The morning after Christmas we arose early to catch our bus to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We had opted for the Inka Bus, a “VIP Service” that would take us to a couple of sites along the way from Cusco. Our first stop was at Andahuaylillas, a tiny little town with an incredible church. Known as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas, it was built by the Jesuits and then, after the king of Spain expelled the Jesuits, the Dominicans took it over and covered up many of the frescos used to teach the new converts to the faith some of the key concepts with their own canvas paintings. Unfortunately, the Dominicans, who still run the church, don’t allow photography, so we can’t show you anything. Next, we stopped at Raqchi, an old Inca settlement with some well-preserved ceremonial and ritual areas.
After a great buffet lunch, we stopped at Rayas, the highest point on the Cusco-Puno highway at 4335 meters. So, where we stopped in the road was about 100 feet lower than the highest point in the continental US. Rayas also forms the boundary of the Altiplano, the high plain that extends between the two ranges from the Andes down through Bolivia.
Our last planned stop was at Pucará, for a museum and to see vicuñas, one of the four types of Andean camellids. But the real treat was a festival that was happening that day featuring people dressed as demons, angels, and gorillas parading around the main square with lots of music and excitement.
From there we continued across the Altiplano past the tiny huts in small villages. We were way-laid for a while as they cleared a crash between a bus and a truck on the highway and then we continued through the rain the Juliaca, one of the truly grim cities I’ve passed through. The main industry is selling contraband that comes in from Bolivia and there’s a major smog problem from the factories outside town that burn animal feces to fire their brick kilns.
We arrived into Puno, not very nice but looking pretty good by comparison, and had a quiet evening. The next morning we started our tour of Lake Titicaca. Our first stop was the floating islands of Uros, which are exactly what they sound like. The inhabitants harvest the reed beds, which float, from the lake bed and then anchor them and continually renew the top with dried reeds. Now a bit of a tourist attraction, they still serve as the homes for communities that have been there for generations.
Then we headed to Amantaní, where we met our host family. We had lunch at our host’s house and then took a hike up to the top of the island. After our hike we fortified ourselves with té macho, a tea made with coca leaf, muña (a local herb), sugar, lime, and pisco. Then we had dinner and went to a very awkward community dance thrown in our honor, complete with local garb.
The next morning we headed to Taquile, the next island over. We hiked around the island, enjoyed the local weaving, much of which is done by the men, and had lunch at the restaurant that, in order to distribute the income evenly, rotates weekly through the families. The family that ran it when we were there probably won’t for another three years. Then we headed back to Puno. This tour was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
Back in Puno we caught our third parade in four days, but otherwise had a pretty quiet night.
In the morning we caught our 4M bus service to Arequipa, billed as similar to the Inka Express service, it really didn’t provide a whole lot of tour guiding. But it was about the same price as the other bus and dropped us at our hotel. The bus brought us through a tiny bit of new-fallen snow on the way to Juliaca and past las Lagunillas, where we had a distant and fleeting view of flamingos, then up to our highest point of the trip at about 4450 meters, about 14,600 feet. Then we headed down around the back of El Misti volcano into Arequipa.
We arrived thinking we might try to take a trip to Colca Canyon, but decided that the grassy courtyard at our hotel had too strong a draw, so we just hung out in town for a few days. Arequipa is a lovely city with many buildings of while volcanic sillar stone. We spent time wandering the city and having a few low key days. A few highlights included going to see The Hobbit at a local movie theater; a trip to the market, cooking class, and pisco class (see more on Bowen’s blog); New Years eve in the square with lots of fireworks and one tree nearly burning down; lunch of cebiche at La Cebillana; and a private mini food tour with Armando, the owner of the hotel where we stayed.
Shortly after our trip out with Armando we caught an overnight bus back to Cusco. Our last day there we took a trip back to the market for more delicious juice and visited Qoriqancha, a great Inca site in the city that is now a Dominican church. That evening, we went back the Irish pub we had visited a few times and watched the Ducks clobber the Wildcats. Very sweet.