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Full Circle

Day 184: Puno to Cuzco

Cuzco, Peru 
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On the train to Cuzco.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAt Juliaca, a few hours down the line, we are to be joined to another train coming up from Arequipa and the coast. This is far from a simple operation. Instructions are shouted, arms waved and circled and crossed. Sections of the train keep disappearing off up the line, with a man clinging to the back, waving his arms, only to reappear, a half-hour later, on exactly the same line but without the clinging man. So Byzantine do these manoeuvres become that we can only assume that there is a strike and management must be running the railway.

Meanwhile passengers waiting to board at Juliaca are kept off the platform in a fenced enclosure until the train is ready. One old lady has a dog in her shopping bag. Every time it tries to stick its head out she whacks it quite severely. Suddenly there is a dreadful crash, followed by a judder, a brief jerk forward and another hammer-ramming crash and stillness. The trains from Puno and Arequipa are united, and we can continue our journey.

Two big diesels pull us up a slow and steady ascent to the La Raya Pass, just over 14,000 feet high. At La Raya station the mud walls are scrawled with political slogans. Children run alongside the tourist coach, rubbing their palms. It is a dilapidated place in a most enthralling location. This is one of the great watersheds of South America. From here northwards all the water runs eventually into the Amazon. The springs that rise in the wild soggy grassland on the way out of Santa Rosa will grow into the longest river in the world, and our way home.

Along this route that Inca civilization was born. Long before there was Inka class, Manco Capac, son of the Sun God, and Mama Occlo, daughter of the Moon, rose from the waters of Lake Titicaca and travelled this way looking for somewhere to settle. Eventually they reached a place where Manco Capac plunged his golden staff into the ground only to see it sink and disappear. They called the place Cuzco - 'the navel of the earth' - and it became the capital of the Inca Empire.
Cuzco, Peru 
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On the train to Cuzco.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 184
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: La Raya
  • Book page no: 249

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