Arriving at the town of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, we were feeling pretty out of it. Not just because of the altitude, which at a staggering 3,800 metres takes your breath away, but because we’d completed the 10 hour road trip from Cusco across the vast plains of the Andes.
There is a train service to the Lake, but we liked the idea of stopping off on the way, visiting some sites, breaking the journey – so road trip it was to be.
Yet however way you look at it,even with visits and a lunch break (of alpaca and guinea pig stir fry!) it was a long day.
Along the roads there were frequent glimpses of the life in the Andes – at a distance poetic rural living, but up close an example of how many struggle to make ends meet. The working women weren’t sporting brightly coloured national dress here; instead just dark coloured skirts, dirty woollen stockings; simple shirts and waistcoats and a curious dark bollar style hat over tightly platted hair.
On the streets would be children poignantly waiting for handouts; not blatant begging but a sadness that encouraged a gift of small change or food.
The outside walls of almost all the buildings facing the road were plastered in publicity; but not for products but instead political propaganda. This is a nation so poor there is no sense in billboard advertising in the countryside. No one has disposable income to buy products But the farmers and rural workers are crucial potential supporters for politicians who want to retain their privileged positions, and who have before felt the anger of the peaceful Andean people when they felt they had no voice. Propaganda and limited education can be a sad combination as seen across many poor Latin American countries, where corruption is rife, independent accountability lacking and a poorly informed electorate deliver power to people that do little to advance their nations.
(Interesting, the only publicity I saw was for Coca Cola, which owns one of the national mineral water bottlers).
We also had the usual road incidents like three vehicles sharing the two narrow lanes when cars couldn’t successfully complete their over taking, and at one point two juggernauts heading towards us occupying the entire road!
Despite these occasional near death moments, we enjoyed the truly expansive views across these high plains as well as visiting a few of the tourist traps, such as the exceptional frescoes in the colonial church at Andahuaylillas and the impressive Inca Temple ruins at Raqchi. It’s often impossible to visit a colonial church or an Inca ruin without passing a handful of market stalls staffed by locals in local dress, or hearing the ubiquitous muzak of Peruvian pipes. I suppose in their eagerness to please visitors they want to somehow sanitise reality and present a more contrived and palatable version of country life. Yet tourists want it all now – the feeling of something authentic with the convenience of VISA and MASTERCARD. It’s a hard balance to achieve. (I particularly liked seeing the young girl outside the colonial church bored of faking it for tourists and she started texting on her mobile!)
Arriving in Puno the magic of this beautiful lake and it’s seductive landscape and views contrast with the initial roughness of the town. Shabby dirty streets lined with unfinished buildings make up a sprawling lakeside port. Nearby are a few hotels. We lucky to be guests of Libertador Hotels, Resorts & Spas. They boast the best property in the area, the striking 5 star Libertador Puno that appears like an oceanliner grounded on the lake’s Esteves Island , a nature and bird reserve, and our home for the next few days.
A little piece of England on Lake Titicaca
As a small side note; as we were walking towards Puno we came across the Yavari, a 19th Century Victorian steamer! It was shipped here in pieces and assembled as a naval and passenger vessel.
It’s now owned by a Brit who is restoring it. The full story is at www.yavari.org
It’s also a B&B – offering a twin bunk cabin!