We caught the bus to Puno at 8am, and spent the morning and majority of the afternoon either watching the view from the window or watching the endless stream of action films that were shown on the screens dotted along the coach: London Has Fallen, Never Back Down: No Surrender, Survivor, and then oddly enough, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 to end the trip. The hotel had arranged a taxi for us from the bus station, but we should have realised that it would be working on “Peruvian time,” and therefore we didn’t need to worry about it turning up 20 minutes late. The drive to the hotel gave us a little peak of Puno, and what we had to see was quite interesting: metallic skyscrapers towering over crumbling half-brick building, colourful buildings with metal rods sticking out the tops of the roofs, pretty carvings around the windows and doors, parts of town that were really neat and well-kept and other parts that looked like shanty towns…
We stayed at the Hotel Libertador which is this SUPER FANCY hotel on its own private island on the lake. When we booked it we didn’t even think about how posh it would be – it was the same price as a crappy central London hotel, but in Peru, it’s a 5-star hotel and we got to stay in one of the suites! Felt a little uncomfortable there with my hiking clothes and giant backpack, but when we headed down to the bar area after settling in we saw that a lot of the other people staying in the hotel were wearing the same kind of clothes. We tried out some cocktails, super yummy, and made plans for the next day before heading off to bed for an early night. I don’t know what it is about travelling but it completely tires me out!
The next day we started off by taking complete advantage of the buffet breakfast – continental and hot food, yum! After a skype session with my mam, we grabbed a map of Puno from reception and headed into the city…what we didn’t realise from the map scale is that the walk from the hotel island into the main part of the city takes FOREVER, but we made it in the end (thank God we filled up at breakfast!). We promptly found ourselves wandering through the weekly Saturday market; a massive market that sprawls through several streets, very similar to the market streets of Lima Centre. Anything and everything seemed to be sold at this market – sheep heads, raw meat, cooked food, furniture, metal gates, stationary, canned good, household items, gardening equipment, you name it, you could probably buy it somewhere in this market! I felt so tall weaving through the stall as the roofs of them are so low down.
Eventually we managed to make it to the main square where we saw the photography session of a wedding; the bride and groom were standing on the back of a fire truck which slowly drove around the plaza while people took photos. He was in uniform and they were both wearing fire fighter helmets and there was confetti everywhere – it was super cute! We saw the Condor statue in the distance overlooking the city. I did really want to hike up to it, but I’d read so many horror stories about people getting mugged and attacked up there that I just couldn’t justify risking it, so we made the decision to admire it from afar only. After a little chill out in the main plaza we walked on to Parque Pino (where I saw the CUTEST grumpy old man dog wearing pink pyjamas!) and then to the Arco Deustua, which is a large arc that’s adorned with tributes to people who fought in battles. We booked ourselves onto a tour of the Uros floating islands, and then headed back down through the market towards the docks. The buildings around here are just crazy – most of them are a shambles with faded or missing paintwork and really dusty, but then the police station, football stadium, museums, churches and universities are gorgeous and immaculate. As we wandered along the streets I had to keep stopping and taking pictures of the different pieces of architecture that stood out: statues in courtyards, colourful building, designs on gates, interestingly-shaped windows.
Down by the docks we came across the Artisan Craft Market – there were so many things to see and admire! I found a cute bag for when we’re walking around the cities, along with a small Pachamamma Doll (it’s so cute!) and our first traveller bracelets – rainbow inca bracelets.
We were pretty hungry at that point so it was back up to the Lima Street where we grabbed some chow in La Hostena – spag bol and soup, good stuff! At that point we’d been walking for about 5 hours straight so it was time to grab a taxi back to the hotel to get some rest and then get some much-needed laundry done! [NOTE TO SELF: don’t ever attempt to handwash that many clothes again – our arms were ACHING by the end of it!]
That night there was the coolest lightening and thunder storm which we watched from the safety of our window – it was so cool to watch as the lightening lit up the lake, mountains and towns, as if someone were flicking a light switch on and off. The one bad thing was how the power kept going off every time there was particularly bad lightening, but it came back on fairly sharpish afterwards!
Fun story about going on our boat tour the next day: our tour was at 12 so we grabbed a taxi to the docks and got there just after 11.30. We went for a casual wander around the dock to see if we could spot a rep from Coyla Adventures, but weren’t too worried when we didn’t see anyone. There was still no sign at 11.50. At 11.55 there was still no one, and we were getting a bit worried at this point…then we noticed there was a boat getting ready to leave at 12. So we walked up to the boat driver, and showed him our ticket, trying to ask in our broken Spanish, where we could get the boat. He looked at it, asked the other drivers around him, they looked at it and shrugged, he shrugged and then gestured for us to get on his boat. We got on this rickety wooden boat with like 15 other people and no clue about what was going on – both of us freaking out; me openly while Alice was trying not to stress. Anyway, in the end it was all good – all the tours were the same no matter who you went with. We were taken to one part of the island where we were greeted by the people who live there and were given a tour of their homes and told about how they build the island and maintain it. They spoke zero English, so the entire talk was in Spanish – Alice got the jist of most of it and I caught the meaning of a few words and phrases. What we gathered was this: the islands are made of this peat material that they have to harvest from the lake, dry, pack into 3x4m blocks and then pack the blocks together so that they don’t drift apart to form the base of the island. The whole island is anchored in place and reeds are put on top of the peat to act as the ground. The whole base has to be replace every three months. They also showed us their giant boats that they make out of reeds – they are built in two days by 8 men and only last weeks when used everyday. We were taken inside one of the houses and the women showed us around (it’s one single room so it was a pretty short tour), and then she helped us get dressed in their traditional clothes – I felt like the bell of the Peruvian ball! Afterwards AJ and I bought this really pretty hand-made tapestry that shows all the different parts of the life on the lake, and after the woman gave us a free necklace each and a massive hug! Our group was then taken to the main part of the island on one of the reed boats. There’s a reason Uros is called “Reed Disneyland” – EVERYTHING is made out of reeds; the buildings, the ground, the boats even the statues!
Back on the mainland we grabbed some food in a pizzeria which had the best artwork all over the walls, and then had fun haggling with a taxi driver over the price of a fare – managed to talk him down! The taxis in Peru are daunting at first, but they grow on you and it’s kind of fun to sit in them while they try to overtake a minibus while also going over a speedbump and there’s on-coming traffic…the combis are the next form of travel to master!
Our last day in Puno was spent exploring churches. Here’s a piece of advice; if you ever find yourself in a city in Peru, go to the church. I have yet to be in a church that wasn’t beautiful, and the churches in Puno were no exception. We first visited the Iglesia de San Juan Beautista, also known as the Santuario de la Virgen de la Cadelaria – lots of massive statues of saints in glass cases for worshipping. I really wanted to take pictures but with so many people loudly praying around us, it felt disrespectful. After that it was the Cathedral – there were quite a few tourists around taking photos so I snapped a few pics – the silver alter is just beautiful!
We took a quick break in Tulipa’s Restaurant and Café – sat out in a little courtyard with a really pretty floor in the sunshine with a coke and a (huge) slice of chocolate cake – yum! Around the corner was the Carlos Dreyer Museum, a fascinating collection of ancient artifacts, textils, paintings, religious iconography and best of all, mummies from the Sillustrani ruins. I started taking photos…and THEN saw the (admittedly large) “No photography” sign…oops… I have to admit, at this point, I’m a little Inca’d out, don’t think I’ll be checking out anymore history museums for a while.
At that point we’d seen pretty much everything we could in Puno, so wandered into the public library…where we found a random free art exhibition! There’s were a lot of paintings done by dot work, really beautiful looking! We headed upstairs to the “silent” library to sit and read for a bit before grabbing dinner – chicken stir fry, delicious! So much better than the Italian food we’d had, which is just way too sweet!
It was getting dark at that point, and when that happens at that altitude, it gets cold FAST, so we headed back to the hotel to sit and read by the fire until our taxi came to take us to the place to wait for the bus. Got onto the first bus which would take us part of the way, and then at midnight we changed over to the bus to Arequipa. It was nowhere near as nice as the first one, but at least the chairs recline and we could get some shut eye.