The rail trip from Lima to Huancayo is 215 miles with 66 tunnels, 58 bridges, 9 zigzags (where the locomotive switches from pulling the train to pushing it). Passenger service includes meal service, two nurses armed with oxygen bottles for passengers who might suffer from altitude sickness (soroche), and some armed guards. The railway was built between 1870 and 1908 for transporting mineral ores to Lima from the mines in the Andes. It begins at sea level following the route of the Rio Rimac. At San Bartolome the locomotive is turned around on a turntable. Then the line climbs increasingly steeply through narrow deep gorges and ravines cut into bare, brown mountains. The view is often on one side a rock wall and the other side a very steep drop to the river in the valley a long way below. When the line runs out of hill the train reverses (hence the zigzags) and continues to climb in the opposite direction. After about 5 hours the train reaches the highest tunnel and arrives at Galera, the highest station on the line and perhaps the highest in the world at 15,688 feet. The line then begins its descent to La Oroya at 12,100 feet - home reportedly to the highest golf course in the world. Then the line follows the Rio Mantaro into a broad fertile valley and onto Huancayo at 10,600 feet - almost a full mile below the highest point on the line.
As with most trips out of Lima we left at a very early hour but had an opportunity to nap on the way - say hello to Mindy and Peter:
We had opted for the economy seating on the way up to Huancayo so that we could visit and play board games. The sleeping wasn't as comfortable but we did enjoy a marathon Trivial Pursuit game.
En route we had a few stops and some pretty good scenery watching:
including a stop at the highest (or second highest)railway station in the world at 15,681 feet:
Huancayo is the capital of the province of Junin and the commercial center of the region. It is not the most charming city that we have visited but does have reasonably good dining, a pleasant Plaza de Armas with the standard mix of the cathedral, hotels and restaurants on the four sides and plenty of civic activities and festivals.
The city is known for its Sunday market when vendors of food, artesania, and cheesy imported goods set up their stalls and draw quite a crowd. We attended the market but also went out to visit local makers of fabric and jewelry products.
Tejido / weaving
In the market area, as in the shops and "factories" behind the shops, the wool is spun into yarn in the same way it has been done for probably centuries.
It looked like fun so I gave it a shot. It is not easy! I failed to spin even a few inches of wool. It apparently takes good leverage, strong calves and more rhythm than I could muster.
Once the expert successfully spins the yarn and uses local products to dye it the loom is set up (a 1-2 day process for an area rug) and the manual weaving process begins. Again, it looked like fun but never discount the importance of years of experience and coordination.
But let's not forget the most important contributor to the process:
this guy is a little young but has a long life ahead of being sheared and fed - not so bad on the whole.
We also checked out the jewelry making process -
definitely a non-OSHA approved process but one that produces fabulously detailed silver product.
Most of our time - after some serious shopping at wonderfully low prices - was spent exploring the Mantaro Valley and enjoying blue skies, lovely scenery and the river views.
View of the valley
A better shot of the Mantaro river
The church in Concepcion - a nearby town that is definitely worth a visit
And the intrepid travelers in the Plaza de Armas in Concepcion
More of the river - in some places this reminded me very much of Colorado rivers in the mountains.
And no day trip would be complete without a stop for lunch at a charming riverside restaurant
and of course the cuy selection on the menu (guinea pig)
Our final stop was a visit to the Franciscan convent of Ocapa. Unfortunately we could not take photos inside - the art is terrific, especially the recently painted chapel with murals of the Franciscan history in the area. I definitely recommend a stop here if your travels take you the Huancayo area.