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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thirteen hours on South America's highest train - from Lima to Huancayo,Peru

Before heading to the Cruz Del Sur station, I stopped by the bakery Aasiyah and I visited the day before to grab an empanada for breakfast, as well as three rolls of bread for the bus ride (all for only 3 soles).

The ride back to Lima was about 9.5 hours, taking us through rustic landscapes similar to what I had seen on my Llupa to Pitec hike. The trip would had been shorter had we not been stuck in Lima traffic for 1.5 hours. As usual, there was plenty of entertainment on the bus to keep us either asleep or entertained. Movies included Taken 2 and Brave. Shorter clips included the Canadian gag show Just for Laughs. And who knew Bingo was also on the list of activities. 
At the Lima station I was forced to split a cab with another fellow, since the only cab there wasn't willing to go to Barranco for my fare alone. Son of a gun.

It was almost nine by the time I got settled into the dorm, which was already occupied by four sleeping bodies. One of which was emitting a sound the decibel of a jackhammer. I headed to Chifa Union to grab dinner - the arroz con chicharrón de pollo. Delicious.

Half a block from Chifa Union was a bakery, where I managed to snatch up a giant cookie, a slice of raisin cake, and a roll of bread for less than $1 USD. Don't worry, I didn't eat it all that night. It was for the train the next day. 

Speaking of which, I was in a taxi by 5:30AM the next morning. The taxi driver didn't know where the train station was, so we ended up stopping to ask one of the national policewomen (only after ending up in some dead end alley). After passing through two military guarded gates, we finally arrived. I'm glad I had previously printed my ticket, as there didn't seem to be any actual ticket counters. In fact, I don't think the building is actually a train station anymore - except for the occasional times when the train runs this route. 

The Ferrovías Central Railway is a trans-Andean train that runs once a month, sometimes not at all, between the cities Lima and Huancayo. The ~209 mile (~336 km) journey is between 11-13 hours, and passes through 69 tunnels (the longest of which is the Balta at 1,375 meters), 58 bridges (the largest of which is the Carrion at 218 meters), 6 switchbacks (or zigzags), and 6 climatic zones. As if these statistics aren't epic enough, the route holds the honor of being the second highest railway in the world and the highest in South America. 

I was in one of the "Clásico" cars as opposed to the "Turístico" cars. The former consist of booth like olive green seats of four, with a table between each set of two seats. With the exception of those next to the emergency exits, each set of four seats had a window that opened up, allowing in fresh air - sometimes, instead of fresh air we simply got the fumes coming out of the train. 

The "Turístico" cars had seats that reclined and no open windows, but those passengers had AC, heat, and access to the last car of the train, which was an open air observation car.

The train left about half an hour late, chugging backwards (from my point of view) parallel to the Río Rímac. An hour in and after a brief encounter with a goat/cow on the track, we were served a humble breakfast consisting of a juice box, a bread roll, fruit, and a cookie. After another hour we stopped at San Bartolomé, where we were allowed to get off the train to watch the reversal of the locomotive on a lazy Susan type platform (turnstile). 

As we moved forward, the train took us through increasingly amazing landscape as the vegetation morphed and the snow capped Andes came into view.

At 3,300 meters (10,827 feet) we crossed one of the world's highest bridge - the Infiernillo. At the end of the bridge everything went dark as we rode through the Ticlio Tunnel, which spans roughly 1,177 meters (~3,861 feet). The zenith of the railroad, 4,784 meters (15,696 feet), sits in the middle of this long tunnel. 

We stopped at a town, where a festival was being held for the July holidays. We were treated to a dance performance in front of the square while the train switched tracks. 

At the third highest passenger train station in the world - Galera - we de-boarded onto the 4,781 meters (15,881 feet) high dirt and gravel platform. There, I experienced my first Peruvian blizzard in the Andes. 

From then on, it was down, down, down until we reached the mining town of La Oroya at 3,726 meters (12,224 ft). A white wall of snow blanketed our view from the window as the train sped down its tracks. Following the Río Mantaro, we eventually arrived in Huancayo, which sits at 3,261 meters (10,699 feet). The train blared its horns continuously, alerting local traffic of its presence and declaring its right of way. As was the case throughout the trip, groups of people stood along the railroad waving to us and taking pictures. 

Throughout the journey, the train zig zagged up and down mountains - basically going forward along one "zig" and then going backwards up or down the "zag" path. Repeat until the top was reached. 

Prior to reaching Huancayo around 9PM, we were provided an ample lunch (at 3:30PM), consisting of what looked like stewed beef with rice and mashed potatoes, dessert, and salad. This was followed by a game of none other than Bingo!

After settling down at the hostel and grabbing a plate of trucha a la plancha (grilled trout - one of the nearby towns is known for its trouts so I figured why not), I was out like a light. 

Next up - people watching in the square and trekking up to another glacier 5,000+ meters up. 


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