Written by SeenThat on 15 Mar, 2011
More often than not, travel hubs are of special interest and joy for travelers, nowhere you can feel more a traveler than there. Moreover, they often are meeting places where cultures mix happily; maybe you’ll eat chuño – an Altiplano dehydrated potato – with chopsticks.…Read More
More often than not, travel hubs are of special interest and joy for travelers, nowhere you can feel more a traveler than there. Moreover, they often are meeting places where cultures mix happily; maybe you’ll eat chuño – an Altiplano dehydrated potato – with chopsticks. Being a travel hub is the soul and essence of Puno, and as such, travel in the area is worth of a dedicated entry. Alas, South America is not Asia. Simple things here get expensive, complicated and of low quality. Thus, arriving at the area with a clear idea how to travel is essential for surviving and enjoying a trip within the Lost (Stolen?) Inca Empire.Nothing looks simpler than a train. Among the modern travel technologies this is the oldest one. A sturdy railway and a choo-choo iron rooster make the trick. Yet, in South America the few surviving railways are as expensive as the already overpriced local flights; the recently mentioned railway to Machu Picchu is a good example of that. In the case of Puno, the railway connecting it with Cusco runs on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and costs a spectacular 220 American dollars. The mountainous sights cannot compete with that price.Probably the best way of traveling around in the area is by bus. Puno is well connected in this aspect, providing transport to Cusco, Arequipa, Lima, Desaguadero and La Paz. If attempting to reach the last by bus, the best is to travel first to Desaguadero, crossing the immigration by foot, and then taking a fast minivan to La Paz. Otherwise, expect delays and luggage theft during the bus inspection. In any case, while at the border change money; at the destination cities the exchange rate is often worse. If not in a rush, once in Bolivia the best is stopping at Tiwanaku; the site is indirectly related to the Inca Empire and thus enriches the visit to the ruins of that kingdom. The other main option for crossing to the Bolivian side is through the Titicaca Lake is ferries connecting Puno with Copacabana; unless free of financial worries, this option is best avoided. If doing so, Copacabana is well worth of a visit and well connected with La Paz; it can be used also as a departure point to Sorata.I often preach for local transport; yet, considering the special qualities of the area the best option for a bus to Cusco is a tourists’ bus. There are several companies offering those, the trips cost $25 and can be paid also in soles. As always, paying in local currency is advised. Most buses leave at 8 AM and arrive at 5 PM, allowing seeing all the attractions along the way during daylight. An additional advantage of the tourist buses is that they include a healthy buffet lunch. The main attractions along the way are from the colonial period, like the Andahuaylillas Church, from the Inca period, like the Wari ruins and pre-Inca remains, like Pukara. However, nothing compares to the awesome natural views along the way. They resemble very much the Bolivian high valleys – like Cochabamba and Sorata - deep narrow valleys with dramatic hills surrounding them. Here, however, they run all the way down to the Pacific Ocean, the barren, brownish high plateau turning into greenish high valleys which eventually end up in a different desert. However, much before the coastal desert Cusco appears. Next to it is the Lost City of Machu Picchu. Close
Three large towns lie along the Titicaca Lake shores. Copacabana is on its eastern side, Desaguadero - split between Bolivia and Peru – on its southern end and Puno on its western side. Puno is the largest, but not by much. As Copacabana, Puno is…Read More
Three large towns lie along the Titicaca Lake shores. Copacabana is on its eastern side, Desaguadero - split between Bolivia and Peru – on its southern end and Puno on its western side. Puno is the largest, but not by much. As Copacabana, Puno is trapped between the lake’s shoreline and the adjacent hills. As in Copacabana, the Titicaca blues dominate the views; there is something in the color of deep altitude-lakes that makes them unforgettable.Despite marketing efforts, Puno is a rather recent town (founded in 1668) which is not related to the Inca or the Tiwanaku. Yet, the town is called the "Folkloric Capital of Peru;" the term refers mainly to traditions from colonial times, which seem to be still very alive and well here. As such, it is arranged around a typical Spanish central square and a beautiful cathedral. In essence, the town looks and feels like a replica of Copacabana without the famous Calvario of the last.Other points of interest for passing travelers are the terminal and the dock by the lake. Kuntur Wasi is the name of a viewpoint atop a large set of steps; from the Condor Viewpoint – which conveniently displays a large condor sculpture – there are great views of the town and the lake. Puma Wasi is a similar viewpoint, both are better reached by taxi due to security issues in Puno.To the traveler arriving from Asia the views are deceitful: a calm city by a deep blue lake, surrounded by desert hills. Denizens walking in a rather lethargic pace; sometimes awkwardly frozen in the middle of ambiguous activities. You sit in a coffee shop and look at the walking people; it doesn’t take long to discern certain peculiarities. While walking, the people look indecisive; more often than not you’ll fail to guess the direction of their next step. At times they unapologetically bump into each other; most of the time they seem to be just blocking each other. You may think the area has passed through a rapid urbanization process and thus the people you’ve seen just moved to the city recently and do not know those silent rules of urban movement we all master without having studied them formally. Then you talk with one of the denizens – maybe the receptionist at the hotel or a travel agent – and you get a warning. Then you notice the people at the street corners systematically taking pictures with their phones. You don’t believe the stories or the views, until shortly after you see somebody being attacked, or you become the victim. Despite its looks, the area is very violent. The chances of being attacked are real; the hopes of getting help are unreal.Yet, Puno is more than a dangerous and unavoidable travel hub. Probably it is the best place for buying souvenirs in Peru. It is less expensive than Cusco and Lima, and it offers the same merchandise as the floating islands. Moreover, with the help of a taxi it is possible to visit the Chullpas de Sillustani, a set of impressive adobe burial towers built by the Kollas; similar to the ones seen along the Bolivian Altiplano. Tourist agencies are promoting now visits to llama farms, though these animals can be seen wandering freely as well. A point to keep in mind is keeping a safe distance from them; if they feel threatened they spit whatever they are chewing on the aggressor’s eyes. Walking on the hills surrounding the city may be tempting, but it is dangerous, violent robbery in them is common.The food in Puno is typical of the Altiplano area, with the huge variety of tubers – dehydrated or fresh – I have described in my Bolivian journals, charque (jerky) of llama and other animals, chuy (guinea pigs) stews, goat heads and a plethora of other equally appetizing dishes. In the Mercado Central (central market) they are offered by around 3 soles each, while at Calle Lima - where most shops catering for travelers are – they are offered for around 20 soles. Wi-fi is still an oddity here, as in Copacabana. Most travelers would stay here for short periods of time in the way between Bolivia and the Inca related attractions on the Peruvian side, yet, with some care to the surroundings, such a stay can be a safe and enjoyable one. Close
Written by SeenThat on 12 Mar, 2011
Perceptive readers may attack me on the claims made in the first entry of this journal, Puno – A Spanish Pun; after all, if Puno and Copacabana are so similar, while spend time in both of them? "One culture, one lake, one visit," would summarize…Read More
Perceptive readers may attack me on the claims made in the first entry of this journal, Puno – A Spanish Pun; after all, if Puno and Copacabana are so similar, while spend time in both of them? "One culture, one lake, one visit," would summarize their point of view.These two views depend on the type of trip the traveler is making in the area. If aiming at meeting the altitude cultures of the Andes – Inca, Quechua, Tiwanaku, Aymara, Pucara and more – then beginning a trip at Lima and skipping Bolivia is the last thing one should do. Yet, not surprisingly, most tourists do just that, after all is what the printed Peru guides tell them to do. If wishing to meet the altitude empires, there are two key locations for the international traveler: Cusco and La Paz. Both are very high; unluckily, most travelers completely obliterate altitude acclimatization considerations. Despite Machu Picchu the attraction not being at an extreme altitude, a significant percentage of people would experience mild altitude sickness symptoms there. Invariably, all human bodies would experience an acclimatization process to the decreased air pressure; I’ve described that extensively in the past. That means bad news for travelers rushing through the area from sea-level Lima, especially if unaware of his – or hers – reaction to altitude; everybody is different with respect to that. Well, that is unless you descent into Cusco.Despite Cusco being higher than the vast majority of human settlements, La Paz is even higher. Acclimatizing in La Paz before reaching lower Cusco makes more sense since most of the activities and attractions in La Paz require less effort (unless engaging in trekking or climbing). Moreover, large cities – as La Paz is in comparison to any other settlement in the area - provide a more comfortable environment for resting and acclimatizing during a few days. Moreover, there is another reason for choosing this path. It closely follows the source and heart of the Inca Empire, which was deeply related to the Andean High Plateau and not to the arid coasts of the Pacific Ocean. Making a round trip between La Paz and Cusco allows visiting also the Lake Titicaca and Tiwanaku, both related to the birth of this altitude empire.If adopting this strategy – centering the high altitude trip between La Paz and Cusco – then visiting the Titicaca Lake and Puno is unavoidable (flying over the spectacular landscape of the area in a single hour would be an unforgivable sin). Lake Titicaca is vast, offering the traveler two main routes between La Paz and Puno. Most travelers chose the shortest past through Copacabana. It allows exploring of the "Isla del Sol" (Island of the Sun), a pivotal point in Inca mythology, as well as visits to one of the most important cathedrals in Bolivia and its adjacent "Calvario." Yet, I have described in the past also the crossing via Desaguadero, the town at the southern tip of the lake, which is split between Peru and Bolivia. Each one of these trajectories offers special views and thus is worth experiencing both of them. Buses and taxis to Puno are available from the Peruvian side of both borders. Both paths are relatively easy and straightforward. The only point of concern is security, and that holds for both sides of the border. Eventually, Peru and Bolivia are pretty similar societies, what holds for one is usually true for the other.As said in the first entry of this journal, the Andean High Plateau is the most densely populated area among the world’s high altitude zones and home to various historic cultures, which rate among the largest in this continent. Relatively difficult to reach and demanding an altitude acclimatization period means the traveler should try to get the max out of the trip. If accepting this, landing on the Titicaca Lake for a while and visiting the whole area is the only sensible option. Close
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.…Read More
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. Close
Written by Anne Silver on 16 Oct, 2000
After four hours by boat we came to Taquile Island. The island juts starkly out of the Incas sacred Lake Titicaca. We had elected to spend the night here. As we stood on the highest point and watched the tour boats one by…Read More
After four hours by boat we came to Taquile Island. The island juts starkly out of the Incas sacred Lake Titicaca. We had elected to spend the night here. As we stood on the highest point and watched the tour boats one by one pull away leaving a handful of other gringos and us on the island I wondered, 'What if these people decide they are sick of tourists?'
Taquile is a special place. The inhabitants still wear their traditional dress and refuse to allow any hotels or dogs on their island. If you want to stay the night you must first register with the indigenous people and then are shown to a family.
The house we stayed in had several adobe rooms, a kitchen & a bathroom around the block. We were on the 2nd floor. There was a skinny set of stairs on the outside of the building and a narrow platform with no railing. As with many doors in Peru it was very short. This one was designed so that if Jim, my traveling companion, forgot to bend down and hit his head, which he had been know to do, & stepped back in blinding pain he would land on top of a chicken in the courtyard below. Our accommodations also had no running water. I devised a plan to solve the potentially fatal midnight bathroom run and how to wash up. I asked for a pan of water from our host family. After we washed we had a great bedpan. Our room was provided with a small stub of a candle and the bed looked like no one had changed the sheets in the last few years. We were glad of the sleeping bag liners we had brought with us. Since the island is so small we did have a great view of the sunrise and sunset from our bed.
We were there on a Sunday when the island comes together in the main square to discuss business. ie: how many tourists came to the island, what part of the island is best now for grazing sheep, etc. Each family has a representative. I didn’t think the locals seemed particularly interested until after the official meeting when I discovered a flock of women gathered around some accounting books.
Their clothes are brightly colored. The men’s hats signifying their marital status, their shirts are white and pants and vests are black. At first I kept thinking I was seeing waiters with floppy woven hats. The women wear brightly colored skirts, but have a dark shawl that covers their heads modestly. All of the people speak in mo more than a whisper. The women are so shy that they avert their eyes then they pass you on the road.
No hands are idle here. The women are spinning wool into yarn as they walk and the men are knitting constantly. The island has a tranqille hush. Wandering around we saw only the glimmering of the sacred water, the splashes of color of the people and lots and lots of sheep. The island is very tiny, but has several Inca ruins and beautiful beaches. It is possible to hike for hours and hours.
The indigenous people seem to have always been creative in their survival skills. Another island that we stopped at was constructed entirely of reeds. It was built up by many generations laying down reeds until they had a platform. As I walked across it it moved and squished under my feet. The boats are also made of tightly woven reeds. Many boats resemble mythical creatures of the deep. All day the locals either fish or sew. They can be seen sitting quietly on their island that is no bigger that a football field. Days must grow seamlessly together.
Written by jurgen on 24 Oct, 2000
Early in the morning we leave to the harbour by taxi. Outside it is still very cold. There is ice on the roads, and it is the middle of July! In the harbour we take one of the boats to Taquille and the Uros islands…Read More
Early in the morning we leave to the harbour by taxi. Outside it is still very cold. There is ice on the roads, and it is the middle of July! In the harbour we take one of the boats to Taquille and the Uros islands (see other journalentry). It's a very noisy boat filled with tourists. The boat trip to Taquille takes 4 hours and with the sun in the sky the temperatures have become very pleasant. We spent our time on the roof of the boat, burning in the sun. And burning we do, the sun is very strong at this altitude.
After arriving at Taquille we have to climb a hill to reach the village. At these heights, that is not easy. In the village square the guide gives us a small explaination about the island and the people, very interesting. After this we have diner in a small restaurant. The food is simple but good. Potato and fish. We take some time on the island before we leave for Puno again. We arrived in Puno after sundown, which means that again it is very cold. Close
Written by akakd on 13 Jul, 2005
We were told it would be safe to go to Puno, as long as we got out before the weekend, when demonstrations tended to heat up. Difficulties in Bolivia had spilled over the border into Peru, with Puno being a site for many demonstrations.…Read More
We were told it would be safe to go to Puno, as long as we got out before the weekend, when demonstrations tended to heat up. Difficulties in Bolivia had spilled over the border into Peru, with Puno being a site for many demonstrations. We left Puno on a Thursday and headed for the airport in Juliaca on the only highway between the two towns. Enroute, we were met with a roadblock by angry students. They were stoning any vehicle that passed. Luckily our driver was observant. He turned off quickly onto a dirt road and diverted us through small villages and down narrow lanes to Juliaca. We made our flight with time to spare. Close