hot though but in a different coach; that’s another story though…….
When I got my camera out of my bag I’d rested my little bag beside me on my seat; when I put the bag back onto the floor though I noticed a wet patch on the seat. Investigations soon revealed that the floor beneath my seat was saturated and the bottom of my bag had been soaking up water for two hours. Luckily nothing valuable got damaged but things in my bag were wet. It had hammered it down the previous night and water had obviously found its way into the train. A quick chat with the on-train manager had us moved into the next coach in no time at all. Not only were we nearer the engine, the coach was emptier and we’d managed to get away from the pair of ignorant twats that were sat at the side of us; who just kept commenting to each other when I opened the window a little to take photos. To be honest it was probably a good thing we moved as I was sure my girlfriend wouldn’t be able to hold herself back for 10 hours!
Menu’s for the day’s service are on all tables and the coach attendant comes through to take your order for lunch almost straight away. Breakfast is not included in the ticket price and anything ordered is paid for breakfast wise. Coca Tea, Camomile Tea & water are available throughout the day and included in your package and soft drinks are available only during lunch; these have to be purchased at any other part of the day. Other than lunch there is an evening tea service which consists of a light finger sandwich selection, tea and Peach Bellini, the only other service being a complimentary Pisco Sour. The food served at lunch was very good but just wasn’t enough to fill us up and we found ourselves snacking on our own goodies most of the day.
During the day there is on-board entertainment in the train’s veranda car at the rear. There are two sorts of entertainment, one is traditional Peruvian dances and the other a clothes show of traditional Peruvian dress. Both shows are done by different teams of folk with one being before the train’s stop at La Raya and the other after it; this as the performers actually swap trains when the northbound/southbound trains cross at the passing point of Araranca just south of La Raya.
The only time people are allowed off the train is during a 10 minute stop at La Raya, the highest point on the line from Cusco to Puno at 4313m. There is a small market set up by the locals to sell souvenirs to folk on board the passing trains and the scenery is fantastic. Unfortunately the weather chose to absolutely hammer it down from the moment we approached the summit to the moment we began to descend; so getting photos there was a bit of a wet affair! The on-board staff did take my pack-a-mack and hang it in their staff quarters to dry out though.
It’s slow going coming out of the Cusco suburbs, mainly because there are so many road crossings. In an attempt to speed things up, and prevent accidents, a track machine precedes the train through the suburbs. Once out into the wilderness though the train speeds up to its maximum allowed speed of 48kmph. The scenery becomes more mountainous the further away from Cusco the train gets and the cloud over the range gave such an atmospheric feeling to the day.
MLW DL560 #659 didn’t seem to be up to much at all, even when climbing to steepest part of the line to La Raya; which was a little unfortunate as we were only two coaches from the front. We only saw two other working locos the whole day, MLW DL560 #654 with the opposing Puno – Cusco Andean Explorer at Araranca and GM GT26C #752 sat with a freight train at Juliaca. The only other locos seen were a small steam loco plinthed outside the station at Cusco and 1950 British built Beyer Peacock 2-8-0 #252 stabled at Juliaca.
Arrival into Puno was in darkness and only a few minutes late at 1805. Unfortunately Peru Rail don’t allow people off the train immediately and everyone had to wait on board for 10 minutes until the luggage van was emptied and everyone’s bag made ready for collection in the booking hall; of course if you don’t have bags in the luggage van the 10 minute wait is nothing but a small inconvenience, as it was to us.
We’d arranged collection, which was included in the Intiqa Hotel room rate, and a sign with my name on was clearly visible in the waiting hall. The journey to the hotel was actually only 3 minutes and was less than a kilometre so we cancelled the return transfer upon arrival and opted to walk back on our day of departure.
The hotel staff were friendly, handing us a map of Puno and explaining where everything we might need was. The room we were given was massive and had two double and one single bed in it; it was clean and well presented with a TV, hot water and heater. Having dropped our stuff off we didn’t wait long before heading out for food; having not felt like we’d eaten enough at all during the day on board the Andean Explorer. Most eateries were situated on Pasaje Lima and we’d had two places recommended by the tour guide who accompanied us to our hotel during our pick-up; these being La Casona, which was full when we tried, and the Hacienda, which was busy but had room for us. The food was very good and more reasonably priced than the La Casona had been.
Having had an enjoyable day on our 10 hour train journey from Cusco we spent the remainder of our evening relaxing in the hotel room, trying to keep warm.
Gen for Saturday 28th December 2013
654 – 19 0800 Puno – Cusco Wanchaq
659 – 20 0800 Cusco Wanchaq – Puno
752 – stabled at Juliaca with a freight
Sunday 29th December 2013
A leisurely 0730 alarm call; which wasn’t needed as it seemed our body clocks had been fixed on getting up at around 0630 by this point! Breakfast at the Intiqa was self-service but anything egg related was cooked fresh by a waiting chef.
Our day in Puno had been pre-planned and I’d arranged two trips through Edgar Adventures via their website. They’d confirmed my requests almost immediately and were happy me making payment at their offices when we arrived in Puno. I’d booked their Classic Uros trip for the morning and then their Classic Sillustani trip for the afternoon; this allowing us plenty of time for lunch in between the two. For both trips we were collected from our hotel, by minibus in the morning to be ferried to the docks for our boat to the Uros and by bus in the afternoon for the 45 minute journey to Sillustani. It turned out that the tour guide was the same person for both trips, who was very informative and gave his speeches in Spanish & English; but at the same time, splitting his sentences in Spanish & English, rather than doing the whole thing in one language and then the next.
It was a cracking day with the weather being very good to us. The morning sunshine turned to blackened skies and heavy thunderstorms by the late afternoon though; both making the respective trips we’d done very atmospheric with white fluffy clouds over Lake Titicaca in the morning and dark thunder clouds over the Sillustani Funerary Towers in the afternoon; both were very fitting for their surroundings.
As we were dropped off in Plaza de Armas we chose to go straight to the Hacienda for an evening meal. It was empty when we arrived but was as good a place as any to shelter from the storm. Not only was our meal leisurely but it was candlelit thanks to the storm knocking out the power to the city; power was restored every now and again but the lightening kept knocking it back out again. At points we couldn’t actually hear the thunder that followed the lightening as the rain had turned to hail and the noise it made while pounding the restaurant roof drowned out the thunder; it was hitting with tremendous force. I can honestly say that our meal in the Hacienda that night was the most interesting of the trip. When the power came back on for the third time I wasted no time in getting the waiter to take my card for the bill; while the card machines actually had power!
Despite the storm having eased a little and the hail having turned back to rain we still got soaked while walking back to the hotel; nothing that the room heater didn’t cure though. What a thoroughly enjoyable day we’d had in Puno; even though we’d only been there for one day it had seemed like longer.
Monday 30th December 2013
Our walk to Puno station that morning only took 5 minutes and thankfully it had stopped raining; there being no evidence of the previous night’s storm at all, other than a few puddles. We found MLW DL560 #654 just turning the stock when we arrived and I managed to get some photos of it when it backed out onto the roadway while doing so. At least it was a different one for the return journey; I can only assume that it had worked a freight south after it had arrived at Cusco two days previous, and that #659 that we’d had south had done the same in the reverse direction.
The waiting hall at Puno isn’t as grand as the one at Cusco but the same Peruvian pipe music is played while you wait to board the train. Even though it was exactly the same set we’d had south the reservation list at check-in only had one coach loaded with people; so not as many going north as had come south two days previous. The check-in guy split people between two coaches during the check-in process and I managed to get us into the leading coach of the two and at a table for two in the process; where I knew there was an opening window (seats 10/11 as per our outward journey).
The same staff accompanied the train back north as had done southbound two days previous. The food service was exactly the same, as was the entertainment, albeit in the reverse order to coming south. Thankfully the weather was a lot warmer, which not only dried the dampness of the train out but also allowed for the window to be left open all day!
As it was a nicer day we used the veranda car and spent time there during the run through Juliaca; which is literally straight through the town’s market! Not only were the stalls very close to the train, no sooner had we gone by did folk reset their stalls on the tracks; some hadn’t even bothered to move their stuff from between the rails. Books, diy bits and even vegetables all revealed themselves from beneath the train as we passed though Juliaca at a slow pace.
With the window open all day I got a lot more from DL560 #654 than #659 had offered in the opposite direction. #654 turned out to be a bit of a beast; it made the right noises for a 16 cylinder machine and was very loud with it. It also clagged, unlike #659 had done, and its transition was quite violent when coming in on full power. The driver obviously knew how to drive it too, which helped matters. The climb up towards La Raya was excellent; the best bit by far being the standing start from Araranca after crossing #659 going the other way. It had just started to hammer it down with rain as well and the rails were soaked…….
Having passed MLW DL560 #659 with the southbound Andean Explorer at Araranca this time we got to enjoy the stop at La Raya while the sun was out. The whole return journey was far better than the outward had been despite everything being the same but the weather; so maybe the warmer day was the answer? Or maybe it was the fact that the journey cost $102 less than the southbound run? This it turns out, as per a response from Peru Rail, is Peru Rail’s attempt to increase passenger numbers on the Puno – Cusco run as they get far less patronage than in the Cusco – Puno direction.
Arrival into Cusco Wanchaq was at 1815, 15 minutes late; we then had to endure the 10 minute wait while bags were offloaded and made ready for everyone to collect. All the time we stood at the door, with the footboards up to allow folk to disembark, yet still we weren’t allowed onto the platform!
We were soon back at the Kenamari Hotel, for the 3rd time and 4th night during our trip. Bags dropped off I tried to check-in online for our LAN flight to Arequipa the following day but wasn’t successful in doing so. Luckily the LAN shop on Avenue El Sol was still open when we walked by; we made it through the door by 2 minutes as it was closed when we were let out of the shop. It took moments to get our boarding cards printed.
Of course we used the Don Marcelo for food that evening but it was very busy and had been all day according to the girl that serviced us; as a result they had no beef left for my Lomo Saltado so I had to have something else. It turns out that Cusco is the place to be for New Year in Peru; hence the reason it was so busy. Even the streets were a lot busier than they had been during our previous stays; I was quite thankful at that point that we weren’t in Cusco for New Year as it had become a chore to walk down the street since being there three nights previous.
Gen for Monday 30th December 2013
654 – 19 0800 Puno – Cusco Wanchaq
659 – 20 0800 Cusco Wanchaq – Puno
Tuesday 31st December 2013
The body clock had me up before the alarm again and I was out of the hotel by 0615; leaving Danielle to have a lay-in while I went to Cusco San Pedro station in a vain attempt to get myself onto train 21 0700 San Pedro – Hidroelectrica; local train for local people only!
To get to San Pedro I followed the railway tracks that ran down the middle of the road; from Wanchaq to San Pedro. They didn’t appear to be used at all and at the San Pedro end of the line there was a market in full swing, engulfing the railway in the process. I walked through this market to see if I could see anything at the switchback that went into San Pedro but it was gated off so I retraced my steps back through the market and round the side of the station to the main entrance. The markets in Peru seemed to be segregated so that each part sells bespoke things; the one I’d just walked through seemingly the place to buy fresh pork! I had to dodge guys carrying up to three carcases on their back so as not to get covered in pigs blood; the heads of which all seemed to be placed beneath the stalls they were being sold on. As I skirted San Pedro the street looked to be the place to buy fresh chicken; strangely I didn’t see any beef at all.
San Pedro station has a small door at its entrance, which I assume is guarded by security normally. When I entered the security guard was just coming back down the steps to his post and of course queried what I was doing. I told him of my plan to travel to Poroy on the local train; ultimately the conversation ended with him telling me I must travel by road as there was no train that I could travel on. As I was already in the station building though I managed to blag my way into the waiting area; to look at the timetables posted on the wall was my excuse. Bizarrely the ticket office is through another set of doors, which also lead to the platforms, which is guarded by two other security guards.
Having figured out that the timetable was from 2009 I was soon buttering up the security guards at the platform entrance, who were also told of my plan to travel to Poroy by the local train. They allowed me to actually stand beyond their doors so at least I could see what was going off on the platform. They too told me that I wouldn’t be able to travel by the local train but they did tell me to come back for the train’s 0700 departure! Before security guard No. 1 returned to get to wait in the waiting area I spotted MLW DL535 #487 shunting a van at the end of the station area; this was soon dumped on top of two local coaches. Also in the station area was a load 3 Vistadome set being prepared for departure with an Alco at its helm. I could only assume that this was an empty stock to Poroy, to likely form train 203 0825 Poroy – Machu Picchu.
As departure of the Vistadome set seemed imminent, rather than wait on the station I walked round to where trains emerge from San Pedro station and begin their ascent of the zig-zag towards Poroy. DL532 #356 had already set off before I got there and I could hear it hammering away somewhere in the hillside as it got to grips with its train. Suddenly it went quiet, 356’s horn sounded and its stock came into view as it propelled it up the first switchback. After I’d taken photos an old woman approached me and asked if I spoke Spanish. As I didn’t the only word she used was Peligro, which means danger, as she gestured to the hillside and then pointed at my camera; I got the point she was trying to make and made my way back to the station straight away anyway.
As I walked back through the station entrance security guard No.1 collared me an gestured that I should go to the ticket office for information; and then escorted me directly there, past the other security guards as he did so. While I was waiting to be served a woman came out of an office and the security guard collared her as she did and having had a conversation with her she walked over to address me. I explained what I wanted to do to her and she understood perfectly. By the end of the conversation we had she knew who I was, why I wanted to do the zig-zag and told me she fully understood my passion; the answer remained the same throughout the conversation though, a point blank no, due to the fact that the train was run for locals only. At the end of the conversation she wouldn’t even let me onto the platform to get a photo of #487 before it departed; so there I stood literally fuming with the fact that I was going to have to stand and watch 487 leave, right in front of me, and there was nothing I could do about it! I couldn’t even bring myself to go round and photograph it departing, although I’d probably not have made it in time anyway as my conversation with the woman had made her late for letting folk onto the train and it was close to departure time as it was.
It was the fullest we’d seen the breakfast area at the Kenamari that morning, let alone the hotel; which the staff at the front desk confirmed was full for New Years Eve. Strangely I wasn’t able to pay my bill by card that morning so had to get some money out of a machine while we passed the morning by with a final walk up to the Plaza de Armas; our bags were kept at the Kenamari in their locked storage room.
While we sat in Don Marcelo for one last time we watched guys carrying barriers about outside and by the time we’d finished our meal they’d cordoned off the front of the Cathedral and erected some scaffold at the top of the steps in front of it; we assumed this to be in relation to the New Years celebrations that evening.
Our flight to Arequipa wasn’t until 1645 but we ended up at the airport at 1400 with plenty of time to spare. At one point in the afternoon I actually thought we might not make it to Arequipa that night as the airport was officially closed when a storm passed through Cusco; preventing our plane from landing. Luckily it was nothing like as intense as the one in Puno two nights previous and it passed through quite quickly; the skies brightening up behind it just as quickly as they’d turned to darkness! Our plane was only 5 minutes late off the stand in the end.
The LAN flight we travelled by was actually a Cusco to Lima flight which stopped at both Juliaca & Arequipa! It wasn’t the greatest of flights but it wasn’t LAN’s fault that some guy had wanted to move Danielle’s bag in the luggage rack, which resulted in a bit of a commotion; unfortunately then came something that frustrated her even more. Some big fat guy had the seat next to her and he wasn’t shy when it came to taking up her space; this only infuriated her even more and I was so glad it was only a short hop to Arequipa.
For the second time during the trip there was nobody waiting to collect us and take us to our hotel of choice, the TierraVivaArequipaPlaza. It had been pre-arranged and I’d had confirmation from the hotel yet we ended up in a taxi that cost us 25 Soles and took about 25 minutes, which I paid myself and the hotel agreed to give us free transfer back to the airport when we departed. They were adamant that there was someone at the airport waiting for us though.
The Tierra Viva Hotel was nothing short of cracking, the staff were friendly, it was spotlessly clean, the rooms were the most modern we’d stayed in during the whole trip, the bathroom was stone almost throughout and the bed was the biggest bed I’ve ever slept in! There were toiletries provided, and decent ones too, there was plenty of drawer and hanging space, the TV had decent channels and the WiFi was decent throughout the hotel. I was certainly going to enjoy the room more than any other we’d stayed in while in Peru.
We didn’t waste any time in going out to find somewhere to eat and thought we might actually struggle for food on New Years Eve. The hotel staff had recommended Zig Zag and Chi Cha, both of which are near the San FranciscoChurch; the menus at both looked very limited and we considered both to be “posh nosh” places, the prices probably reflected the quality of the food too. While we both like decent food, we also like to keep it simple and have a plate of food as opposed to some food on a plate. La Italiana restaurant, on San Francisco near the Church, was crying out to us as we studied its menu and when we were seated upstairs, overlooking the street below, we were the first folk up there; it was just before 2100.
Having got the necessities out of the way we had a walk round the Plaza de Armas and admired the prominent Cathedral, which was well lit and stood out against the night, then we returned to the hotel to relax for a while; truth be told we could both probably have dropped off to sleep and stayed that way. As we were in a foreign country and it was New Years Eve we made an effort and were back in the Plaza de Armas, camera poised on its gorillapod, 10 minutes before midnight. When midnight actually came it was hard to tell when it was officially New Year as fireworks had been randomly going off all over the place since a couple of minutes before midnight and then bizarrely the lights on the front of the Cathedral went out, leaving it in darkness. The fireworks were a complete free for all and nothing was co-ordinated at all; which kind of spoiled the moment a little really. It was actually a little dangerous with fireworks being shot in all directions so we didn’t hang around to become a statistic and were back at the hotel by 0015 on New Years Day; ready for a good nights sleep in our massive bed!
Gen for Tuesday 31st December 2013
Alco DL532/MLW DL535
356 – ecs at approx 0640 Cusco San Pedro – Poroy with Vistadome coaches; suspected to form 203 0825 Poroy – Machu Picchu
487 – 21 0700 Cusco San Pedro – Hirdoelectrica
Friday 3rd January 2014 (The long way home…..)
With the exit of 2013 all our train travel had ended in Peru; hence the jump from New Years Eve to this point. Our time in Arequipa was excellent; please feel free to look at the non-railway section of this website for details of what we got up to.
Our flight from Arequipa wasn’t until 1700 so once we’d checked out we left our bags at the hotel, which had already pre-booked our taxi to the airport; at their expense after the mix-up when we’d arrived. We spent the whole morning at the Santa Catalina Monastery and what a cracking choice it had been for our last morning in Peru! It was a nice sunny day and there weren’t many people about in the Monastery, this only adding to the experience. It costs 35 Soles per person for entry and every kind of payment card imaginable is accepted as payment.
Upon entry there are guides that will escort you round for a fee; which they say will take an hour. It took us over two hours at our own pace and we ended up having to rush round the last part as time was short by that point. This city within the City of Arequipa is extraordinary in many ways; the colours of the buildings, the layout of the streets, how well preserved everything is and just how peaceful it is when over every outside wall is the bustle that is Arequipa. For me it was one of the highlights of the trip, even up there with Machu Picchu; and around every corner or in every room there was something to fascinate the mind, whether it be the decor, the implements left in situ, the brightness of the place or even the fact that the names of the building’s occupants remained above the entrance doors. Had we had the time we’d probably have spent a lot longer taking in what Santa Catalina had to offer; well worth half a day of anyone’s time and arguably the best sight that Arequipa has to offer.
After a quick bite to eat, our last meal in Peru, our long journey home started with a taxi to ArequipaAirport; from that point it would be a little over 27 hours before we walked through the door at home! At ArequipaAirport I attempted to find out why neither the LAN, Iberia or BA website would allow me to check-in online for our return flights. I’d had to go into the LAN shop in Arequipa the previous day to get boarding cards for the Arequipa – Lima flight but LAN said they couldn’t issue and others; and even then the guy in the shop had to speak to customer services over the phone to get them to e-mail me the PDFs; which then had to be printed back at the hotel! The woman behind the counter had no clue why I wasn’t able to check-in online and was about to tell me she couldn’t print our Lima to Madrid boarding cards until I pressed her a little harder and hey presto, out came two boarding cards for Lima – Madrid; albeit for different seats to those that were pre-allocated.
The flight to Lima was ok but we had to exit the airport to come back into the International departures and be processed through immigration to exit the country. Before doing so I approached the Iberia staff to discuss the boarding card issues we’d been having; they also told me that they had no idea why I hadn’t been able to check-in online and that the reason I couldn’t do so for the last flight from Madrid to London was because it was a British Airways flight; which made no sense at all as BA wouldn’t allow me to check-in as they didn’t have my ticket numbers. Still, by the time we left the Iberia desk we had all the required boarding cards to get home; the only thing was that the flight to Madrid was absolutely shocking!
The plane was operated by Iberia and was an Airbus A340-300 and not an Airbus A340-600 as my booking had confirmed. There were no in-flight entertainment systems in the backs of seats and the on-board service only consisted of a meal about 2 hours after take-off and a small breakfast about an hour before landing; which on a 12 hour flight is far from ideal. There weren’t even any additional drinks services in between! The toilets were disgusting, the floors wet, sinks full and some out of toilet roll and even the at seat functions didn’t operate properly, with my light being a bit hit and miss and when I tried to call the attendant to switch the damn thing off the attendant button didn’t work at all and by the time I had got her attention the light randomly went out by its own accord; something I didn’t use again for the rest of the flight.
My suspicion was that the plane we were provided with was not the one that should have been on the flight and my reasoning behind this is because people’s names were being called out to go tot the check-in desk prior to boarding; all of whom walked away with new boarding passes. I think this might have been due to the fact that the A340-300 has less seats than the A340-600? It would also explain our different seats to those originally allocated as well? Either way all of this fiasco and the fact that the plane back from Madrid to London was actually operated by Iberia and not British Airways, as I’d been told, resulted in me having a bit of a whinge at Iberia when I got home.
Saturday 4th January 2014 (Almost there!)
All we wanted to be, when sat at Madrid airport waiting for our last flight of the trip, was teleported home; and even more so when we again couldn’t get any drinks on board the Iberia flight to London as the staff would only accept Euro’s! I have to say I was quite glad when we touched down in Heathrow and headed out of the airport towards the Underground; not because we were home but because the flying experience we’d just had was beginning to take its toll. The Underground journey to Kings Cross and East Coast train back to Doncaster were better experiences and we walked through the door at 22:35, having set off from the Tierra Viva Arequipa Plaza at 14:00 (19:00 UK time) the previous day; at that point the fact that we’d even been in Peru at all seemed like such a distant memory…