Written by Goliathus
I’m sitting by the window in the Observation Car, sipping a delicate Earl Grey – with a cloud of milk, please. That’s how I like it. We left Arequipa a few hours ago and the land has somehow absorbed us. We’re crossing a vast plain with ghostly mountains in the distance. Suddenly, we are passing a shepherd in bright colors conducting a flock of sheep or alpacas.
I feel part of an intimate geography, as if our train was riding a line on the palm of the hand of Peru. It is the very beginning of our Journey, and yet I feel I already belong to this land.
Day is July 8. Light is gold. Altitude is high. Our gentle speed allows me to appreciate every single detail of an extraordinary panorama.
I’m writing my travel diary aboard a train named the Belmond Andean Explorer, trying to find the right word that describes the moving landscape. “Profound” seems to convey most of my impressions. The word translates altogether the distance, the formidable perspective and the intensity of my vision. It says how deeply the landscape penetrates my mind. Unexpectedly, I find myself a little wiser while contemplating, as if I had been given some fundamental knowledge about the nature of Peru.
The brochure from Belmond opted for “bewitching” to qualify the views. The views are indeed enchanting and magical. But to my French understanding, this English adjective is associated with sorcery and pointed hats. And that is not exactly what I am trying to express here. Most likely a cultural bias! I would not ask my travel companions about the connotations of “bewitching”, since it would commence a joyful series of songs from the Wizard of Oz and a contest of camp Glinda impersonations . This singing sequence, a must of all LGBTQ+ travels, will have to wait for the cocktail hour, which is coming soon.
For now, tea is comfortable. It’s hot and it has an exquisite Bergamot flavor that bequeaths a sense of remembrance. As a matter of fact, aboard the Andean Explorer, we’re travelling back in time: a time when we can take our time to enjoy both old-fashioned and contemporary refinements. A cozy little couch near the bar has been upholstered with fabric ripped from a painting by Gustav Klimt; or so it seems. Wall lights are exquisite. Cushions rest colorfully at the exact place for our comfort. Gastronomy on board is amongst the finest. Every thoughtful detail participates in a bold revival of the luxury of yesteryear. Even the key to our cabin holds the perfect graceful weight.
All sleeping cars are located in the front of the train; all dining and relaxing ones compose the rear. The observatory where I’m lazing right now is the very last Coche; it opens onto an outdoor platform where you can stand stoically in the ice-cold wind (alpaca-wool covers are provided as required). This is my favorite spot at dusk or dawn. I enjoy leaning against the expertly chiseled metal railing. When the tracks make a curve, you get a dazzling sight of the body of the train, snaking through the Peruvian plain toward the sinking or rising sun.
The train slows down. We see more local people walking on the sides of the tracks, as we’re approaching the charming town of Puno, near the famous Lake Titicaca. By far, my most memorable experience! This is rush hour on a market day. Our train is literally cutting through the crowd and the vendors’ displays. Nothing separates the tracks from the market space. Quickly and deftly each vendor moves their awning, stall, canvas or seat just a little sideways at the passage of the train, then puts it immediately back in place. The laws of safety instilled in me as a child don’t apply here. It’s a well-oiled routine: one of the exquisite peculiarities of discovering Peru by rail. Only the stall structures are moved. Most of the products, whether they are fresh fruits, funnily shaped vegetables, fabrics or metal spare parts remain on the ballast. I can say I’ve railed over a carpet of oranges and melons, high above sea level.
Peru is another name for El Dorado, a place of fabulous riches and opportunities, held by 16th century explorers to exist in South America. To the 21st-century explorers we are, Peru exceeds this mystical promise. “There is indeed a sense of magical realism all around” am I writing in my diary today. I will have so much to write about: our expedition to meet the Uros Community on their weaved floating islands, one of the oldest cultures of South America, the sight of wild vicuñas raising their long elegant necks at our passage, the adventurous night when temperatures dropped to minus 23 Celsius and the water tank froze, the discovery of breathtaking Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire and gateway to fabulous Machu Picchu. But, I need to stop. It’s cocktail hour now. And these Belmond cocktails are “bewitching” indeed!
Click here to learn more about the Belmond Andean Explorer.