Travel Bulletin - - RAIL JOURNEYS - By Amanda Woods

THE sun is on my face, the wind in my hair, a glass of sparkling wine is in my hand and spec­tac­u­lar scenery is un­fold­ing around me. Vis­it­ing Machu Pic­chu had al­ways been a travel dream of mine but I had never imag­ined get­ting there would look like this. While some hike the Inca tail to Machu Pic­chu, a train from Poroy on the out­skirts of Cusco to Machu Pic­chu Pue­blo, the small town in the val­ley be­low the world fa­mous citadel, is a pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive for those who ei­ther pre­fer not to do the hike or are un­able to due to time con­straints or health rea­sons. Var­i­ous trains run along the route but one stands out from the rest. The Hi­ram Bing­ham is one of the great train jour­neys of the world. Part of the Bel­mond fam­ily, for­merly known as the Ori­ent Ex­press Group, this train is all about lux­ury and the ro­mance of rail. The ex­pe­ri­ence be­gins with colour­ful tra­di­tional dancers twirling to live mu­si­cians on the Poroy sta­tion plat­form where rows of wel­com­ing cham­pagne flutes await. The sight of the gleam­ing navy and gold 1920s Pull­man style car­riages fills my heart with glee, and I feel like I’ve stepped back in time as I ex­plore the two din­ing cars, ob­ser­va­tion car and bar car, all fea­tur­ing pol­ished brass and wood. While most peo­ple take a seat in the din­ing car when it is time to leave I head straight for the open-air plat­form at the end of the ob­ser­va­tion car. Here I have un­in­ter­rupted 180 de­gree views, I can breathe in the fresh air, hear chil­dren laugh­ing as they wave at the pass­ing train and smile at them as I wave back. From here I can also smell the Peru­vian coun­try­side change, from the slightly dusty town­ships, through the earthy farm­land ar­eas, the fa­mil­iar smells of home dur­ing stretches of eu­ca­lyp­tus trees and fi­nally a scent I’ve never smelt be­fore – the lush cloud for­est and jun­gle around Machu Pic­chu. A three-piece band of two gui­tars and a box drum pro­vide the per­fect sound­track as we travel along, mix­ing tra­di­tional songs with their own spe­cial twists on Elvis tracks and other golden oldies. We may be trav­el­ling to one of the most fa­mous moun­tains in the world but we are trav­el­ling down to reach it, with Poroy sta­tion at 3,486m (11,437ft) com­pared to Machu Pic­chu at 2,430m (7,972ft), and the train is equipped with oxy­gen to help those suf­fer­ing from al­ti­tude sick­ness. While some peo­ple sip teas and cof­fees I’m amongst those who don’t say no to the friendly waiter who moves through the car with a bot­tle

of the Peru­vian sparkling wine, In­tipalka Ex­tra Brut. The Hi­ram Bing­ham car­ries up to 84 pas­sen­gers and ev­ery­one has a pre-as­signed seat in the din­ing cars for the three-course meal on the way down in the morn­ing and the four-course one on the way back. All of the food comes from small or­ganic fam­ily farms on the land the train trav­els through, and our de­li­cious dishes in­cluded Wayl­labamba smoked trout with mashed fava beans, quinoa tab­bouleh, An­dean mint oil and airampo (An­dean prickly pur­ple pear) emul­sion and a Sa­cred Val­ley corn cheese­cake with pur­ple corn and el­der­berry sauce for dessert. The menu is set, al­though you can make some changes if you have di­etary re­quire­ments, and a se­lec­tion of wine, cock­tails, beer, soft drinks and hot drinks are in­cluded, al­though you can or­der a spe­cial bot­tle from the wine list if you pre­fer. The jour­ney takes around three and a half hours each way, and the Hi­ram Bing­ham day trip in­cludes pri­vate bus trans­fers from the train sta­tion to Machu Pic­chu, en­trance to the citadel, a tour guide and af­ter­noon tea be­fore mak­ing your way back to Cusco. But it is pos­si­ble to do things an­other way. Af­ter our morn­ing train we chose to spend the af­ter­noon and night in the town, stay­ing at the charm­ing Inkaterra Machu Pic­chu eco re­sort, be­fore go­ing up to Machu Pic­chu in the morn­ing, and board­ing the Hi­ram Bing­ham again that af­ter­noon. Keep in mind if you break up the jour­ney the re­turn trip is sub­ject to avail­abil­ity and you will need to make your own way up and down the moun­tain. If you opt to do this, make sure you leave plenty of time to re­turn as the bus queues can be very long and some peo­ple have missed their trains be­cause of them. It is also pos­si­ble to spoil your­self on one hand and save some money on the other by buy­ing a one-way Hi­ram Bing­ham ticket, which in­cludes en­trance to the citadel and the tour, and then catch­ing a nor­mal train ser­vice back. This costs around half the usual pack­age price, and if you were to do it make sure you opt for the way down. While the re­turn jour­ney in­cludes din­ner, drinks and en­ter­tain­ment, the out­side deck is closed at night and you can’t see those views. Be­sides, wouldn’t you pre­fer to ar­rive at one of the won­ders of the world in style? I know it’s one ex­pe­ri­ence I’ll never for­get.

Pho­tos sup­plied by Bel­mond

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Bel­mond

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