Alcos, luxury trains, and other true tales from South America: Trains' Peru tour, part 5

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, October 02, 2017

 

ON BOARD THE BELMOND ANDEAN EXPLORER – Not that long ago, entrepreneurs in North America touted the American Orient Express as the ultimate in rail cruise travel. But that ended with a resounding thud a few years ago as the market just wasn’t there. Now UK-based hotelier Belmond is experimenting with the concept in Peru with its relatively new (begun in May) Belmond Andean Explorer.

I just completed a two-day, two-night journey on the train from Arequipa to Puno and from Puno to Cusco in the southern part of Peru. After a week in Peru on our Trains magazine-sponsored tour, my senses are overloaded with the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this amazing land. But this was an over the top experience, a first for me. I am traveling with the Trains magazine Special Interest Tours group, and we were among the lucky 47 passengers to occupy this 16-car train. Yes, you read that correctly, there are only 47 passengers on the train, and there are almost as many staffers. The experience by design is to be that of a 5-star Belmond hotel, and that is apparent from the attentive, well coiffured staff to the gourmet food and the immaculate equipment. The clientel is international as evidenced by the passengers from Singapore, Chile, England, and Australia. As the passengers disembarked, the staff gathered to applaud, and the passengers returned the salute.

First, the important stuff. The train was built in Australia and used there until just a few years ago. Each passenger car carries a Queensland shop builders’ plate on the steps, we were told that Belmond had the cars refurbished and prepared for use in Peru in shops at Cusco. Most of the train is made up of cars which are the equivalent of the roomettes in a 10-6 sleeper, but a few feature more spacious double bedrooms. In the consist is a car with a piano bar, a galley car, a well disguised head-end power car, two diners, and an observation lounge. The observation lounge is my favorite as the rear half is all open, much like the Southern Railway excursion car Lookout Mountain of the 1960s and 1970s. It is an ideal vantage point from which to watch the countryside go by.

Second, the service and food were what you’d expect from a major luxury hotel. No need to tell you about the culinary treats we dined on except to say that you’d not expect to find 90 percent of the menu on an American restaurant menu. Alas, the PeruRail roadbed on the first night was not smooth, and I found sleep difficult. On the second night, the Explorer parked on a rural siding, so sleep was assured for those who find it hard to snooze and travel simultaneously.

Third, the concept is much like that of a cruise ship with stops for shore excursions. On Sunday, our train stopped at Puno for a boat of the famous floating islands of Lake Titicaca and lunch on nearby island. On Monday, we stopped for an hour at Raqchi to visit nearby Incan ruins. That was when another passenger, Sven Malmberg from Sweden, and I elected to remain behind and shoot roster shots of the locomotives and passenger cars.

That leads me to the most interesting point for our readers, the power on the point. Motive power is two six-axle locomotives, one of Montreal Locomotive Works design, and the second one an Alco product of 1966. It was great to hear these two machines in fine form, and our appreciation for them drew the attention of the mechanic on board who ushered us into the cab. He was one proud railroader, and he made sure to take our photos on his charge and we reciprocated by having our photo made with him. The crew eventually insisted that we have our photos made sitting at the controls. None of us spoke Spanish, and their English was non-existent, but the language and love of railroading, is indeed universal.

Tomorrow, we go to the famous Incan ruins at Macchu Piccu. Our mode of transportation, of course, is train, but this time a special one. Make sure to check back for a report on that on Wednesday as our day is long and our return late tomorrow.

If traveling by train to see the sights in the U.S. or worldwide is of interest, please consider a Trains-sponsored tour in conjunction with Special Interest Tours. Please see the website for 2018 tours, www.specialinteresttours.com

  

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