I'm back! Sorry about the very long pause! My last post was from Cusco and, as you'll see in the next few posts, we left there to head South toward Bolivia, and we had a very busy stretch, much of which with either a very dismal Internet connection, and in some cases, no connection at all!
I have lots of great experiences to share, so I'll do my best to get caught up as quickly as I can. We are in Panama, by now, and I have to confess the beach is beckoning, so if I take a little too long from here on, it's mostly because I am probably lounging around!
So! We left Cusco to head down to Puno on February 11. Our plan was to stay in Puno for two nights, and to take a tour on Lake Titicaca. We decided to book a ticket on Inka Express, a tourist bus that offers a comfortable 10 hour ride that includes six stops along the way to visit some points of interest, and to get the kinks out.
We boarded the bus at 7 AM on Saturday morning. It was off season, so there were only eight or ten people on the bus. We have our own guide and an attendant who offers us drinks after every stop. Mostly, I drink coca tea. It's been helpful to deal with the effects of high altitude. Henry has been chewing the leaves.
As we leave Cusco, we are introduced to the Altiplano, the high plateau between the East and the West chain of the Andes. It sits at around 3,750 m or 12,300 feet, and it is the most extensive area of high plateau on Earth outside Tibet. We were about to make friends with the Altiplano over the next several days, as we eventually traveled across almost all of its length, from Peru through to Salt Flats of Bolivia, to the Chilean border.
The plateau is semi-arid and it sits above the tree line, so very little grows there. It really looks like a desert, sparsely scattered by little pueblos here and there. The landscape is like nothing I have ever seen before. Soon after we had left Cusco, we get a peek at our first lagoon: the Huacarpay Lagoon.
Our first stop was in Andahuaylillas to visit the Sistine Chapel of the Andes. The church was built by the Jesuits in the late 16th Century, over a pre-Columbian huaca, or ceremonial space. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph in the church, so you're going to have to trust me on this... It was very nice.
Our next stop was in Checacupe, to see a hanging Inka bridge. We were all asked if we wanted to cross on it. I'm certain they have done some maintenance since ancient times, but I just used the new bridge...
Next, we stopped in Raqchi. There were ruins to visit, but frankly, we were getting a bit ruined-out! So we just hung around the village square.
After a quick stop for lunch in Marangani - no photograph - just a buffet lunch... nothing remarkable.. - we headed to La Raya, the highest point we would go to that day: 4335 meters, or about 14,200 feet above sea level. We stopped to take a few photographs, but we were in the middle of a thunderstsorm, so we only took a few photographs and moved on. Still, it was another wonderful view. I wish we could have spent more time there. But here goes! It didn't hurt that the clouds looked amazing!
Our last stop was in Pukara, where we were still at 3650 meters. There was a small museum there that I skipped in favour of photographing the pueblo.
We're almost in Puno, everyone! We made it just about as they had scheduled, around 5 o'clock. We came in on Saturday afternoon, and it looks like we came across the biggest market day EVER! Our bus was trying to get through a street that was almost completely taken over by furniture. I couldn't imagine where it had all been brought from, and what they would do with all of this overnight. It is the rainy season, after all, so there's no knowing what happens to all this stuff if it starts coming down. And then, street after street was fully taken over by fruits and vegetables, or dry goods, clothes, and various other items.
So, we finally made it to Puno. The bus ride was definitely worth it. We were tired but we were also excited about the prospect of taking a tour on Lake Titicaca the next day, and that is what I will cover in my next blog post.