(As I’m sure you remember from the end of my last post, in the Puno bus station the ticket salesmen-and-women had a cute [and/or annoying, depending on how long you were in the station, I suppose] habit of singing the destinations their booths serviced. ‘¡CUSCO-PUNO-CUSCO-PUNO-CUSCO-PUNO-CUSCOOOOOOOO!’ was another big one, I want to say.)

So we took the afternoon bus from Puno to Arequipa after returning from the lake. This was the place so highly recommended by the Austrian couple we met briefly in line for the bus back down from Machu Picchu. They said it was the most beautiful city they’d been to in Peru. That (plus the write-up it got in our Fodor’s book, and the fact that a Peruvian friend said she hadn’t been there but had heard it was nice, and the fact that we were really ready to be done deliberating over how to finish the trip) was all it took!

We rode Cruz del Sur again, though an agent in Cusco had told us Cruz del Sur didn’t operate between Puno and Arequipa haha. (We learned at some point or another to take almost everything we were told by anyone with a certain amount of skepticism.) Marlon upgraded us to VIP this time (for <$10 a person) so we had nice, roomy seats in which to watch Ant Man.

We stayed at the Hotel San Augutín Posada del Monasterio, named for the Santa Catalina Monastery across the street. We arrived quite late but hungry, so we found some nearby pizza then got some really great sleep. Aside from the nights of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (when we had back-to-back nights in Cusco), our time in Arequipa would be the only time on the trip we spent consecutive nights in any place, and we were really happy to have a home base for a couple days.

It really was a beautiful city, with beautiful architecture and Europe-reminiscent plazas and just generally a lot of character. We spent the first morning wandering the area around (you guessed it) the Plaza de Armas; checking out the fantastic Basílica Catedral, and then the smaller Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús, impressive in its own right on account of its age and intricate carved exterior. The neighboring cloisters have been converted to an outdoor shopping center while remaining quiet and tasteful, so we spent a good amount of time there too.

We wandered around a bit more then got lunch at Istanbul Lounge Bar before heading back to rest up for the afternoon/evening (read: we started watching Making a Murderer— available on Peruvian Netflix!). After a couple hours we convinced ourselves to get up and find some food, and then we got another good night’s sleep.

The next day we did more walking around and checked out the mummy at the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries. Except we didn’t see the main mummy that’s usually there, Juanita. We saw Sara, because they get swapped out every now and then for restoration purposes. They were child sacrifices to volcano gods in the 15th century. Lunch at a place that boasted vegetarian rocoto relleno back in the cloysters; more walking around; pisco sours at a bar with good views of the nearby Misti volcano; more Making a Murderer; then a sort of hilarious but frustrating excursion to find somewhere to have our last meal, where NoThiNg WaS aS iT sEeMeD¡!¡!¡! But we ended up at Casona del Pisco where I got some great ceviche and Marlon finally tried an alpaca steak (he said it was a lot like regular steak. He also never tried cuy while we were there, if anyone was wondering).

We had nearly another full day in Arequipa before flying to Lima the night before we came home, and we spent a good portion of it at the Santa Catalina monastery across from our hotel. But I took a trillion pictures so. This’ll just be the penultimate Peru post.

Lake Titicaca & the Uros Islands

So we took the overnight Cruz del Sur bus from Cusco to Puno. We left at 10:30 pm and got in at 5:30 am. The reviews made it sound like it’d be a pretty comfortable, pleasant experience, but I’m truly not sure if I slept at all.

In spite of the early hour, German, the representative from Titicaca Tour, through whom we were doing the Tour Uros Vivencial, was waiting for us at the station. He walked us through our itinerary for the day and night we’d spend on the nearby Uros Islands— artificial islands just off the shore constructed entirely of reeds. But! Things didn’t kick off until 9. So we had three excellent hours to spend in the Puno bus station which… is not the fanciest place in the world. And we weren’t feeling great after the bus ride and were wary of everything they served us in the sketchy restaurant. Not the highlight of the trip, really.

But before we knew it it was time to go. Had a quick tour of downtown Puno as we picked up a couple other travelers, then hopped on the boat to the Uros Islands, just five kilometers off shore.

A few things about the lake and the islands:

  • Lake Titicaca falls directly between Peru and Bolivia, and is split between them. The “titi” is for Peru, and the “caca” is for Bolivia. …Get it?! [laugh/cry emoji forever!] We were first treated to the joke by Danny, when we were hanging with him and Jess in Lima, and then we also overheard a guide telling it to his group in Machu Picchu. You’re welcome for passing it on.
  • Lake Titicaca is high. Higher than Cusco, even. You might even say it’s the highest navigable lake in the world. We maintained our chlorophyll and altitude pill regime and for the most part continued avoiding any real elevation sickness. (Yes, chlorophyll!) (And for reference: Cusco is 3399 meters high. Lake Titicaca is 3810 meters. Machu Picchu, by contrast, is only at 2430 meters.)
  • I’ve seen figures in the forties and sixties online re: the number of Uros Islands. We were told there were 93. Each island has its own president; presidents can be male or female.
  • Speaking of presidents, one of the current Peruvian presidential candidates is Keiko Fujimori. Her father, Alberto Fujimori, was the Peruvian president from 1990 to 2000 and was responsible for getting solar panels set up on the islands.
  • Rather than Spanish, or even Quechua, the islanders’ first language is Aymara (though they do learn Spanish in school). There is a primary school within the island community, but at eleven or twelve the kids must travel to Puno by boat every day to attend school.
  • Tourism is their main source of income. I saw a lot of reviews (thankfully after the fact!) saying the island visits were huge tourist traps and inauthentic. I can’t speak for the other tour options, but I really enjoyed our experience and (despite having souvenirs hawked to us a couple times) found it plenty authentic.

Our first stop was at Isla Mama Q’ota.

Then we stopped at Isla Santa Maria for quick refreshments, then Marlon and I were whisked away from the rest of the group for our stay on Isla Kantuta. (Cantuta being Peru’s national flower. Oh snaaaaaap, but also the name of a university in Lima/a massacre named after said university, on none other than the aforementioned President Fukimora’s watch! He gave solar panels to the Uros but was also convicted of human rights abuses! #themoreyouknow)

Anyway, we had the honor of receiving another run-down of how they construct their islands (this time in Spanish) from none other than the president of Isla Kantuta himself: Nestor. After a much-needed nap considering our sleepless night, we got to accompany Nestor and his twelve-year-old son Royal on their afternoon fishing and trap-laying trip. They fish with nets, and construct a sort of noose from– what else?– reeds (+1 piece of string) in hopes of catching a duck in its unique path. According to Nestor, every duck takes the same camino every day, and he doesn’t like other ducks in his camino. I’m not sure exactly how, but Royal was able to identify said paths and lay the traps.

Then we hung out with the family while Nestor’s wife, Anna, prepared us dinner. The youngest boy, Reynaldo, who missed the fishing trip, was exceptionally cute and funny (and played with all manner of questionable items, as you’ll see). The kids all got a kick out of our cameras (ESPECIALLY my Polaroid [Well. Fujifilm Instax, but. Is not every tissue a Kleenex?]), and while Anna cooked, Nestor created little souvenir boats out of reeds for us. We were a little abashed to receive six fish each to the rest of the family’s one or two, but after a long day with few meals they were very welcome (not to mention delicious! Not sure I needed a full six, but better believe I ate them…).

We went to bed (in our own private hut, with blankets galore. Anna was kind enough to fill up hot water bottles for us to take to bed too.) when the sun went down, which was probably around 8:30 pm haha. We didn’t really sleep the night before, remember?! Got an amazing 10 hours of sleep before heading out at 7 to see if the nets and traps had turned anything up. (Spoiler: They did!)

Then we went back to Isla Kantuta to say goodbye to/take pictures (in local garb! [They instisted! We weren’t appropriating their culture!]) with the family. Then Nestor took us back to the mainland by the same route Royal goes to school every day. We got dropped in the center this time, where we found a café in which to post up until it was time to head back to our favorite ol’ bus station. We had a couple more hours to kill once there, then it was off to Arequip-Arequip-Arequipaaaaaaaa (as all the bus ticket salesmen were so wont to croon).

Traveling Back from Machu Picchu and Final Hours in Cusco

One last quick post before getting to the behemoth that will be our stop at Lake Titicaca…

We arose in Aguas Calientes before dawn to catch our train back to Ollantaytambo, on which I took a couple more photos, but this time through an open door or window (to slightly better results).

We, like everyone else, got bombarded upon our arrival to Ollanta by taxistas offering us what we noticed to be better prices back to Cusco than what we’d paid in advance for a spot on a minibus. Still, we had paid for a spot on a minibus, and so dismissed all the drivers that approached us. Finally, one lingered around long enough to ask us more information about this supposed minibus. We told him, and he assured us that that bus only came around in the afternoon.

After a series of phonecalls to the agency back in Cusco, it was determined that the lady who booked our trip on New Year’s Day had in fact erred, so the agency would just pay the taxi to drive us the hour-and-a-half back to Cusco. We made mention of the fact that we’d paid the agency more than what the taxi would cost (and had now been inconvenienced), but those appeared to be moot points.

“At least we get this whole taxi to ourselves instead of being crammed in that minibus!” we thought, until the driver stopped in the square on our way out of town and picked up another couple (who looked none too pleased that they’d be split up between the front and back seats, as Marlon and I were occupying two of the back seats already). The girl sat next to me, but didn’t seem too interested in conversing or otherwise interacting, so a good portion of my ride was spent trying not to lean into her as we made our way through the windy mountain roads.

When we finally arrived we still had just about a whole day to spend in Cusco (where we’d left the bulk of our stuff up at Jay Jay’s) before catching a sleeper bus to the Lake. We finally got breakfast at Jack’s Café (the line had been insane when we tried going on New Year’s Day. But also it was so good! Go to Jack’s if you go to Cusco, even if the line is really long!), went up to Jay Jay’s to change, then did a victory lap of the Plaza area to take care of some last minute shopping. When we tired of that, we hit up Qucharitas one more time (indulged in some quinoa ice cream! That… was very much like normal vanilla ice cream haha), then, realizing the ‘Skins game was on, popped into Faces of Cusco where they were having a proper NFL Gameday, complete with a fridge full of Peruvian craft beer. Not a bad way to pass the last of our time.

Then we had to pack up and ship out to Puno on said sleeper bus. More on that later. (Spoiler: we did not get much sleep on the bus…)

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