Machu Picchu, narrow gauge, and other true tales from South America: Trains’ Peru tour, part 6

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, October 04, 2017

CUSCO, PERU – Standing in the ruins of the 15th century Incan city Machu Picchu in southern Peru, you  suddenly find yourself thrust into a National Geographic cover and checking with your fellow travelers  regularly to see if you actually are standing in this world famous and ancient place that was only “discovered” a little more than a century ago.

And then, as you learn about the Incans, their way of life on this mountainside, their gods, how they came here, and why they deserted such a special place after only about 100 years there, the silence and reverence for this spectacular world heritage site may be interrupted by the sound of an air horn or a passing train. Yes, railroading plays a prominent role in getting more than 3 million annual visitors to this place that is better in person than it is in pictures.

Both PeruRail and IncaRail use the tracks outside this shrine. They’re at river level, far below the ruins, but you can hear and occasionally see them from the ruins’ dizzying heights. Our Trains magazine tour of Peruvian railroads arrived here by PeruRail from the suburban Cusco station in Poroy after a 3 and a half hour journey on the meter-gauge line. We were impressed with the coaches, which have a standard gauge bodies and skylights in the ceiling – a Vista Dome to the Peruvians, not so much for those of us in North America who are used to the likes of the California Zephyr.  PeruRail runs a tight operation, and our group noted no less than three trains each morning between Cusco, the center for tourism in this country, and Aguas Caliente, the touristy village at the bottom of the hill, where the tracks run down a gulch of restaurants, shops, and hotels. Passengers alight here from the train at a modern station, pass through a literally inescapable tunnel of souvenirs and t-shirts, and then come out on a rickety wooden foot bridge to ultimately board a bus for a hair-raising ride on a switchback filled dirt road that would look right at home in Colorado. A long and taxing trip? Yes, but well worth it. And once at the ruins, you can know that railroading is a significant part of this place and how people appreciate it.

Today is the last day of Trains’ tour of Peru. A few of us still had enough energy to get up this morning and wander down to PeruRail’s main standard gauge depot in Cusco to watch the 7:10 a.m. departure for Puno. We managed to get one picture of the departure. The four-car day-time train looks like fun.

We’ve enjoyed visiting with our readers from across North America and Sweden who joined us on this trip. Participants came from California, Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, and everywhere in between. It was great to be with old friends and to make new ones. Our thanks to the amazing Henry Posner, the great folks at FCCA, PeruRail, and our tour partner, Special Interest Tours. We’re already planning more journeys for 2018 and beyond. If you’re interested, visit www.specialitneresttours.com

 

 

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