In my opinion, travelling by train is the best way to go, though it may take some work to find a route still up and running. We found one in Peru, and it happens to be the highest railroad in South America with the summit being 4,829 meters up in the Andes air! Luckily we bought tickets before they sold out, because since the main form of transportation has officially moved from trains to tour buses the Ferrocarril Central Andino only runs once a month. At 6 am on Friday we left our warm beds early in the morning and boarded the train with hopes that we’d be seeing some scenery like the Hogwarts Express. The old-time atmosphere was complete with green velvet seats in groups of four, with a little table in between for cards and of course, the lecturas we all hoped to read before the trip was over.
The ride up was not particularly spectacular. It was scenery I had seen before, the dusty hills of Lima. But once we hit the highest point and began descending, the views outside our window were picturesque to say the least. Deep valleys and soaring mountains, lakes, cows, and sky forever. Pictures of course won’t do the view justice.
We arrived in the city of Huancayo, in the region of Junin, around 8 pm, and caught a taxi to our hostel. On our way to dinner we were approached by a small band dressed in Shakespeare-esque outfits of purple and white who serenaded us with two wonderful songs. This event would set the tone for an entire weekend of incredibly accommodating and helpful people, from our hostel owners to the woman at the market who asked our names and hugged us after we bought some colorfully striped blankets.
We woke up the next morning to the sun on our faces and beautiful, warm weather. On the advice of a Peruvian friend who grew up in this city, we caught a colectivo to the smaller outlying town of Concepción, where we bought some fresh juice, (always, always get the surtido, which is just a mix of whatever they have) took pictures of the sky-blue church, and piled into a mototaxi with the destination of freshly-made ice cream at the planta lechera. It was possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had! After that we piled again into a mototaxi (although it may be possible I don’t suggest piling more than 5 people in—they’re known to tip!) and putted along the highway to the convent of Santa Rosa de Ocopa.
Here we wandered the peaceful grounds and took a tour. In the past, missionaries would prepare here before venturing into the jungle to teach Christianity to the indigenous people, since Huancayo is a convenient location before the sierra becomes selva. There was a taxidermy museum of jungle animals and insects, religious paintings from all ages and of all kinds, and the best library I have ever seen. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed on the tour, but let’s just make a comparison to the scene in Beauty and the Beast when Belle is swinging on a ladder in the library. Except for we couldn’t touch anything and certainly could not swing around on ladders. My favorite part was a chapel-like room that is completely covered, from floor to ceiling, in intricate, colorful paintings of animals, scenes from the jungle missions, and tangled vines. I suggest Googling some pictures of the inside!
When we left the convent we could feel a storm brewing, reminding me of summer thunderstorms at home. It made me think how weirdly consistent the weather Lima is. I forget to bring my rain jacket on trips all the time because I assume the temperature will range from 55-70 at all times, with a chance of sun and fine mist that barely dampens your clothes. The drive home through the countryside was beautiful, surrounded by greens and yellows with big puffy clouds and red brick houses. It’s always interesting to ride on public transportation here because people come and go with such random cargo— a big five gallon bucket, sleeping children wrapped in striped Peruvian blankets, a delicious plant that filled the car with a lemony smell, to name a few.
That night we went to a restaurant with traditional dance performances and ordered some delicious sangria (with an addition of pisco, we suspect) and trout, a regional specialty. The next morning we spent picking up some souvenirs at the Sunday market that stretched along an entire five or so blocks. Shopping here was a much less stressful experience then in Cusco or Lima, since we were some of the few tourists among the many locals doing their typical shopping.
The only not-so-happy part of this trip was me feeling sick all the way home on the bus, and the bus getting wrapped up in traffic. I also left my journal on the train, which is a first experience for me! Luckily I had just begun this journal about two weeks ago. Back in Lima, I was so happy to fall asleep in my bed, on stable ground and at sea