CUSCO – PUNO – CUSCO
Route : Cusco – La Raya – Juliaca – Puno – Juliaca – La
Raya – Cusco
Cusco - from Cusco, the train heads south-east, following the Huatanay
River through green fields dotted with willow trees and eucalyptus groves,
and passing outlying communities gathered around colonial churches.
25 km from Cusco - the train
passes through Oropesa, an early-rising community whose forty-seven
bakeries have provided Cusco with its daily bread for generations.
km - before reaching Lake Muina, the train turns
to the left, crossing the valley road, to join the Vilcanota River at
Huambutio as it plunges sharply into its gorge before widening into
the great Urubamba canyon.
40 km - at Rumicolca, we
are close to the great stone gateway of the same name which, for the
Incas, silently guarded the southern approach to Cusco. For the much
earlier Wari culture it served as an aqueduct, channeling water from
the picturesque Laguna de Lucre to their walled city at Pikillacta.
45 km - the church at Andahuaylillas
is one of the jewels in Cusco’s colonial crown and boasts a magnificent
series of murals and superb colonial-era paintings, all on diverse religious
59 km - at Urcos lies the
lake which gives the village its name. Urcos is both a popular spot
for weekenders from Cusco and as local legend suggests, the repository
of Inca gold hidden there forever by local chieftains, anxious to prevent
the Spanish from melting down their sacred objects.
80 km - the two villages
of Cusipata and Checacupe (at 99 km) hide unexpected treasures of both
pre-Columbian and colonial origin, from fine Inca and pre-Inca remains,
to yet another ornately-decorated 17th century church.
120 km - at Raqchi, just
before the San Pedro railway station, the remains of the great temple
of Viracocha, the creator god, can just be seen to the left of the train.
Raqchi has been described by John Hemming as "probably the largest
roofed building ever built by the Incas". Seventeen km beyond San
Pedro, the train stops at Sicuani, a bustling island of commerce amid
a barren landscape. Aymara women ferry their goods around this important
market town on nimbly-chauffeured taxi-tricycles, or sit impassively
before their wares awaiting a buyer.
186 km - at Marangani, where
an English-style manor house built in the last century is still home
to the descendents of the wool barons who established the regions only
textile factory there more than one hundred years ago, Cuzco’s fertile
hills give way to the high plain known as the Altiplano.
The train continues to climb for another 27 km, past the thermal baths
at Aguas Calientes to La Raya, 210 km from Puno. At 4321 metres above
sea level this is the highest point on the journey, a cold, remote place
whose surrounding snow-draped peaks are often shrouded by mist or fine
rain, and whose eerie silence is at least partly attributable to eardrums
blocked by the dizzying altitude. Crossing this great watershed, the
train travels across a sea of seemingly-endless coarse grassland through
villages lost to time for all but the Coca Cola company and local breweries.
281 km - the train reaches
Juliaca, a commercial railway-junction town of around 150,000 inhabitants,
whose rampant buying and selling seems at times to virtually spill onto
the tracks and force the train to pick its way through their stalls.
Juliaca is the last stop
on this journey through Andean highland culture before reaching Puno
(3855 metres), an expanding, low-roofed university town spread around
an austere cathedral, which, since its foundation in 1668, has strengthened
its tenuous grip on the shores of Lake Titicaca by gradually scaling
the surrounding hills.