Sunday, November 11, 2012

South America Adventures - Part 8 (on the road to Puno)

Off to Puno, Peru.  I am sure you are saying, "Puno...what the f- is that".  It is the Peruvian town on the border with Bolivia and the stepping off point to Lake Titicaca (giggle).  Yes, the main reason I wanted to go to Puno is to slip Titicaca in every conversation about my travels in South America. 
Ok don't get me wrong, Puno is a dump...a major dump of a town, but it was necessary in order to get to the lake.  We could have gone from the Bolivia side (which I hear is much more charming and sanitary) but that country is known for random transportation strikes and all sorts of bus cancellations, and we didn't have enough travel time to gamble with the labor unions.
Speaking of buses, we took one from Cusco to Puno.  There are three options to make that route, 1) fly to Juliaca which is an even bigger armpit of a town and take an hour bus into Puno, 2) take the train direct to Puno which is more expensive and a lot slower than the bus, or 3) take a 9-hour scenic bus ride.  There are dozens of bus companies that go between the two towns (it is a popular route...mostly because the other two options suck), so we selected one that had four scheduled historical stops along the way.  Yep the tourist bus, but the bathroom breaks alone made this worth the extra $10.
Our fist stop was a small church in Andahuaylillas.  The Spanish conquistadors founded this church and the interior was decorated in opulent ornate gold frescoes.  We were forbidden to take pictures because they had a lovely gift shop looking to profit.
Next was some inca ruins in Raqchi.  The ruins were a mix of inca technology and highland people traditions that they conquered.  It didn't look like anything I had seen on the road to Machu Picchu.  At that stop, we were able to use a public restroom.  The diet and mountain climate hadn't been so good to my digestive system, so I was constipated beyond belief (I know, TMI).  At this pit stop, I felt hope in my bowels.  Poor Dana was outside my stall shouting in "the bus is leaving, seriously, it is probably pulling out right now' with me on the other side crying "I know...its almost there!"  We RAN (well I waddled) to the bus and made it just in time.
Next stop was lunch in Sicuani, a tiny town of weavers.  The local band entertained everyone with the same three songs...over and over again.
The tour took a 5 minute break at the highest point in the road. Apu Chimboya over 14,000ft elevation.  You can see glaciers in between mountains.

Apparently when you are above the treeline (which stops around 12,000ft), there isn't much crop growing besides a potato variety or two.  It is however excellent for grazing animals like cattle, sheep, and LLAMAS (yes lots and lots of llamas).  Plus the animal poop provides fuel for burning since there are no trees to chop down for firewood.
Next stop was a museum of pre-Inca artifacts in Pukara.  Interesting fact, the Incas really didn't come to power until quite late in the game (1438), and they only rules 100-150 years before the Spanish came in and kicked ass.  Most of the artifacts were of beheaded sculptures.  I'm not talking sculptures with the heads knocked off ancient greece style, but men holding heads in their hands (it was all the rage didn't you know).  The town is also known for inventing the paired bull ceramic sculptures that don the rooftops of many Peruvian homes.  The old church was solid stone with few windows and fewer decorations (felt very monk cell like).
We breezed by Juliaca (like I said before, dangerous dump of a place) and rolled into Puno...right into the middle of a political parade/protest.  More to come later (don't worry, the story has a happy ending...we survived to tell about it).

Here are the bags of live chickens that we found at the bus depot.  Carry-on luggage I assume.


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