Luxury Train Peru Belmond Andean Explorer
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Luxury Train Peru Belmond Andean Explorer
On the Spirit of the Water itinerary, Cusco to Puno
By Travel Writer Jason Kearney
The La Raya Climb reaching 14,150 feet (4,313 metres)
The famous poet William Butler Yeats penned the lines:
“Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.”
This thinking beckons us to venture out and fulfill our dreams by capturing the spirit of life by seeking new adventures. One such new adventure has begun in the high Andes Mountains of Peru, the launch of the new Belmond Andean Explorer Luxury Train Peru. The name Belmond comes with a pedigree of the 'orient express', and so travellers are assured a consummate first class service.
The Belmond Andean Explorer replaces a previous Andean Explorer train. It began life as the Great South Pacific Express in Australia. The new service operates from Cusco in the central highlands to Arequipa in the South of Peru with various choices of one or two nights aboard the train. The service is an ideal add-on to a trip to the famed Machu Picchu journey of the Belmond Hiram Bingham. The Belmond Andean Explorer travel in both directions on the route. This journey from Cusco to Puno is called the Spirit of the Water. So called as the train stops by night aside Lake Titicaca, the highest world’s highest navigable lake at 12,500 feet (3,810 metres).
Train Heritage of a previous life in Australia between 1999 and 2003
Mid-morning in Cusco Peru; the Belmond Andean Explorer on the platform looks magnificently bedecked, cloaked in a rich combination of royal blue and grey paintwork. Today, I learn we have 26 passengers, but the maximum is 48. Staff abound here in their garb, and they outnumber passengers as a veritable sign of the commitment to customer service on this journey. The check-in process is completed as staff begin to know each traveller by name, which is decidedly reassuring. Cases are swiftly brought to the cabins and passengers enjoy the merriment of a local Andean Huayno music group that perform in traditional dress.
On boarding, the new family of travellers are given a champagne reception as they are introduced to the train facilities. The Belmond Andean Explorer consists of two restaurant cars, piano bar/ lounge, outdoor observation deck, spa treatment car (not included on today’s train) and eleven accommodation carriages. There exist four grades of cabin accommodation; De Luxe Double Bed, Junior Double, Twin Cabin and Bunk Bed. I chose the twin option and it is beautifully appointed. The beds in the Twin are however small; the deluxe or junior cabins are notably better in that respect.
Luxury Train Peru Belmond Andean Explorer Piano Bar/ Lounge
Luxury Train Peru Belmond Andean Explorer Twin Bed Cabin
Luxury Train Peru Belmond Andean Explorer De Luxe Double Bed Cabin
As the Belmond Andean Explorer rolls out of Wanchaq Station Cusco, we follow the course of the meandering Huantay River. This train is not smooth like a high-speed modern train. It has all the nostalgic clickety clack virtues which are augmented by palatial surroundings and consummate care. The small number of passengers allows time to get to know faces and exchange greetings. This is the charm of rail travel; travellers here with time to enjoy their surroundings, fellow humans and catch the beautiful Andean panoramic vistas as the train climbs up the high altiplano. Rail captures people of common purpose as this overnight journey takes twenty-one hours, and people here have time. Having time is a rarity in our modern world besieged by technological distractions; but this is just you, your fellow humans and nature swathed in magnificent surroundings. Time to enjoy a true purpose of living.
Lunch is served at 12.30 with creations from the hands of Diego Muñoz, a world-famed Peruvian chef who strives to serve locally inspired Andean culinary creations. We are treated to giant sweet corn with Andean Cheese, followed by seared sea bass with muña scented broad beans and citric yoghurt in onion broth. A free bar is a feature of the train and staff are invariably at your behest to offer fine wines and beverages.
After lunch, we disembark and take the short bus trip to Raqchi, a fortified settlement that contains the ruins of the Temple of Wiracocha. Our guide David explains it’s pre-Incan history and also Incan influences, which led it to become the largest known Incan roofed structure, measuring some 302 by 84 feet. It was subsequently partly demolished by the Colonial Spanish but still sees an impressive 60-foot towering wall along with 152 outlying qullqa Incan food storage huts.
Luxury Train Peru Belmond Andean Explorer Temple of Wiracocha at Raqchi
After we board mid afternoon tea is served with a delectable array of cakes as we steadily climb toward La Raya, the high point of our journey at 14,150 feet high. The scene is a rapturous vista of snow-capped peaks, native alpaca herds and colourful Andean natives toiling in the amber sunshine. The engine works hard gasping for breath and paints a beauteous scene as it winds through mother nature’s mise-en-scène. We stop to visit the small market where the Andean mountain people sell intricate and colourful garments and trinkets. In addition, there is small austere church nestled in this remote and chilly mountain pass.
Luxury Train Peru La Raya Pass, 14,150 feet (4,313 metres) high © Belmond
Back on board we are served warming cocktails as the night closes in, and enjoy further time to converse and share life stories in the lounge, with the accompanying dulcet tones of the piano. Pisco sour is a national institution here and consists of Peruvian Pisco liquor distilled from Muscat grapes, fresh lime juice, syrup, egg white, Angostura bitters and crushed ice. Both refreshing and warming.
Dinner is served from 7.pm. to 9p.m. Tonight’s creations including alpaca tortellini consommé with seasoned sprouts and a main of duck breast with local Urubamba Valley beetroot; all glazed in a delicious elderberry, wheat and duck sauce. The beauty of the train is that all this wonderful experience is that it is being shared now with friends I never knew at the outset of this journey.
Luxury Train Peru Belmond Andean Explorer Tortellini Consommé © Belmond
We meander our way down toward Juliaca city where the train passes literally through the local market streets. Our final city is Puno, and like Juliaca, it is a provincial city looking decidedly unkempt, as we roll toward Puno Station. The train stops for an hour here, and then proceeds for twenty minutes to its overnight berth. People gradually make their way to their cabins to slumber and I am last to do so, about midnight.
Next morning, sunrise on Lake Titicaca can be viewed across this vast inland lake and further tours are offered to the reed island of Uros and Taquile. A full day lake excursion costs $177 and afterwards the train continues its journey to the Colca Canyon and Arequipa.
Luxury Train Peru Belmond Andean Explorer Observation Platform © Belmond
My Belmond Andean Explorer luxury train journey ends in Puno and I reflect on this commendable overnight trip. I feel that I have lived this train journey, as the train provides a rare environment where likeminded travellers are afforded time and space to interact and share experiences. This being so, I return to our poet friend to offer, you the reader, some last lines of encouragement to visit this breath-taking and enchanting land of Peru.
“There are no strangers here, only friends that have not yet met. (W.B. Yeats)".
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