I am now in Puno, after a rather unique journey, thanks to my friends at PeruRail.

Started off normally enough – overnight bus from Lima to Arequipa, about 16 hours. Spectacular scenery, marred only by the knowledge that 20 people have died in 2 coach crashes on that road… in just the last 2 weeks. Sincerely hoped things wouldn’t come in threes.

Had to whizz through Arequipa, but will be going back there for longer at a later stage. My deadline was the 10pm departure of a cargo train for Juliaca, which I had to catch if I was going to make my connection to Cusco.

It’s not normal practice for the average punter to be allowed on a cargo train. OK, so most people might not WANT to spend 10 hours on a deafeningly noisy cargo train, mostly in the pitch dark, with no heating, no seat, and most alarmingly, no toilets. There were moments in the wee (no pun intended) small hours when I really thought I had gone loco getting on this loco. But then the dawn came, and the world became a rosier place, literally. We were high up in the Andes, the air breathtakingly clear in the dawn sun, wildlife all around, blue, blue lakes and rolling mountains.

As we got nearer to civilisation, I went to sit on the platform at the very front of the train, so my toes were the foremost point of our locomotive plus 17 freight cars, the track whizzing by beneath my feet. I saw doughty Andean women plodding alongside the track in their characteristic outfits of bowler hats and voluminous petticoats, and little children waving to us as we trundled past.

As we got into Juliaca, there appeared to be a market in full swing, right across the railway line. Our driver was going crazy on the bell and air horn to try and avoid casualties. I was still standing at the front rail, and it was interesting to watch people’s reactions – they don’t get many tourists here, as it’s not the most attractive of places, and they didn’t know quite what to make of this pale stranger. Or maybe it was my clothes they were staring at – it had been bitterly cold during the night, and I was wearing just about everything I had. Some people just stared, some waved, some pointed and laughed. And I don’t know what came over me, but I starting giving it the full wave-and-smile, wave-and-smile treatment. No matter that I looked like the back end of a bus – I was on the front end of a train and felt like a filmstar! I just about held myself back from blowing kisses… The people were lovely (or confused) – some looked at me like I was mad, but most waved and smiled back.

Almost without exception, I’ve found the Peruvians warm, helpful and friendly, and the image of that marketplace stands out for me as one of my favourite memories so far.

(Photos to follow when I get teched-up in Cusco.)

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