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The life and times of Juan de Dios[]

Juan de Dios ML, born 1890*, died 1982[]

(Insert photo Arequipa plaza from above.) Caption: This is the main square (plaza) of Arequipa (not Ayaviri), the city in Southern Peru which was where Juan de Dios came to live.

(This has been written as if for the grandchildren of the initial (stub) writer)

Juan de Dios was born* in the then small, but locally important, town of Ayaviri in Puno, a southern Andean department of Peru. Juan de Dios's father, (Samuel*) had been a “militar” posted to various locations. He had married a girl from Santa Rosa and settled in the nearby Ayaviri around the 1870's*, becoming one of the town's more important businessmen, owning shops and properties around the main plaza (square).

Ayaviri's economic prosperity depended in those days on the wool trade. The wool came from alpaca and sheep, but the alpaca were more suited to the high altitude, cold environment and its wool was sought after, in the nineteenth century, in Europe where it was spun into a 'new' fabric (alpaca with silk) used for 'cloth-hungry' dresses. These became fashionable when Queen Victoria of Britain started to wear them. The wool was produced, in the main, on vast ranches, or haciendas. Some of the alpaca were raised also on common land and traditionally the wool would have been spun and woven by most of the local families but the collapse of the Spanish viceroyalty in 1824 meant that surplus wool could be sold abroad - see vent for surplus. From Ayaviri it was traded into the Department of Cusco at the Sicuani wool market or sent to Arequipa where European wool merchants -- mainly British - would export it via the port of Islay, later through Mollendo and Matarani. Most went to the port of Liverpool and to two mills (factories) at Bradford, UK - most famously the Titus Salt Mill.

(Insert photo Ayaviri2.) Caption: The (catholic) church of Ayaviri in the highlands of Southern Peru.

Thus by the time Juan de Dios was born, towns in the Andes had already important links with the international economy even though transport was still by mule-train (rather than the later steam variety). Occasional international travellers - hard at this stage to call them tourists -- would pass through in addition to the wool traders, hacendados, itinerant lawyers, etc. A railway had been built from the coastal open roadstead of Mollendo to Arequipa in 1870/71, but in 1879 the War of the Pacific against Chile halted further construction and destroyed much of the existing infrastructure. Only by the turn of the century was there a prospect of a railway replacing the arduous and lengthy transport by mules. The track-laying construction team arrived in the Ayaviri district in 1904* and it seems that the young Juan de Dios joined the railway at that point or soon after, perhaps working as a general hand* to begin with. Although his father had spoken two languages, neither were the Spanish or English used on the railway. Juan de Dios had the advantage of speaking Spanish in addition to Quechua and some Aymara. He was soon helping the railway management to develop specialist facilities for wealthier travellers including some tourists: buffet cars, sleeping cars and a presidential coach. (Many of these stories were told to me by JdeDML when we met for breakfast daily during 1975 - PAG). His advantage was that he could communicate with the management in Spanish and some English (he had a technical vocabulary) and with the employees in Quechua. He also had a good manner with the tourists, often acting as their guide and informant on local history. By the 1930's he was in a position to make a bid to manage the three prestige facilities (restaurant car, sleeping cars and presidential coach) as his own business, taking on the franchised concession.

By this time the so-called lost city of Machu Picchu was attracting a small flow of rich and sometimes famous "tourists" and a golden age of elite tourism had started. Juan de Dios was in pole position to offer, then, what today is only simulated in a sort of Disney-recreation of what is recognised as one of the great rail journeys of the world: sleeping cars of Edwardian grandeur, Buffet cars with rotating seats built to accept crinolin dresses and a presidential coach in which Juan de Dios met visiting heads of state and royalty: the Duke of Windsor, the Duke of Edinburgh. It was said by the (British) General Manager of the railway that, by offering the use of the presidential coach he was able to "keep the Archbishop in one pocket and the Prefect (the President's representative = a Lord Lieutenant of a county in Britain but with more powers) in the other".

By the 1950's the tourist trade had recovered from the effects of the Second Word War, President Odria was building parador-type tourist hotels in Arequipa and Cusco and the international route via steamer across Lake Titicaca to La Paz, Bolivia and Argentina was opening up. Tourism was however still elitist but less time-pressured than today. New carriages were ordered (1951) from Birmingham, UK, and built in much the same opulent style as the previous stock. This golden age lasted until the Government nationalised the railway in 1975/6, Juan de Dios and his sons lost the franchises (retaining only a ticket agency), but he still continued working and advising the railway. He died in 1982.

Rolling stock on the Southern Railway were / was, around this time, replaced with utiltarian and inefficient carriages built in Rumania, of little appeal, it seems, to tourists. Increasing migration from the highlands to the town of Arequipa meant that the railway was becoming an artery of mass transportation with crowded and run down third class carriages and lack of investment in the remainder. The railway passenger service between Arequipa and the highlands (Juliaca) closed in 2003 and it was only in 2006 that a metalled road was opened. Apart from the overpriced ($500 for a day excursion from Cuzco to Machu Picchu - 2007) and synthetic tourist trains between Puno and Machu Picchu little remains of the complete journey from the coast, its golden age and the greatest railway journey of the world.


Postscript: In its heyday Peru had 51 railways* covering approximately 4,500 kms, now only a few stretches of passenger service remain. Not even one commuting line or inter-city railway . . . . but a light railway is under construction in Southern Lima (2008).

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