From Arequipa to Puno

Puno Travel Blog

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I liked Arequipa but I was ready to go to La Pa.  There were some things in Arequipa I would have liked to stay to see or do.  Some churches and museums, as well as biking or climbing the volcano El Misti, but Misti was acting reclusive, not showing himself for the last week, hiding behind his mantle of heavy clouds and gray skies, that blanketed the whole region.  Day after day was the same.  A bit of sun in the morning but by mid-afternoon overcast and often drizzly.  The only time I had seen the magnificent panorama of the volcano and adjacent snow covered mountain peaks was on my taxi ride from the bus station on my first morning.  Since then I had to rely on my memory to remember how nice Arequipa looked nestled in its valley, the sun reflected off the white volcanic stone building blocks of the colonial center of the city.

The afternoon bus I took was the economy model.  But I saved more than two thirds off the normal “luxury” bus companies that most tourists take.  The other advantage was that these economy buses leave every hour and so there is more flexibility.  Plus, you get to see a lot of local color.  The college-aged girl next to me started to do some homework as we pulled out of the station, but less than a half hour into the ride she was slumped over in her seat and got disgruntled when I had to eventually wake her up to get to the primitive bathroom.  

The air got colder as we swiftly ascended to the altiplano.  Under the dark overcast skies, the landscape looked forbidding, the same as we traversed on our way to the Colca Canyon.  Steep dropoffs into chasms winded out into a flat, level road high up at more than 12,000 feet across a cheerless plain, dappled by straggly clumps of greenery, the only sign of life the hardy herds of llamas contentedly grazing oblivious to the difficulty of human life in these surroundings.  Much mining is done here and I would wager that the international workers get hardship pay for having to work in such conditions.  As darkness fell we rounded a corner and I saw lights in the distance.  I thought it might be Puno, but when we got closer I was told it was Juliaca, the crossroads of the Puna-Cuzco road, and of the Arequipa-Madre De Dios (jungle region) route.  Similar to other such towns around the world, it’s a place for refreshment, changing means of transport, and smuggling and markets and little else.  From my vantage point, in the cold and darkness, with nary a glimpse of any beauty to elevate it above a miserable and depressing city of Dis, a waystation on the boat of ??? to the underworld.  I couldn’t wait to terminate our stop and get to Puno.  

When we arrived in Puno I didn’t feel much better.  The outskirts looked much like Juliaca and I didn’t see a glimpse of the lake, just shabby buildings, mud, and grays and browns everywhere.  At Juliaca, the girl next to me had gotten off and a Peruvian guy asked to sit next to me.  He identified me as a gringo from my baseball cap and he immediately started a conversation in English.  He had lived in the US for about four years, in New Jersey and Naples, Florida where he had bought a house that he later sold at a loss.  He made me laugh when I said I was from Cleveland and he said, “Oh yes, Naples is a suburb of Ohio.”  I guess even foreigners find out quickly how things are in the States.  He left a girlfriend behind in Trujillo and by the time he came back it was too late.  His American adventure hadn’t gone so well, but he was optimistic and happy about his experiences.  He was working with his family in a business that involved selling clothes and other things for babies and small children.  It involves a lot of travel and he was on the road for a several days making the rounds.  We talked for an hour or so and when we arrived in Puno he asked if I had a hostel picked out.  We agreed to check out some places together and after stopping to ask at a few hotels we decided to split a room, because the prices were higher than average.  Puno is known as the folkloric capital of Peru and the main festivals of February, La Candelaria (Candlemas Day on February 2nd) and Carnival (the whole month of February), attracted many thousands of visitors.  But at this time the festivals were over and we didn’t understand why the prices were so elevated for lodging.  I was even more unhappy because of the cold, depressing nature of the place, at least from what I had seen on the way in.  Carlos bargained down the price of a double room and we both went out to get something to eat before we settled in for the night.

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photo by: lrecht