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Sleepy Town beside the Lake

Sleepy Town beside the Lake
 
 

UPON leaving Juliaca, we spent the following half hour crossing more arid farmland before crossing a crest of a low hill to suddenly have a vista of a large town before us. The town sloped down the side of the hillside to a brilliant dark blue expansive lake, a refreshing change from the creams and browns of the arid steppe. This was Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest freshwater lake in South America.

Puno and Lake Titicaca
Puno and Lake Titicaca

The hills here reminded me very much of Banks Peninsula in New Zealand, particularly around Akaroa Harbour when the grass goes golden brown during a drought. Here we were a good fifty metres above the lake surface, and the enormity of the lake gave the impression we were approaching the sea. The blue water extended as far as the eye could see towards the horizon. Although it felt like an ocean, the surface of the lake was 3809 metres above sea level.

The road into Puno gradually descended through residential areas of uniformly terracotta coloured roofless two to three storey buildings perched against the baked hillsides. The city sprawled up the sides of the hills in an expanding web. There were a couple of small hills in the city, each with a white Catholic statue at its summit. The hills surrounding the city were very rocky on top.

Although Puno appeared destitute, it was far livelier than Juliaco. The tallest buildings in the city were about four storeys high – nearly all constructed from brick. The bus finally pulled into a terminal almost at the edge of the lake.

Puno
Puno

As soon as we had collected our bags from the luggage compartment at the bottom of the bus, a small minivan whisked us away from the small derelict bus station. It took us a short distance back through the middle of the run down city centre before stopping outside our hotel.

The entrance to the hotel took us through a grassy courtyard with brightly coloured blocks. This led into a small office area where a rather grumpy lady took our passports to photocopy them. She wanted to hang onto them and photocopy them later, but I wouldn’t have it. Soon we were checked in and once Carlos handed out our keys, we went to our rooms to unpack. My room had a very 1970s décor no doubt to carry on the theme of the rest of the hotel. The two beds in the room had very bright orange yellow and red patchwork duvets. The bathroom was just as daggy, but at least it was clean. Looking out the window, I could see over the very rough corrugated iron roofing. It looked like a large scrap heap from up here.

Once we had quickly unpacked, Carlos took us out into the city centre, which was just around the corner. The main street had been converted into a small mall. We walked along it to a restaurant where he said was the cheapest chicken and chips in town. We were all starving by now as it was already mid-afternoon and we hadn’t eaten since our small breakfast in Cuzco. The high altitude and cold temperatures here works up quite an appetite.

Fruit stall
Fruit stall

I ordered a class of coke – they didn’t seem to have Inca Cola here, so I had a Coca Cola which was surprisingly strong – almost syrup. We started with a vegetable soup. This was followed by a large plate of chicken and chips, a huge meal in itself. I can’t remember the price now, but it had been incredibly cheap.

Very full from lunch, we paid and left the restaurant. The sun had just set behind the hill and it was now bitterly cold outside. Luckily I was still wearing my polar fleece top.

Carlos led us around the middle of the city. There really wasn’t much to see at all. The mall was only a couple of hundred metres with only shops – no museums or other things of interest to tourists like ourselves. We reached a small grassy square with a fountain and a small cathedral with two belfry towers, one of which had a large clock on it saying 4:40.

Sculpture outside cathedral
Sculpture outside cathedral
Cathedral
Cathedral

Past the cathedral were the hills surrounding the city. On top of one of the hills stood a large white statue of a condor poised ready for flight. I had not seen any condors on the Inca Trail – they were pretty rare and elusive.

We crossed the rather dull courtyard and entered the equally gothic cathedral constructed from a dark reddish stone. Two old ladies sat at the front entrance selling brightly coloured clothes they had created. As usual photography wasn’t allowed in here, but we explored it with Carlos explaining the different statues. It was a very reverend place and very well set up like all the other cathedrals I had seen in Peru so far.

Art deco style building
Art deco style building

It was even colder outside when we left the cathedral. Here we dispersed for about a hour before needing to meet for dinner at the hotel. I explored the main mall, but there really was nothing much to see. Nearly everyone here seemed to be local. One old man was wheeling a metal frame with a single bicycle wheel. When tilted about sixty degrees the frame would make the base for a table if something flat was put on it. It could have been a walking frame, but he did seem fairly agile, and it would have been rather unstable if he had lost any balance.

Old man wheeling a portable table
Old man wheeling a portable table

At the far end of the mall was another park where there were numerous trees tightly pruned to large topiary formations of irregular, but unrecognisable shapes. I then returned to the mall and eventually found everyone else sitting in a corner of a pub. Well there was no need now for us to return to the hotel to meet for dinner. Carlos asked if there was a table available for our group to have dinner. There wasn’t, so he booked us in for tomorrow night.

Mall in Puno
Mall in Puno

We walked back along the mall and around the road to a very dark restaurant in a seedy alley. We were led up a very rustic log staircase to a very claustrophobic loft with a very low ceiling. We were all then seated around a long table lit only by a couple of candles. One of the ladies in my group and I ordered a pizza. Neither of us were hungry enough to order a pizza each as I was still digesting my huge chicken and chips lunch, so we had one between us. Everyone else ordered a pizza each. I had another coke whilst everyone else ordered beer.

Dinner in the dark cafe
Dinner in the dark cafe

It was incredibly dark and claustrophobic in there, but the flash photography I took later revealed this was a very well decorated loft with some interesting paintings in it. Shame they didn’t have any lighting here apart from the candles on the tables hardly bright enough for us to recognise each other. Why anyone in their right mind would want to eat in such a dark cramped place completely beggars belief.

Finally with dinner over, and all of us extremely full, including Michael who had finally gotten his appetite completely back, we staggered back through the dark mall towards the hotel. With less people here I could now see the grey paving had intricate designs of the silhouettes of dancers petrified on the surface. I could hear the sound of distant thunder. Once back at the hotel, I went through to my room.

Half an hour passed before the thunderstorm did strike. Fortunately the short-lived was not at all violent. Once it was over I crawled into bed and almost instantly fell asleep, ready for tomorrow’s adventure across the world’s highest navigable lake.

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Date:

 

Location: Country:

 

Latitude: Longitude: Altitude:

20 October 2010

 

Lake Titicaca

Peru/Bolivia

 

15°51'S
70°01'W
3809 - 4000m ASL

 

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