Yes, ´round about 4:00 in the afternoon of Tuesday, January 29, I arrived by bus in Puno from Cuzco, Peru. Daniel and Perry had left on Sunday and I spent two extra nights in Cuzco alone. Puno´s draw for me was its proximity to Lake Titicaca, which, at elevation 3830 meters, or 12,639 feet, is the highest navigable lake in the world and South America´s largest lake. Puno itself is a small port on the lake.
While I´ve been here, the mornings and evenings have been rainy but the afternoons clear and sunny. The evening rains can be fierce, though, turning the slightly sloping streets that run perpendicular to the lake into instant rivers that themselves are practically navigable. Tonight is mildly rainy and is my fourth night in Puno, although my four nights here have not been consecutive, as I´ll explain.
A couple days ago, I took a day excursion onto the lake and visited two of the many islands that dot the huge expanse of water. The first stop was on one of the tiny Islas Flotantes, man-made floating islands populated by the Uros people. Many years ago, the Uros people created the interwoven reed islands as a means of escaping the more warlike people who inhabited the shores. They still live there today, traveling by means of reed’woven boats and selling their handmade crafts to the many tourists who visit.
Below: Lake Titicaca, opportunities for fun on the lake´s shores, a Uros vendor on an Isla Flotante, reed boat hulls, el presidente of one of the islas Flotantes, Uros dancers, the sloping hillside of Isla Taquile, my new Swiss amigas.
The second island I visited was Isla Taquile, where the men wear woolen Wee-Willie-Winkie-style flopcaps, solid red if they´re married and red-and-white striped if they´re single. The direction in which the tall cap falls indicates whether the single man is available or has a serious girlfriend. The women wear pom poms on their belts, and if they´re single, their pom poms are bigger and more colorful. I presume this means at least a few of the single guys have been known to instantly change the flop of their caps at the sight of a girl with big, attractive pom poms.
I had the fortune of meeting two sweet Swiss girls on the island trip, Sarah and Vera. I ran into them again the next day, but in a completely different country. You see, on Friday I took an overnight trip to Bolivia, to visit the little town of Copacabana. The town is definitely NOT ¨north of Havana,¨so it can´t be the Copacabana sung about in Barry Manilow´s famous song. (That song was actually based on a nightclub in New York, which was named after the Copacabana in Rio De Janeiro. At least that´s what Mandy told me. Oh, Mandy. I can´t smile without her.)
After buying a bus ticket to Copacabana from a company that´s supposed to smooth the border crossing process, I learned, moments before the bus was to leave, that Americans now have to obtain a visa to enter Bolivia, and that that visa costs $100. (This is contrary to the information in my guidebook and apparently a new policy instituted by Evo Morales, Bolivia´s president, who is as much a fan of the USA as Venezuela´s lovable Hugo Chavez.) I sure didn´t want to fork out $100 for an overnight stay in a place called Copacabana that isn´t even the Barry Manilow Copacabana, so I demanded a refund on my bus ticket. As things turned out, there was a more, shall we say, improvised, unofficial alternative to crossing the border, and I chose that alternative, which set me back only $20. Gotta love South America.
I´ve been blessed with perfect timing while in this part of the world. My two-day stay in Copacabana coincided with the annual fiesta of La Virgen de Candelaria. I don´t know the religious significance of the event, but for the two days, around the clock, marching bands and dancers circled the town, with the menfolk stopping only to drink ample quantities of beer and to urinate in plain view.
Below: shots from around Copacabana during La Virgen de Candelaria fiesta.
I returned to Puno today, happy to be back in Peru after an “incident” at the border with an official who disapproved of the improvised approach to border crossing championed by my bus company representative. Today in Puno, the townsfolk happen to be beginning the festival called La Virgen de la Candelaria. It lasts for several days. The procession marched right in front of my hotel and featured many military personnel and bands that sounded as polished as high school marching bands from very small towns.
Below: shots from around Puno during La Virgen de Candelaria fiesta.
Tomorrow, Sunday, I board a bus for a destination that will remain undisclosed until I arrive. After that, my plan is to continue north to Equador. Adios!
Tags: Bolivia, Copacabana, Lake Titicaca, Peru, Puno, South America, Travel