Our room on the fourth floor of the hotel had views of some of the mountains surrounding Cusco. This is what daybreak looked like. This was going to be one of the longer travel days of the trip. We were about to go on a bus ride that was expected to take about 8 hours. We were going from Cusco to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
The trip started off in a small bus that was to take us to Gate1’s bus depot closer to the edge of town. It seems that their bigger buses were not allowed into the area of town where the hotel was located. We were going to transfer to a bigger bus at the bus depot.
Here are some street scenes along the way. Billboards like the ones below are a characteristic of cities all over the world. Inca Kola, advertised on the delivery truck below, is the national soft drink of Peru. For some reason or other, the significance of Inca Kola to the Peruvians had not been noted by the tour manager or any of the guides. Some folks from our tour group did try the drink during this visit. The general consensus was there was nothing noteworthy about it. Maybe the management had a good reason not to talk about it!I could not help but notice the mess of cables on the lampposts lining the city streets. This is fairly typical, not just in Peru, but in many developing countries. I have no idea how people keep track of where particular cables go, and for what purpose.I was surprised by the size of Gate1’s bus depot when we arrived there. There were many vehicles in the facility, pointing to the existence of a very big operation out of Cusco. The bus that we got on for our onward trip to Puno was big and comfortable. It even had a restroom that we could use while the bus was moving – so that we could minimize bathroom stops.
We got out of the city of Cusco, and on to the highway to Puno, shortly after we left the depot. In a little while, we entered a big and wide valley with mountains on both sides. The valley was quite lush, but it was also better visible from the other side of the bus from where I was seated. The others who had the view seemed to be enthralled by it. I was enjoying the view of the green mountainside beside the bus. There were plants and trees, and flowers of the fall season, and even little streams.
The first stop was at the village of Raqchi. We first visited a school that Gate1 supports financially (for equipment and buildings) . Gate1 supports 28 schools in all in Peru. We met with the kids and interacted with them. This was an elementary school setting. There were children in a range of ages.It was a fun time. They sang for us and we sang to them (try singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”).
We visited the ruins of the Temple of Wiracocha in Raqchi. This huge structure used to once have a roof over it.It looked very different from the other temples we had seen thus far in Peru, which were usually open structures on tops of hills. This is what remains today of the temple.Other structures have also survived from the time of the Incas in Raqchi, including warehousesand some living quarters.
We passed by the small village plaza and the open air market area. There were shops lining the pathways, manned by locals selling small trinkets and souvenirs to the tourists. I also went to the small church that bordered the plaza. It was an addition to the town from the 20th century.On a wall in the church was a picture of the Last Supper at which cuy was being eaten. If the reader has been following my blogs about Peru, he or she will remember that we were not able to see the more famous version of this picture in the cathedral in Cusco. So, it was a very nice surprise to see this particular picture here, in a humbler setting that seemed more appropriate.An old caretaker silently appeared from the back of the church as I was walking around. He started talking to me in Spanish. I did not understand a word he was saying. He might have also indicated that I could give some money to light a candle, but I was not trying to follow carefully. I regret that I did not do that.
All of us got boxed lunches as we boarded the bus once again to continue our trip.
The railroad track from Cusco to Puno, and the Urubamba river, also ran through the valley, and beside the highway, we were traveling on. The Urubamba looked like a modest stream at this point. It was hard to imagine that it grows in volume over distance to become a significant tributary of the great Amazon river.A short while after that, we passed the place where the Urubamba river begins. There was smoke from a fire that somebody had set in the vicinity of that location. The place that was pointed out to us had the look of the remains of an old crater. Soon after that, we reached the Continental Divide and the highest point of the bus ride. We were at an altitude of 14200 feet.Being a railroad fan, it was a great thrill for me to see the train from Puno to Cusco stopped at that location. It looked like a regular stop for the train, and it also looked like the train was going to be stopped for a while. Passengers had gotten out of their carriages and were walking around. This train is meant for the tourists. It is considered one of the highest railroads in the world. Considering that the train does not operate every day of the week, I was very fortunate to see it.We continued our bus ride on the Altiplano, the high plains of the Andes. Dramatic and wide open landscapes lay before our eyes. The place looked lightly populated.We did pass by a few small villages and towns. Here are some random pictures.I am quite sure that the people who live in these parts, at these altitudes, are very hardy. I wonder how tough life is for them. I wonder if they are a happy people?
During the bus ride we were shown some videos to keep us occupied. They were all related to Peru. We saw a movie about Thor Heyerdhal and the Kon-Tiki expedition. In the 1940s, Thor Heyerdhal sailed the Pacific Ocean for the first time in a raft that had been designed to the specifications of the ancients of Peru, i.e, their indigenous people. He managed to sail from Peru to the Polynesian Islands, depending primarily on the ocean current for movement. Thor was attempting to show what the people of South America (and more specifically, Peru) could have populated the Pacific islands, and might have even brought elements of their culture with them. Apparently, there is even some suggestion of ancient South American building practices inherent in the design of the statues on Easter Island.
A second video that we saw was about the practice of child sacrifice among the ancient religions of South America. The indigenous people believed that the mountains are gods. In those days they used to sacrifice children to them and bury them on mountaintops. The bodies of these children are being uncovered in recent times by archeologists. It was difficult to watch this video. While many of the practices of the old religions seem to invoke the human connection with the forces of nature and the earth in a somewhat harmless way, this particular aspect of their practices was in my mind extremely cruel, and, in the end, hard to even understand. I had a hard time just swallowing the fact that the child who was about to be sacrificed sometimes knew what was going to happen to it, and reacted in a way you would expect scared children to do. There is evidence in this regard in some of the remains that have been found.
Our next landmark during the bus ride was Juliaca, a commercial town. Juliaca was also the location for the airport that we were going to fly out of to get back to Lima. The town was not very impressive, and we were told that the local government was not very functional.An ice-cream seller on the street in Juliaca.A Bajaj autorickshaw service location in Juliaca.Crowded street in Juliaca.During this trip, I began to notice little structures like the one below all along the highway. I confirmed that these were memorials to people who had died in accidents. These look a little more permanent than the roadside memorials we see in the US.We got to Puno descending one of the hills that surrounds it. We got our first view of Lake Titicaca.The city looked big.Because of the city’s narrow streets, we were dropped off a few blocks away from our hotel. We had to do the walk between the hotel and the spot we had been dropped off every time we needed to catch the bus or return to the hotel. Walking the streets gave us a little better feel of the town. It certainly looked commercial.
Our hotel was next to the main square of the town. For dinner, we walked from the hotel across the square to one of the two restaurants that had been recommended to us by our tour manager. The two restaurants were next to each other, and it was an amusing situation, with folks from both restaurants trying to entice us in. We selected one, telling the other person that we would go there for lunch the next day (and he did remember us the next time were on that street!). The dinner was OK, but the loud, live, music, was disruptive.
It started to rain heavily as we were having dinner. We had to wait for any small break we could get in the rain to make a dash back to the hotel. It was an adventure crossing the streets that had now turned into swiftly flowing steams with a large volume of water. We had to do this while dodging traffic that did not want to slow down either for the rain or for the people walking across the street. But we made it back to the hotel in one piece in spite of the challenges presented.
Puno is a big city. Like I mentioned earlier, it is also very commercial, similar to Juliaca. We were told that this is so because of the closeness of this area to Bolivia. There is a lot of trade across the border. There is also a lot of smuggling that goes on, and an “illegal” contraband open market exists in Puno that the authorities turn a blind eye to. In fact, the authorities apparently shop at these places themselves.
Puno is supposedly not that well developed for tourists. We were warned a few times to be cautious about the nature of the food that we consumed, and the water that we drank. We got a daily quota of bottled water from Gate1 to keep us safe and hydrated at the high altitudes. We did have a few people in our group get relatively minor upset stomachs at some point or the other during the travels. One person in our bigger tour group had severe stomach problems (that actually seemed a little scary) towards the end of the trip.
Puno is at an elevation of 12,500 feet, which makes altitude sickness more of an issue for visitors than in some of the other places that we had been to. The hotels have oxygen tanks to help visitors with their breathing if needed. We saw the tank in our hotel being used in the lobby. We had folks in our group who were feeling the effects a little bit.