On Spanish Puns Spanish and English share a lot. Both are Indo-European languages, thus they have a similar structure, especially with regard to a cumbersome verbs structure. The vocabulary’s similitude is enhanced due to the widespread use of Latin and Greek roots by both languages. Yet, tempting as it is, one should be careful while translating between these two languages. "Exito" is not Spanish for "exit," and "Puno" is not Spanish for "pun."
On Borders Puno and Copacabana are good examples to the arbitrary nature and irrelevance of political borders. If ignoring the banknotes and signs invoking the names of state-gods, it is impossible to distinguish between the cultures of these two towns on the Titicaca Lake shores. One lake, one culture, two countries.
Between Aymara and Quechua Both towns provide good examples of Aymara and Quechua cultures, though Spanish still predominates and is the main language in both. These cultures are very similar, though it is worth noting that they differ in their origins. Aymara is a well defined culture originating on the Andean High Plateau. They were closely related to the Pucara people, to the builders of Tiwanaku and to the military clan that founded the Inca Empire shortly before the Spaniards arrived. As a matter of fact the entire Puno Region was part of the Tiwanaku territory between 800 AD and 1200 AD. The Quechua speaking people belong to several different cultures that were conquered by the Inca and assimilated; as such they are much more varied in their looks. Both languages are similar and share about 30% of their vocabulary.
Can a first time visitor distinguish between the cultures? Sometimes asking a direct question on cultural issues may be uncomfortable; luckily, there are ways to bypass this. I reviewed in the past on a popular Altiplano drink made of boiled dehydrated peaches. Aymara people call it "qhisa," while Quechua speaking people call it "mocochinchi." Just ask in Spanish how is this drink called (there is no Spanish name for it), the answer will tell you with whom are you speaking; at least of his – or hers – culture.
If getting to know the locals better, they may expand on these issues. Aymaras told me more than once that their facial features and language are harsher than the Quechua ones. Looking as an outsider, I tend to agree with them, though both languages use plenty of vowels, creating a rather melodic and soft sound, intercalated with some unusual guttural sounds (like the "qh" in "qhisa").
Local Pride I have travelled extensively on high altitude destinations – especially on the Himalayas and the Andes, with casual visits to the Alps and the Rockies. More often than not I found humble people happily living under the colossal magnitude of the nature surrounding them. Yet, in Seasons I expanded on Spanish being a language with an attitude; actually a rather pompous one. While visiting the Titicaca Lake area, it is impossible to ignore the many signs advertising it as the highest navigable lake in the world as well as a World’s Natural Wonder. The last means nothing; probably every single person in the world would define a "World’s Natural Wonder" differently. The first one is worrying. Even in Bolivia and Peru there are navigable lakes than are higher than the Titicaca. Moreover, how do you define a navigable lake? If I can cross a pond on a trunk, then, is it navigable? This is another good example of local pride and modern marketing techniques.
Unique Cultures Imagination is an important part of local cultures; I have been told of Tiwanaku being a million years old (it has only a few centuries) and of tunnels underneath the Titicaca Lake; Kari Kari curses and many more things not worth of being mentioned. Things may go wild on this angle and cast a shadow on the real peculiarities of the area. Among the high altitude areas of the world this is the most densely populated one meaning it has created a truly unique culture(s). As such, the Andean High Plateau and surrounding areas are a fascinating destination for the world wide traveler.
Puno is not a Spanish pun, but a rather fascinating destination.