Episode 22: That Time I Rode The Titicaca Train

365 Dates of Travel Podcast

Transcript for Episode 22: That Time I Rode The Titicaca Train

Welcome to this week’s podcast.

I hope you enjoyed last week’s little interlude into AI. But this week we’re back to travel writing, which I’m assuming most of you are here for. 

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the June chapter. I said it was the longest chapter in the book, which was a little bit of a furphy. The July chapter has an extra two pages, so July is actually longer than the June chapter, but they’re close and pretty long.

So the June background stories I spoke about a couple of weeks ago, and today I’m going to do direct readings from three of the June stories.

The title of this week’s podcast relates to the Titicaca Train, which will be the second reading on the 8th of June. The last reading will be when I’m in Tasmania after the pandemic in 2022, and the first reading will be in Las Vegas. 

It’s a very quick Las Vegas, as there are other Las Vegas stories in the book. I managed to visit a few times over the last few years, mostly thanks to conferences and work related events. As in nursing related events. Nursing is what pays the bills right now. 

At the end of my storm chasing tour, I end up in Las Vegas, and that is where this story takes place.

3rd June (2019) Las Vegas, NV, USA

Waking in Vegas is a delicious thought. I ate at Caesars’ breakfast buffet, named Bacchanal, for my morning indulgence. As early, I paid the Morning Fare, rather than the Brunch fee, saving a few dollars. My diary never goes into enough detail about what I ate. But I remember taking my time, enjoying long cups of tea and multiple trips to the food stands. And needing to be rolled out.

I wandered through to The Forum Shops and luxuriated in my surrounds. I must ride the circular escalators. It’s hard to hide the pleasure I get from this simple ride. I hope no one notices I’m riding for fun rather than to get somewhere.

I had one free day to indulge in my favourite things and relax. After walking down part of Las Vegas Boulevard, I returned to my room to enjoy the air conditioning.

After a Vegas breakfast buffet, you don’t need to eat again till dinner. I ate Panda Express from the food court eating my favourite American Chinese dish, orange chicken with rice and vegetables. I eat it whenever I’m in America.

By this time, it was dark enough to appreciate night-time Vegas. I continued further down Las Vegas Boulevard to the magnificent Venetian Hotel. This is my favourite hotel in Vegas, but tomorrow’s activities were taking place at Caesars, so no point staying anywhere else on this quick trip.

After wandering every inch of the Venetian complex, I headed to Bellagio’s water fountains. I love the majesty of the water and the perfect timing with the music. It can take several attempts to find the optimal viewing angle. Ideally, you’re in the front row as close to the centre as possible. I would never watch just the end and leave. Instead, I would relish the finale, secure a better position as people departed, and await the commencement of the next performance.

I love Vegas. I don’t gamble or drink, but I love the atmosphere and the varied activities one can do and sights you can see. It’s an adult Disneyland that never closes.

The June chapter sees me in the wonderful Peru, which was my first time in South America. And the story I’ve chosen to read for you today is when I am on the Titicaca train. So I had two tours, and in between the two tours I had a few days on my own where I decided to do luxury train tours. 

I’d already done the Hiram Bingham before this date. And today was the day where I was leaving Cusco, sort of on my way to join the next tour. I was taking the long way round by catching the train from Cusco to Puno on the wonderfully named Titicaca train.

8th June (2018) Titicaca Train, Peru

Today I travelled 350 km from Cusco to Puno on a ten-and-a-half-hour luxury train called the Titicaca Train, previously called the Andean Explorer. The current Andean Explorer is a sumptuous overnight touring train out of my budget.

I caught a taxi to the train station where I recognised a family of four from the Hiram Bingham train a few days earlier. Also, the Japanese girls who did not want to share a booth with me. We’re all doing the same tourist trail. The family, from somewhere in Europe, had a guide with them taking care of their luggage and the check-in process. They sat while the formalities were taken care of for them. That level of service isn’t cheap. I bet they wondered how I could afford to be here. My trip costs might surprise them. I received a nod of recognition.

The boarding experience had less fanfare than on the Hiram Bingham, including no champagne being served, but music played in the background.

I had the cutest single table and chair. I appreciated that they specifically designed it for one rather than being a two-seater table adjusted for a solo occupant. There was no vacant seat to gaze upon, making it the perfect arrangement for a single traveller.

Every group had their own space. They configured the carriage to match the day’s passengers. Couples sat opposite each other or beside each other, and groups of fours sat around tables. I was the only single.

The chairs were classic wingback armchairs, offering comfort and style superior to the bench seating found on the Hiram Bingham train. Tables were elegantly set with a menu, flowers, seasonings, and a lamp, all placed atop a linen tablecloth. With each chair and table perfectly positioned by a window, the train exuded opulent old-world charm.

There was a glitch when I booked online undercharging me from what I expected to pay, and been happy to pay. They issued me a ticket, so I left it. I was curious, though. I asked my neighbours, a retired American couple, what they paid. They confirmed what I thought. I got my ticket for half price. No idea why.

I adored being at the rear of the train in the open carriage, observing the train tracks. Since I was the first to venture there, I had the space to myself. Our journey followed a stream with trees growing alongside, leading to the meadows at the foot of the mountains. As we ascended to higher altitudes, the trees gave way, revealing a landscape blanketed with grass and snow-capped mountains.

As people began exploring and arriving at the observation car, the entertainment began. Pan flute music and dancing in colourful outfits. I returned to my seat and watched the scenery in comfort and quiet solitude.

The train stops in the middle of nowhere at La Raya at an altitude of 4338 metres. There is a market and a church. Costumed locals with llamas and alpacas of various ages pose for photos. We stopped here on my first tour, so I observed the bustling activities from afar and captured pictures of the train against the mountainous scenery.

The passenger opposite me was a retired nurse. She had brought a pulse oximeter with her to monitor her oxygen levels. My curiosity made me ask if I could try it. With the pulse oximeter on my finger, I reached 75-85%. I did not feel any different from normal. No one said I was looking pale or blue. Levels should be 95-100%. I have since bought my own pulse oximeter, and it will be on the packing list whenever I’ll be at high altitude.

Lunch comprised three courses: entrée being soup with cheese, crackers and oil; for main I chose the beef tenderloin wrapped in bacon; and finished with a chocolate dessert in strawberry sauce. A surreal experience having fine dining at my table for one with a forever changing backdrop. The chairs were comfortable for sitting throughout the day but not designed for short me to eat at.

There was a Pisco sour tasting in the bar car, but I remained in my seat. I’d had more Pisco sours than I care to remember. I don’t like any alcohol, so nothing to do with the individual drink.

Afternoon tea with sandwiches and cakes was served. The day kept getting better. This was not a train for reading books. Time flew as we gazed out the window and ate.

I was soaking up every bit of the experience until we hit the town of Juliaca.

And it just seemed so poor and hopeless that I started to feel guilty. I am so lucky to have been born in a good country where I’ve had options and opportunities. They can only imagine what we take for granted.

Honestly, I think I liked it more than the Hiram Bingham [to Machu Picchu] but glad I’ve done both. I could have kept going and going, but it did have to end.

On arrival in Puno, I shared a taxi with the American couple, as booked at the same hotel. I paid nothing, as only cost 5 soles each, or US$5 in total. I wouldn’t have taken any money either if I’d paid first. It’s too little to quibble over.

I did not need dinner after afternoon tea on the train. So I didn’t leave the hotel.

Puno’s altitude was 3830 metres. 600 metres higher than Cusco. Around 500 metres lower than our highest point on the journey. It is best to sleep at a lower altitude than the highest you reached during the day. Being sick was a real risk. I’d experienced this with travellers on my last tour with two of the group hospitalised.

I drank around 3.5 litres.

This next story has me in Tasmania in 2022. I’m embarrassed to say, as a Melbournian, it was my first time to visit Tasmania, which is often the way, isn’t it? We rarely see the places that are closest to us. But it’s the Tasmania stories that make the June and July chapters so long. The trip covers both chapters, as it’s the first big trip, if you call going to Tasmania a big trip, which, sorry, that’s just some Victorian humour for you.

It was the first trip I’d done after I started to write the books and do the podcasts and everything. So I’d learnt a lot about things I remember or things that I forget and things I need to document. The Tasmania trip was probably THE most documented and photographed trip of my whole entire life. 

You wouldn’t believe the details I have on this trip. And I haven’t put them all in the book, although you might feel like I have, because each day is so long, and I packed a lot into each day on this trip. That’s what planning is about. The more you plan, the more you can achieve on the one day, because you’ve worked out what works and what doesn’t, and how long everything takes and in which order to do things. 

It will be interesting going forward to see if I continue along this way. And I will admit, a lot of the record keeping documentation was done on my phone. Quite simply by taking a photo. Take a fake photo showing exactly when I started the walk. Take a photo as I reached the summit with the time, so I know how long it took me and little things like that. But yes, the most documented trip of my whole entire life. And here’s one day for you to have a sample of what was happening. 

28th June (2022) Scamander, TAS, Australia

I was in bed from 10:30 pm to 7:30 am, but stayed in bed for breakfast and tea. I’d been excited to find a 300 ml bottle of full cream milk in the room fridge. It expired today. I boiled the kettle, opened the milk, smelt the milk which seemed fine, but it curdled as hit the hot water.

I drank two-thirds of it and didn’t make another.

I can’t remember what it looked like, but it sounds disgusting. How did I drink any of it? That’s how much I love my tea, if I’ll drink it with curdled milk.

This trip was about being outdoors, so no activities in Launceston itself. I was heading to the east coast. I filled the car with petrol and made additions to my food supplies. My hand written instructions included:

Coles on left—buy cheesecake and dip. Right petrol.

I found Baker’s Delight at the same shopping complex buying a chocolate croissant for tomorrow’s breakfast, and a Twisted Delight, which ended up being my main sustenance throughout the day as could it eat while driving.

Google Maps directed me, but I’d planned my route, preferring apps only as a backup. We disagreed about the best route prompting me to write:

I made the Google Map’s voice take me the way I wanted to go. Eventually, she acquiesced.

Those voices can be stubborn.

I paid $2.15 per litre for petrol. I wanted to start the day with full tanks before heading into country areas.

No cars followed me until near the end of the day. I love having the road to myself with no pressure to drive a certain way. It’s easier to enjoy the scenery and slow down on the curvy bits. I love driving, but I can be a nervous driver. That makes me a cautious driver, though. I don’t understand why people speed around curves on cliff edges. An accident would mean the end of my trip and the end of who knows what else. It’s not worth the risk.

I booked a hotel in Scamander with stops at Eddystone Lighthouse and The Gardens on the way. I played on Google Maps, finding a few interesting mini sights and worked out my route based on their locations.

My first stop was at The Sideling Lookout with a car park, toilet block, and a viewing platform over the valley below, and no one else around. I had a snack while here being an apple, yoghurt and orange juice.

Thirty-minutes later, I stopped in Scottsdale, at the Big Thumbs Up. It’s what it sounds like, a giant hand giving the thumbs up sign. It’s a bit worse for wear, but I couldn’t resist stopping for a look.

The next rest stop, Derby, had a modern amenities block for campers. It would have been easy and cheap to camp along the way. I imagined having a roof top tent on the car. I love the idea. This site had a creek running alongside, making it a relaxing place to hang out. The town itself was quaint, and I wish I’d stopped. It is a known mountain bike area with shops on theme, and local trails. I will have to return, hire a bike, and ride through the Derby Tunnel. I’ll have to re-learn to ride a bike first, though. A small hurdle.

I turned onto a B road to reach my next planned stop at the Little Blue Lake. Exquisite. I was in awe. It transported me to Switzerland, and I had it to myself. The small view point didn’t show what I’d seen online. The road further in was a pock marked dirt road full of muddy puddles. I didn’t want to drive down it. I parked at the first section, walking further along the road to investigate, and it was spectacular.

No official paths, but plenty of unofficial ones to explore until I’d seen the lake from every angle. I kept exploring and getting as close to the edge as I dared until I found the perfect spot to see the entire lake, thus the full effect of its blueness. It’s a turquoise blue caused by the white clay, exposed from mining, reflecting the blue sky.

The mining practices resulted in acidic water, thus no swimming or drinking. Such a shame. Swimming in the middle of that colour would be enthralling. I found a spot to sit and drink in the view while eating Twisted Delight for lunch. It would be a charming place to build a cottage. I could look at it forever.

As leaving, three cars, not travelling together, arrived in the first car park. They too had the initial confusion, but one four-wheel-drive (4WD) car continued down the dirt track. A second car attempted the road but encountered the first car returning, leading to a standoff. The third car contained a family unfolding a pram. I suggested they continue down the path as even though it seemed like nowhere to go, it was worth proceeding. I hoped those first two cars didn’t drive away without exploring. Such a shame if they did.

I continued along the B road until my next turnoff, a C road. I saw my first road sign picturing a wombat and another with a kangaroo meeting a car. It said: “Wildlife Dusk to Dawn”. I hoped not to drive between those hours.

This is when the dirt roads started appearing and the scenery became stark. Open and flat, with dead trees sitting against a backdrop of a greying, moody sky. Eerie and ethereal, a bit of a change.

The next road sign pictured a Tasmanian devil. Tassie has the best road signs. Poor devil, though, with the word “endangered” under it. And again a reminder to “Slow Down, Watch Out, Dusk to Dawn.”

At this stage, I entered the Mount William National Park. Signs explained a National Parks Pass was required. Lucky I’d pre-purchased one, as no place to buy one here, but also no one checking.

I survived the rough roads, making it to Eddystone Point Lighthouse to find two other cars. Thankfully, I had not encountered them on the road, since impossible to remain within your lane. I drove the path of least resistance, avoiding potholes, puddles, and slippery areas, requiring zigzagging across the road. The fear of my wheel getting trapped or breaking as I unwittingly drove over a concealed hole loomed over me throughout. But my little car made it in one piece.

It seemed the cars had just arrived, despite not seeing them on the road. One was a Toyota Corolla Hatch like mine, which I appreciated as I’d thought I’d been stupid to drive my car here. Parking proved difficult, with at least three quarters of the car park being turned into a paddling pool by recent rain.

Each group walked in different directions as I pulled in. I saw the directions they took and chose a third option to escape them. It worked. I didn’t see them for the rest of my visit.

The third direction led to a metal drop toilet. It was freezing and dark with the door closed. I kept my eyes shut, getting out as fast as I could.

The path continued over a hill. I could see the lighthouse behind me and the beach in front. The winding sandy path vanished as I traversed it, making it impossible to see what lay ahead or where I’d been.

My first orange rocks. I walked through green salt shrubs, then came the brown rocks with splashes of orange next to the blue-grey of the ocean and a white-grey moody sky. Outstanding! The wind blowing, the shrubs swaying. Heaven.

The water’s edge had become turquoise. Waves crashed on the beach. Not a single soul other than me. The dirt road saga was worth it. I’d arrived at Gulch Point at Larc Beach, a ten-minute walk from the toilet.

I then walked towards the lighthouse. I passed a few old stone houses which looked like rental accommodation. What a wonderful place to stay for peace, quiet and views.

They built the stone lighthouse in 1889. A staircase led to the locked entrance. I peaked inside to find an intricately designed wrought-iron staircase. Climbing that staircase would have been smile inducing.

The panorama from the lighthouse extended across the water, and more orange-hued rocks. I spent an hour in the area. Then back on the dirt roads. As leaving, the family from the Little Blue Lake arrived. I found it incredible they had the same bizarre itinerary as me, but wondered how an hour behind. Maybe they had a sit down lunch somewhere. Curious, I wanted to know if everyone found the rest of the lake area. They replied saying everyone continued on and I drove off, hoping they wouldn’t catch up with me.

I skipped a planned museum stop to arrive at The Gardens at sunset. I timed it perfectly for the best angle of the sun on the orange rocks. It was magnificent.

I stopped along the way at a beach because I couldn’t resist the name. Cosy Corner South was divine–emerald water, brown rocks with orange spots, white sand and a darkening moody sky. The colours complimenting each other.

I continued to the The Gardens’ carpark, to discover a circuit trail with a lookout. I could see orange rocks ahead and the clouds began dissipating. The information sign explained the white sands originated from a high quartz content originating from the granite boulders and the orange was lichen.

I continued round the circuit as the beaming sun broke through the clouds, lighting the orange rocks with spectacular results. Perfect timing. The orange sparkled, and the colour reflected in the shimmering water. Enchanting. This was the highest concentration of orange boulders I’d seen, and I loved it. I had chosen here for that reason. I’m thankful my research suggested being here for sunset.

The clouds lingered, imitating a theatrical performance, with the sun entering and exiting in sync with the clouds’ motions. Nature’s spotlight. Captivating. It is wonderful without the sun, but that extra dimension was worth it.

I had a selfie practice trying to see if my hair matched the orange rocks. The rocks are more orange than my hair as my colour fades, but I love these rocks.

As leaving, a few cars arrived. They appeared to know each other. I commented how they had just missed the sunset, they just smirked. I wondered if they knew something I didn’t. Until they arrived, I again had the landscape to myself.

Driving south, the sunset continued to colour the sky and reflected pink hues in the water. Stunning. I stopped twice to appreciate it as the pink deepened. For the first time, I experienced a driver on my tail, annoyed at my efforts to enjoy the sunset.

I arrived at my pre-booked hotel in Scamander at two minutes past five. Unbeknownst to me, check in closed at five. My paper work said 9:00 pm. I found a phone number to ring for assistance. The number reached a recorded message saying they were closed. I mumbled, “Well, that’s useful. A number that goes to an answer machine.”

At this point someone appeared saying, “The phone will ring through to the after hours manager if you stay on the line. We are open from nine to five.”

“I guess I’m late. Can I check in?” We started on the wrong foot.

“Name,” she snapped back.

I gave my name, and she disappeared into the back office, then appeared out from behind the desk and headed to a lockbox outside. She put in a code and found an envelope with my name. I’m not sure how I was supposed to know about the coded lockbox. I checked my e-mails, and I never received one with instructions, so I believe they mishandled it. Another customer was accessing the box as we approached. How did he know what to do?

The whole encounter put a sour note in my mouth about the venue, making me no longer interested in frequenting the restaurant as planned for dinner. I wanted nothing to do with them. I had dip and crackers in bed, followed by cheesecake and biscuits. And planned a pre nine o’clock departure.

I covered 285 km. My thoughts on the driving:

I went as slow as I liked up hills and around bends and stopped for road sign photos. I was not expecting the dirt roads though on C routes. Some bits were slippery. They were shiny patches, query ice or just wet. I had two hands on the wheel, holding tightly and making sure I didn’t break on the skiddy bits. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

Various incarnations of Jewel accompanied me over the day.

6,711 steps taken.

Well, that’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you’ve enjoyed the readings from the June chapter of The SECOND Six Months book of the 365 Dates of Travel series. Sounds funny calling it a series, but I have to call it a series now, seeing as there are two books. Well, there’s about to be two books.

This podcast is for the 19th of July and in a couple of days’ time, well, four days’ time, The SECOND Six Months book will be available to buy. It will be launching on the 23rd of July. Very exciting. 

Next week’s podcast I will talk about what it was like the second time round. So this is now my second book launch and I’ll just go through what it was like doing it for the second time, whether it was easy, harder and what it was like compared to the first one back in March.

So don’t forget, if you haven’t already bought or read The first six months, now’s a really good time to do it. It’s actually on sale at the moment through Amazon or the ebook version through Amazon is on sale right now for $4.99 in Australian and $2.99 in American dollars. So it’s a good time to get it. The sale won’t last long. It is just that last chance for you to get The first six months before The SECOND six months comes out. So make the most of that while that is available. 

If you want to keep up to date with what’s happening, obviously you can listen to me here, and you can also get copies of my newsletter, which will let you know of anything exciting that’s up and coming. You can sign up to that on my website. The website is franheapwriter.com. You can see the photos from the books there. 

I’m calling it a “Choose Your Own Adventure” travel book, so you get to choose how you read it, in what order you read it. You can have the photos beside you and get more background information by listening to the podcast. A nice rounded adventure as you read all the travel stories.

The SECOND six months book will have extra features that The first six months didn’t have, but the index at the end will cover both books, so you can read in whatever order you like based on the indexes. There are multiple indexes including chronological order, if that’s what you’d like, and watch me mature or not, as the case may be, from 1992 until 2022. 

There’ll be other themed indexes that you can access through a page on the website. But all those details, including QR codes to the photos and other things, will all be in The SECOND six months book. 

So 365 Dates of Travel: The SECOND six months, is launching in four days’ time. 

I hope you found something interesting out of today’s stories and hopefully you’ve laughed at something along the way. Thank you for listening this week. I will talk to you next week and I’ll wish for you an interesting day.

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