Our Andean Explorer Experience
We woke early the following morning to catch the Andean Explorer train to Cusco. There was a train stop right in front of our hotel, but it is used for this train only in the Cusco to Puno direction. We had to arrange for a taxi to bring us downtown. The trip started off well. A Peruvian band played as we boarded. The car was elegant with white tablecloth and comfortable chairs. It was all downhill from there. This was the rockiest train I have ever been on (even worse than the overnight train in China). The ride was even bumpier than the old school wooden roller-coasters.
To the staff’s credit they prepared and served pretty good food despite all of the shaking going on. They provided entertainment with the Peruvian band and a “fashion” show. While the scenery was interesting, it also got extremely repetitive after nine hours of traveling. The ride was just too bumpy to sleep or read. In retrospect, we should have flown. It would have been cheaper, and we could have had more time in Cusco.
We arrived after dark where our pre-arranged driver was waiting for us. I'm glad Sherri thought of that because the station was practically deserted, and I didn't see any taxis nearby. We had found a great deal online, so we decided to splurge at the Hotel Monasterio. The rooms were not especially spacious. There was no pool, spa, or gym. But that is expected as they once housed monks. The history alone was the appeal for us. Originally built as a seminary in 1592, it still retains an ornate chapel, original oil paintings, and a eerie monastic ambience. One of our guides even swore that the place is haunted. The religious chanting music they subtly played probably helped contribute to this atmosphere. The staff was very attentive which always makes me feel guilty. There was definitely an eye for details. They put their hotel logo everywhere--on the doors, embroidered in the bedsheets, and even drawn into the sand in the cigarette ashtrays. As we were to find out during our stay there, the Monasterio has a truly awesome breakfast buffet. Not only did they have the usual American stalwarts (omelet station, bacon, sausage, cereal), but they also had traditional Peruvian foods including sweet or savory tamales with creole relish. Their spread of various pastries alone was enough to stock a patisserie.
We ate dinner at Illariy, the fancy restaurant in our hotel. Located adjacent to the monastery courtyard and enclosed by glass walls, the dining area gives the ambience of being outdoors without freezing your butt off. The meal started with a seafood causa amuse-bouche. I had a spicy seafood chowder followed by a skirt steak with a chimichurri sauce. Sherri ordered their signature dishes (a crab pastry Napoleon and yet another trout entree). The food was good, especially the chowder. It was pricey especially for Peruvian (and my own cheap) standards, but still affordable by American standards.