Crossing Russia on the Trans-Peruvian

“I don’t understand what he wants,” Lena said in perplexed Russian. “New sheets? A pillow?”

What’s more, the conductors are no longer the grumpy old babushkas of travelers’ lore. Most are young and cheery. Despite their best efforts, though, not all posses the language skills to communicate with the dozens of nationalities here for the football tournament.

It turned out that Juan Carlos, a 40-year-old electromechanic, did not know his seat number and couldn’t open his ticket on his phone due to the spotty internet connection.

When he eventually found his place, he told me he was here with his brother, nephew and a friend, and that they planned to follow the Peru team over 21 days to Saransk, Yekaterinburg and Sochi. “Peru hasn’t played in the World Cup in 36 years,” Juan Carlos explained. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance!”

Luis, his 22-year-old nephew, admitted that communicating with Russians, who were indeed very hospitable, had been difficult. “There was a guy at the Kazansky train station in Moscow we didn’t understand. He just kept buying us beers. ‘More beer! More beer!’ he kept saying. ‘No, no more beer!’ we told him!”

After a few hours on the train, the Peruvians plucked up the courage to chat with two girls across the aisle. Masha, 24, and Yulia, 25, both gym receptionists on their way to Samara for a vacation, crooned Spanish songs to break the ice. The grand finale was Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.”