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Posts tagged ‘puno’

exploring the andes…

Since the information from g adventures was pretty vague and I had no time to do additional research of my own, I had no idea what to expect when I got dropped off at Peru Rail by my smiling driver.  His knowledge of English pretty much matched my knowledge of Spanish so he just chattered away in Spanish and I tried to understand what was going on.  He was a great driver though.  He even took me on an extra excursion to take some photos of Puno and Lake Titicaca from a particularly scenic spot.

I was booked on the Andean Explorer.  All I knew is that I had a 10 hour train journey ahead of me.


It all started very pleasantly.  There was a nice waiting room and even a band playing traditional Peruvian music.  Then we started boarding.  Lunch was included and I wondered what and where it would be.  My expectation was a trip to a dining car for an airline quality meal.

not your average train...

not your average train…

But – to my delight – I discovered the Andean Explorer was more akin to the Orient Express!  (Some time later I would discover it was owned by Orient Express).  I had my own table (where both lunch and afternoon tea would be served) complete with a flower in a vase and a romantic light fixture for later in the journey.  I appreciate a romantic gesture – even if I am enjoying it alone 😉  <and travelling alone can result in wild surprises like the dinner I shared with my ranger Alex in the Ngorongoro Crater over a table laden with rose petals>

It was my own little sanctuary from which I could snap photos obsessively as the train meandered through the Andes. I had expected a 10 hour train journey to start to feel tedious – but the hours flew by.  Partly because I was operating on a handful of hours of sleep so kept trying to nap.

But the train schedule was chock-a-block with passenger activities.  I thought I could nap before lunch at 11:40… but – no – first we were offered beverages and I was a bit hungry so was served a hot chocolate that looked fancy enough the French woman sitting across from me wondered what it was.  And it was also delicious I informed her.

Just as I finished my hot chocolate and closed my eyes, they announced complimentary pisco sours and live Peruvian music in the observation car.  Drinking at 10am – it was like we were in the Caribbean!  What was really impressive was the Europeans ordering extra drinks before noon 😉

music and dance on the rails

music and dance on the rails

The Pisco Sour was good (and free! :)) but the real highlight was the band and the chance to take photos in the open air.  The mountains were incredible and I will have a hard time editing all the photos that I took but my obsession was to get a photo of a llama.  Let me tell you – trying to get a good shot of a live animal from a moving train while vying for position with dozens of other tourists is exhausting (luckily there were more llamas in my future 🙂

The Peruvian music finished pretty much in time for lunch.  I think I am going to look like a trout by the time I get home.  But I know the word in Spanish – trucha.  (and Enrique taught me how to pronounce it and remember – just think cha-cha-cha…)

The trucha on the train was very nice and, after consuming it and all the other delicious treats, there was finally time for a nap.  There was an offer of more Pisco Sours, Peruvian music – and a fashion show – in the afternoon but I didn’t indulge.  I was too busy keeping my eyes peeled for llamas! 😉

I did take time out from the llama watch to indulge in afternoon tea.  I would recommend to any tea drinkers out there that you switch to coca tea while you are in Peru.  The black tea you get served is generally disgusting but the coca tea is superb and a great way to expand the cultural experience.

just look at those mountains!

just look at those mountains!

It took a while to unload the luggage but that is the only thing I could fault PeruRail on.  The service was entertaining and very professional.  You had the spectacular views of the Andes (and random, elusive llamas), really good food, traditional music, free Pisco Sours…  and the added entertainment of watching the crew serve all those meals and carry trays filled with a dozen wine glasses – on a moving train!!!

If trains are your thing, put the Andean Explorer on your wish list.  One of the best train trips of my life – and I inherited a love for trains from my father.  I am a connoisseur of the journey by train – and a new fan of PeruRail.  I really wish my father was still alive.  Despite his objections to travelling in places where they don’t speak English, I know he would love riding the rails in Peru and I would just bully him into accompanying me  🙂  My mother didn’t want to go to Paris.  Now we’re planning a second anniversary trip to the city that first stole my heart…

I didn’t realize I’d signed up for the amazing race! ;)

I really wanted to love g adventures.  It’s run by a youngish Canadian entrepreneur.  When he started it, he WAS young and it ran on a shoestring…

I first heard about it via an Intrepid Travel newsletter advertising Bruce’s trips to South America.  So I always thought when I finally went to Peru, it would be with the Great Adventure People.

Well, there has definitely been an emphasis on the word “adventure” 😉

Before I left Canada everyone kept asking me what I was going to be doing and if it was ‘’a tour”.  The g adventures materials were pretty vague so I kept telling everyone I wasn’t sure – and keeping me on my toes and adding an air of mystery to my itinerary was part of the plan I guess…

It works when everything goes right!  In general it’s all worked out fine and David and Enrique are the rock stars of g adventures so they won me over and I DO recommend g adventures.  Their strength is tours so that is likely the best route.  I met some tour participants on a train late in my journey and they were very keen and felt totally protected.

I DID say I wanted “Independent Style” travel.  I didn’t realize just HOW independent I was going to have to be.  Of course, the fact that they kept getting my name wrong in Lima might have alerted me to their less than stellar abilities.  Calling me Maria is not a way to get things off on the right foot.  I appreciate it might only seem like a letter to you but it’s a totally different name and not one that I answer to… and people all over the world love my real name… so substituting a more pedestrian one is not the way to score brownie points…

I am reading my notes as I write this into the computer now that I have finally scored an internet connection and I see I wrote it in Aquas Calientes while waiting for the train where Enrique would pick me in Ollantaytambo and drive me to Cuzco.  I wrote… I feel that I will end the trip with a bang.  And that I DO really know my way around the tourist circuit in Peru now 😉  Both statements still hold true…

So, to start at the beginning… it was an auspicious one… I cleared customs easily and a friendly lady named Pamela (who thought MY name was Maria) was holding a g adventures sign.  And I knew the name of the hotel just in case…

Then things started to get strange. I was put on a tourist bus, Pamela and I the only passengers.  She didn’t sit near me and after a few minutes I noticed she’d jumped off the bus and was standing in the street.  Hopefully the driver knew where to take me!

It’s always best to stay calm until there actually IS a problem and he dropped me off at the hotel on my information sheet and I began my recognisance of Miraflores.  I went to Parque Kennedy cause that’s all I knew but it was obviously the tourist ghetto of Lima so I knew I needed to be more intrepid.  (But I did have a delicious churro so highly recommend that!)

My grandmother’s favourite saying was “god gave you a mouth for a reason.  Just ask if you need help.”  So the next morning I took her advice as I was supposedly going to Puno the next day but had nada for details on that excursion.

The hotel staff (Antiquas Miraflores) were great.  It took some time but we finally managed to find someone representing g adventures who spoke English.  Someone was going to meet me at the hotel at 6pm to go over the details.  Good thing I didn’t need any advice on what to do in Lima.- but at least I should make the flight – at whatever mysterious time it was departing…

I waited on a bench at the entrance to the hotel (to be obvious) for 15 minutes but no g adventures person.  Finally talked to Miro who apparently dropped by at 5pm (seriously, dude?) and had left me a note.  He could come again after his class but I said I needed to find dinner and supposedly someone was meeting me at 7:30am the next morning to get me on the plane at the airport so it all sounded under control.

Thank god at least Miro had left a number and he picked up the phone.  Not that I appreciate unnecessary telephone calls at exorbitant roaming rates and I’m still not too clear on how to make a call from my brand new Blackberry.

But I was pretty desperate as I was stranded at the airport with no info as to which airline or flight I was booked on!  I talked Miro through the solution and managed to connect with Renzo at counter 14.  I only had to lug my bags from counter 54 to counter 14…

flying thru the andes for the first time...

flying thru the andes for the first time…

But I got on the flight!  And everyone is very friendly so you can’t really get mad.  I decided it was the Spanish way – paternalistic, vague on details and bad at precise times.  The Germans are my people – but the Latins are charming 😉

And Veronica in Puno was outstanding.  Finally, information, tickets.  She even checked in with me to make sure I was ready to get on the Andean Explorer.  Edgar Adventures in Puno.  Highly recommended.

But the guys in Cuzco are trying.  It was all going brilliantly until I showed up in Aquas Calientes and there was no g adventures sign.  But at least they had told me the hotels once I got to Cuzco so the guy from Andina and I figured out we belonged together 🙂

But then I sat in the hotel lobby for over an hour as other tourists met their guides and planned their day at Machu Picchu.  Again the hotel staff were great and finally made contact for me with someone willing to take me to Machu Picchu.  Luckily David had already briefed me on what to take so I just needed a meet time.

And Wagner – my replacement guide, not sure what happened to Marcellino… did show up just after 5:30am.  He forgot his pass so I had to go up alone but he found me before I got into Machu Picchu so all was good.  But thank god I wasn’t looking for my g adventures guide to rescue me from the balcony at the Andina Luxury!  That story to follow…

I like the g adventures style of travel.  David says they have a good reputation in Peru and hire lots of local staff and do some community projects.  All the actual activities were excellent.  I DO recommend them.  You just need to decide how comfortable you are travelling alone.  Apparently I am not the guinea pig for the Independent Travel option… but I am not entirely convinced 😉  <calling myself a guinea pig extra funny…>


My impression is that they are an excellent choice if you are doing a tour in Peru.  And they did make all my arrangements.  And I met David and Enrique – they were incredible and you will hear more about them in future posts.  g adventures is very lucky to have them on the team!

It was really fun traipsing around Peru largely by myself.  You just have to pretend you are on the amazing race and making your own way to the next pit stop to figure out the details of your next adventure 😉

p.s. adventures – and photos – to follow!  Stay tuned….

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