So we left our Cusco hotel to head for the airport. The driver was very lively and put all our suitcases on the top of the van. We, and particularly Gudrun, were a bit concerned if we would loose some of our luggage during this drive. But everything was still with us when we arrived at Cusco airport. So now we said goodbye to this Inca center.
We flew into Juliaca, which has the international airport of the southern region. What we saw from the air was a monotone looking city and when we drove through it we really felt this was a poor part of the world. About an hour later we arrived to Puno and we could look over the city and to the enormous Lake Titicaca. Our hotel was situated a few minutes outside of the city, on a quiet and beautiful peninsula, with a view to the city.
What we felt very quickly was the effect of the higher altitude. We were experiencing to be nearly 4.000 meters above sea level. Just walking upstairs to the second floor in our hotel was an effort and we also noticed the oxygen tanks. During our stay we would see several elderly guests use those to help with their breathing.
Outside the hotel, in the backyard, was a very lively environment with alpacas and guinea pigs. There were 4 alpacas and they almost functioned like lawn-movers. The caretaker would sometimes let them roam free and sometimes they were tight in a certain area of the garden. The little guinea pigs would run around and really were a delight to watch in their actions. We did count at least close to 50 of them. This “wildlife” gave our hotel garden a very nice feel and it was a joy to just sit out there to watch the animals.
It seems that Lama is the usual name we have heard in the past, but there are really three other “cousins”. The most frequent one we came across and the ones that we had roaming in the hotel garden are the alpacas. The others are guanaco and vicuna. In the shops we also noticed that the alpaca wool is the premium one. Whereof baby alpaca is considered the finest quality.
The highlight in Puno was absolutely the boat visit to the floating Islands of Uros. As the name says, these manmade islands float and are the living space of the families that live on them. Typically they are 100-200 m2 and 4-8 families living on each. We met our guide by the harbor in front of our hotel and it was a pleasant 30 minutes ride to the islands. We got the explanation how they would find the floating, muddy, 1-3 meter thick and a few m2 wide bases to use for the islands. They would move (float) them to their location on the water and then tie many of them together to finally build an island. The islands are anchored to the bottom to keep them in their location. On the base they would then place many rows of straws to make the “floor”. Each year they need to add some layers of straws as erosion constantly depletes the lowest levels.
We enjoyed learning about the living habits of the islanders and the little boy living on our visiting island was a special joy to watch as he went about his regular business, regardless of the foreign visitors. They had their own local market to show us and sell us variety of things. We also got to try out some Peruvian clothing and this was a big hit. Finally, they would proudly show us their special boat and of course we paid a little money to take a short ride on the water in it. The two banana-like fountains are filled with plastic bottles (2.000 on each side) to help them float better. So we saw a new way of recycling our western plastic consumption. Kiddi was invited to be one of the two rowers and very quickly was out-rowing our Peruvian host even though he could not really fit in the seat as he probably had legs twice as long as the locals. So for some time we went much more in circles than in any particular direction. All together the visit was a big fun as well as a unique cultural experience and will be in our memories. On the boat going back we could reflect on the extremes we had been experiencing, not only there on the Islands of Uros but in general in our trip.
Next days we went into Puno to see the city a bit more. It had a small downtown area and then the harbor market. We did spend quite some time in there. What caught our attention were groups of mining-workers that had arrived from the whole southern Peru to demonstrate against the authorities. Our last night there was actually quite some tension in the air and we walked along long rows of police forces in full armor, next to the demonstrating masses in front of the Cathedral. So there was a little relief when we drove out of the city on our last night towards the hotel. But on the way, we learned from the taxi driver that massive demonstrations and roadblocks were planned from 6 am the next morning. That was the morning we intended to drive through Puno towards the airport again. So our next adventure was coming up very shortly.
We consulted with our hotel manager and after some time he came back with a message from the company taking us to the airport. We better be ready at 5 am to drive to the airport, if we wanted to be sure to get there. We looked at each other, as this was a big change from the earlier plan of leaving 10 am. So it was yet another short night sleeps for us.
We did really enjoy the early morning views on the way to the airport and it was clearly excitement in the air. Missing this plane would potentially have ripple effects on our plane the next day to Miami and then for Kiddi and Ditta on their next flight to Boston. So the first relief was when we successfully drove through Puno and came to the outskirts of it, continuing towards Juliaca airport. We had notice some groups of people gathering on street corners in these early morning hours and we wondered if something was about to start. We came through the road tollgate in a short time, so that was also a step towards success. Finally, we arrived to Juliaca and needed to drive through the city to the airport. Our driver pointed out a few groups of women and said they would be participating in the demonstrations. So it was a big relief when we saw ahead to the airport gate, only to be surprised with the presence of teams of police and army that closed the entrance to the airport so we needed to take our luggage and roll it through the parking and into the airport terminal building.
We counted many tens of service personal and they would either carry protection gear or full set of weapons. Soon we realized that probably over a hundred of them had been sleeping in the terminal building overnight. So as we arrived, as the first in line travellers, they started to pick up their gear and joined their friends outside. As we settled in for the upcoming hours of wait, more tourists arrived to the airport gate and just like us had to walk the last distance. More police and army persons also arrived and we would regularly update our account on them. First it went to 200, then 300 and before we finally boarded our plane we did estimate that at least 500 police and army was present to make sure we were able to leave from Juliaca. Even, as the plane was on the runway, we saw lines of police along the gates. They were for sure not to have any incidents around the airport from demonstrators. It was a relief feeling when the plane was safely in the air and we would be in Lima in less than 2 hours.
Coming to Lima, we (Gudrun and Benedikt) enjoyed a very nice couples massage that Kristjan and Ditta had given Gudrun as today was her birthday. The birthday dinner was spent at our nice hotel and judging from the photos we were all a bit tired after that early morning experience.
The next day we left Lima for Miami and we have to say that the check in and security at the Lima airport is the slowest and most in-effective one we have ever experienced. We planned to be there three hours before expected departure and still we got pretty stressed about missing the plane and only sat down minutes before take off.
In Miami we said goodbye to Kristjan and Ditta as they went straight to Rhode Island to spend time with Gudrun´s sister, Lilja, Kjartan and their kids. We stayed a few days in Miami, Benedikt played golf with his friend Olafur again and Gudrun and Dora enjoyed some pool and spa time.
From Miami, we went to Boston and Providence before heading to the West coast of America. Next blog will contain our Los Angeles experience.