Tag Archive: Puno

Sunday Travel Tales

The continuing saga of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours

Chapter 11 – The Train

Puno Railway Satation - image: AV

Puno Railway Station – image: AV

The early morning bustle of the market again, provisions for the next stage of our journey. Edgar came and saw us off after our bread rolls and strawberry jam and helped us fend off the Alpaca-wool-jersey-saleswomen, who were becoming very insistent now that we were about to escape their clutches. As we prepared to cross the road to the station, prices began to plummet and as they bottomed out at a realistic “half-price” some of them actually made some sales.

Once on the train we found that our block booking of seats had been divided neatly and conveniently (for them) by several Peruvian families. Which meant that when we tried to claim our rightful places, we less than endeared ourselves to the locals, who of course couldn’t and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Although we won the day, we became the hot gossip item amongst the deposed locals. A situation which took all of ten minutes to defuse when one of the youngsters became an ambassador, simply through childish curiosity. I had a beard, and looked like Father Christmas, this created such an urgent need to know, that he asked me impishly if I was.

My standard reply (developed over many years of the same question) was, “No, I’m just his older brother.” That was it! Within seconds the whole carriage knew that Father Christmas had a brother and he was right here in the train. So, Ho, Ho, Ho, relations became somewhat more amicable, all before we reached Juliaca Station.

A relic at Juliaca Station - image: AV

A relic at Juliaca Station – image: AV

The train stopped at Juliaca, the carriage filled with people selling everything. Tepid fizzy drinks, newspapers, sweets, and pieces of chicken, hunks of roast pork, corn on the cob and even whole plates of food. It was still not even 10 o´clock, but people were prepared to eat lunch.

After about a half hour the rest of the carriage filled and the sellers departed and the train jerked and we were underway once again. We passed an old steam locomotive as we left the station, weeds growing around the wheels testimony to its fall from grace and days of glory past.

The train passed the flat terrain north of Juliaca, small farmlets divided by their stone walls dotted the landscape. We stopped at several small townships, whistled as we past  through their markets. The people seemingly unaware of the danger at their proximity to the tracks as they continued bartering with the train careening past less than a metre’s distance.

Main form of transport, on foot  - image: AV

Main form of transport, on foot – image: AV

The terrain changed, flat lands became hills and hills became mountains and the note of the diesel engine deepened as it became evident that we were climbing rapidly. We made a stop at Santa Rosa, again the train was assailed by sellers. More meals, fried chicken and roast pork, the tepid Inka Kola, that disgusting Peruvian oddity, were sold. The kids looked at the food as it was whisked past on trays, their parents oblivious to their desires. The tourists came to the rescue, we pooled together and bought a dozen plates of assorted chicken and pork and distributed them to the kids. Faces beamed as they accepted the fare, a few murmured thanks, some too embarrassed by their good fortune to speak.

We watched them gorge themselves happily with sticky fingers and smiling faces. Our little ambassador looked up at me, pork grease smeared from ear to ear. “You really are Father Christmas’ brother, aren’t you?” he asked, placing his luck on the benevolence of the Christmas spirit. I assured him I was. Satisfied with the answer he stuffed another bit of crackling in an already half-full mouth crunching it noisily between his teeth.

People selling everything  - image: AV

People selling everything – image: AV

Soon we were on our way once more, and it was evident that we were in the mountains. There was snow covering the peaks, we were approaching the La Raya pass. It was harder to breathe. It required some effort, for we had reached 4,321m a.s.l. and the train stopped. Everybody seemed to get off, so we did too. We were on a siding, apparently waiting for the train from Cusco to pass, which it eventually did a half hour later. There was obviously great rivalry between the two train loads, much shouting and taunting. It seemed as though the locals knew everybody and everybody knew them.

The mountains at La Raya, alt 4,200m asl - image: AV

The mountains at La Raya, alt 4,321m asl – image: AV

The south bound train passed and it seemed to be the signal for us all to board again, so we did and just as we had found our seats again, the trained jerked in its customary fashion and be shunted off the siding back onto the main track, stopped, jerked and changed direction. Once more we were off to Cusco.

Natural hot pools descending from La Raya  - image: AV

Natural hot pools descending from La Raya – image: AV

Going downhill the trip seemed almost jaunty, the train rocked merrily from side to side as though it seemed happy the uphill part was over.

We found some hot pools off to the right, natural springs, there were people over there having a closer look that was denied to us through our apparent urgency.

We also saw swampy areas, where the water literally trickled off the mountain sides, forming little rivulets, these became little streams, then bigger and bigger until we were travelling alongside a substantial river. This river was the Vilcanota. The Vilcanota flowed past Pisac, near Cusco, and became the Urubamba that flowed through the Sacred Valley of the Inca and onward past Machu Picchu until it became the Ucayli and flowed past Pilcopata and Manu Nature Reserve, then northward past Pullcapa and Iquitos until it became the Amazon and flowed all the way across Brazil to Belém on the Atlantic coast..

These little trickles, that we had witnessed coming down the mountain sides, would one day become the mightiest of the world’s rivers.

The scenery changed, forested areas, many of the imported eucalyptus trees which abounded throughout the Altiplano crowded the railway, framing small farms and villages and stood lone sentinels on hill sides. Still the river kept us company, sometimes on the right and then on the left as we zig-zagged across echoing rail bridges the singing iron tracks reverberating beneath us. Still we wove our way through small towns, a sign that we were nearing civilisation and we started the descent into Cusco. The city was lit brightly, houses sparkled on the hill sides in the dark, for it was now night as we chugged into the station, and our journey was over.

"Will Father Christmas forget me this year?" - image: AV

“Will Father Christmas forget me this year?” – image: AV

As we pulled our baggage from the overhead racks and pulled bags that had been squashed from under seats, we said our farewells to our small companions. We had fed them, played cards with them, laughed with them and sang with them, and now our small ambassador was in tears. “Would Father Christmas forget him this year?” No, he wouldn’t I assured him, he wouldn’t. It was an emotional moment, enough to bring tears to an overweight fool. I don’t think I have ever been hugged so hard in my life. I set him on his feet so he could join his mother, he took her hand and looked back giving me the loveliest little wave goodbye.

We were met at the station by a van and taken to our hotel. It was 9 o´clock a night and after a tiring 12-hour journey, all we wanted was bed.


NB: Sorry, some pics B&W couldn’t find the original colour ones.

Sunday Travel Tales

The continuing story of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours

Chapter 10 – Lake Titicaca


Famous alpaca sweaters - image

Famous alpaca sweaters – image Aspenandes

We nattered in the “lobby,” until our transport arrived, Edgar’s bus to take us to the port. We battled with insistent women selling alpaca wool jerseys. They were beautiful, and although they seemed cheap by our standards, we had been warned that they were actually double the real price. We could have bargained and paid something more reasonable, but time was against us.


Along roads that were cris-crossed with railway tracks, making the journey seem perilous as the bus slipped on the shiny rails, we arrived at the port and herded from the bus to a small roadside stall with tables and chairs and shade. Although still only 8am the sun was already strong. Here we bought cold juice and cokes and our last chance to buy drinking water, which we were assured we would need.



The Yavari returning to port – image AV

It wasn’t long before we were shown along the wharf, where an old steamer was being fired up. The ship was one of the two British steamships from the previous century that had been assembled on the lake to ply trade between Bolivia and Peru. The haunting “chuff” of the boilers being fired for the first time in 50 years was eerie. We paused to watched as smoke belched from her smoke stack. We were privileged to be watching the resurrection of a ghost from the past, the Yavari was being made ready to sail. Our own departure was delayed so we could witness this special event. The old steamer moved gracefully away from its berth and steamed noisily chuffing out into the bay where it made one circuit and returned. All the glory of a bygone era was put on show before our very eyes. Nostalgia, is a powerful emotion.


Kids on the Uros Islands - image AV

Kids on the Uros Islands – image AV

We returned to the present. The ghost was again at rest, although smoke still billowed from the stack as we looked over our shoulders. Edgar got us all into the launch without fuss, we were now behind schedule, but the delay had been worth much more than could be reckoned. As our launch moved slowly at first away from land, Edgar began to recount legends of the Inca surrounding the lake, its origins and myths. Without realising, we were captivated by the emotion he put into his tales, that we were now at full speed.

Uros Islands -image: Virtual Tourist

Uros Islands -image: Virtual Tourist

Our first stop was the Uros Islands; the famous floating islands made of totara reed. The island we visited was St. Martha, it is the only island that tourists may visit, so that the Uros culture is not disturbed. The families do not live on this island, but come here each day to trade with the tourists. They dress in their usual costume, and follow an everyday Uros’ routine. They make reed souvenirs to sell, the parents make the trinkets, the older children sell them and the younger children play and receive gifts from the visitors. They love the little comics and presents of coloured pencils and educational stuff that we were encouraged to buy in place of sweets. Although it was evident that the kids would have preferred sweets. Every greeting was returned, “caramelo, señor?” hopefully. Some of our group took the opportunity to go for a quick trip in one of their totara canoes, for a small sum, of course, this is how the islanders made their living.


Small craft ply the lake - image AV

Small craft ply the lake – image AV

After a brief hour on the undulating islands, the spongy platform these delightful people called home and we were back in the launch and heading full speed out into the lake, passing between the two headlands that marked the Bay of Puno.


The water became bluer, a deep rich, jewel-like blue. Then waves, it was like being on the sea.

Amantani Island sen through an arch on Taquile - image AV

Amantani Island sen through an arch on Taquile – image AV

The launch began to buck and slap at the waves as we ploughed on through the mythical waters and the shape of Taquile Island appeared on the horizon, beyond it, Bolivia. Fishing and trading boats passed us in the calmer waters as we neared the island and began to slow toward our landing. Mercifully, Edgar had decided not to land at the main port for the ascent to the village is a grueling 500 steps up the steep island side. Instead, he was taking us to a smaller landing around the other side where the ascent was more gradual through farmlands, although the trek was longer. Along the way, we passed some ruins, and an old arch, looking back through the arch we could see the island of Amantani with the clouds over Bolivia.


We soon came across children scattered along the pathway, hopeful faces peering over stone walls. The bold requests for “caramelos” from the boys, but we didn’t understand why the girls only only whispered, barely audible. Edgar explained to us that here on Taquile, the women and girls never talk with a loud voice, that was reserved only for the men. One of the many quaint customs on this island that time had forgotten.


Our lodgings, no frills, but comfy - image AV

Our lodgings, no frills, but comfy – image AV

We arrived at hour lodgings, we had been warned that they were primitive, almost devoid of the basic comforts that we considered necessary.

The house to which we had been invited, had been extended to accommodate tourists. The beds were comfortable and had many blankets, for the nights, as we were to discover, were bitterly cold.

The Dunny! Outside toilet - image AV

The Dunny! Outside toilet – image AV

The buildings were all adobe, mud and straw sun-dried bricks. There were no locks on the doors, we had come to a place where crime is almost unknown and dogs for security unheard of, where teenage boys attracted their girl by flashing torchlight into her eyes, and she responded with a mirror to give his light back to him; where marriage was on a trial basis and divorce was ever present. A place where the women weave on primitive looms, and the men knit beautifully. A place where one had to take his own toilet paper with him in the dark to an outside dunny.


Our home-away-from-home was the only place on the island that had a small solar panel to recharge a car battery, and so give the tourists an extra hour of light by which to share their adventures over cups of coca tea in the evenings, while the boys and girls ran in the darkness outside, hopefuls flashing messages of love to their intendeds. Sleep comes early here, for so does the dawn. The island wakes with first light and is a hive of activity long before the sleepy-head tourists show their faces. Time here is irrelevant, only the light and dark.


Girls chatting in the ruins at the top of Taquile Is - image AV

Girls chatting in the ruins at the top of Taquile Is – image AV

Breakfast was not bread rolls and strawberry jam. We were almost disappointed. Instead, omelettes and scrambled eggs, coca tea and toasted rolls. Before a trek to the summit of the island to visit areas of earlier ruins and a chance to see more of the unique way of life of these almost primitive people and their simplicity.


We walked among the ruins at the summit for a while, and then met a couple of teenage girls having a chat among the ruins. They didn’t like their photos taken, in such communities it is polite to ask first and come to a small financial arrangement before doing so.. We continued on down the hill arriving in time for lunch.


Boys in traditional costume farewell visitors as they leave the island - image AV

Boys in traditional costume farewell visitors as they leave the island – image AV

After lunch, we packed our meagre belongings and headed down the hill. Here we encountered the famous 500 steps, fortunately for us, they were downhill all the way to the small harbour. We passed through many small arches and were fare-welled by boys in traditional costume, photos were expected and small business arrangements satisfactorily concluded. At the bottom, there was no ceremony, it was into the boat for the long trip back to Puno.


Temple of fertility at Chucuito - image AV

Temple of fertility at Chucuito – image AV

We didn’t go directly back to Puno, we had another item on our agenda. First we would go to Chucuito and visit the Temple of Fertility and see the first Catholic church built on the Altiplano. The return trip didn’t offer much different in the way of scenery to the outward journey, so most of the passengers relaxed, dozed, read, played cards or just chatted.


Kids jumping from one phallus to another - image AV

Kids jumping from one phallus to another – image AV

On our arrival we were met by a van and taken the short distance to the temple. Edgar showed us to a small stone enclosure where we found some kids playing, we didn’t take much notice as we gathered around to listen to Edgar’s tale about the temple and the origins of the nearby church. It was during the tale that we realised that the stones which the kids were jumping over and from one to another were actually phallic symbols, stone penises. It was then we saw the funny side and took photos. We listened with fascination as Edgar recounted tales of people who had touched the stone monuments and of how barren women had become pregnant and of how men who were in need of Viagra, didn’t.

PECIR198804bwI mused at the possibly virile future of these youngsters jumping from one phallus to another every day, and the ones nearby who were clambering around another, ready to pounce on tourists to sell their colourful little woolen finger puppets.


The afternoon wore on and we returned to Puno. Tomorrow was to be our train trip to the famous Inca city of Cusco.

NB: Sorry couldn’t find colour copies of some photos…

Sunday Travel Tales

Chapter 9 – Sillustani & Puno


The flight from Arequipa was short and we were soon landing in Juliaca. Leaving the airport was uncomplicated. We were met at the arrivals gate by a representative of the receiving travel agency, welcomed to Juliaca, and  soon on the main road towards Puno.



Looking down on some of the older tombs – image: AV

The driver explained that he would first take me to Sillustani where I would meet the rest of my group for the trip to famous Lake Titicaca. Sillustani is one of the most famous sites of the Inca, it is a peninsula where the Inca buried their important, probably royal, dead.


As we neared the place, I could see the massive tombs rising from the ground. As we got nearer, the immensity of the stone crypts became apparent. Great markers of peoples past. We arrived at the site at the same a time as a small bus, these were to be my companions for the next stage of the trip. It was here I met Edgar, a slight man with an affable manner. He spoke quietly and gave us the history of the site before we started our climb up to the “chullpas” as they were called. Here at the top we found two distinctive types, one shorter and more primitive from a period earlier than the giants that could be seen from a way off. The actual burial place was small compared with the giant edifices, a small cavity facing the rising sun where the deceased was placed in a feotal position. The Inca believed you came into this world in a feotal position, so you should leave it. The rest of the monument was solid, simply a marker of the person’s passing.



The large “Largata” tomb – image: AV

We were herded like sheep to one of the “chullpas”, here it was explained that some years earlier lightning had struck, and demolished half of the structure. We could see here, the construction. This was known as the “Largata” because of the lizard symbol on the side. No one knows why, or who was buried here, only those who passed, and they’re not telling. Photos were taken and we were lead to other aspects of the ceremonial site, temple of the sun and the smaller ring of stones, temple of the moon. Then even more primitive “chullpas”, white, an even earlier epoch of the Inca. Three ages of the empire were represented here, an indication of the importance these once great people placed on the area.


An interesting facet was pointed out, some of the stones involved were enormous. How did the Inca, who had no knowledge of the wheel, managed to transport, carve and manipulate the massive rocks into position? A question that until today remains unanswered.


After wandering the site and taking many photos, it was time to go. We retraced our steps back to the small bus. My van had gone, but I was relieved to see they had the goodness to put my baggage on the bus. Yes, on the bus, for it was roped, I observed thankfully, securely on top.


We didn’t immediately board the bus, but surrounded by the local kids selling everything from hats to Inka Kola and souvenirs we went to a small restaurant come museum. Here we drank coca tea, and wandered among the informal exhibits scattered about on trestle tables. Morbidly grinning skulls, bones, rocks that had obviously become and been tools in a past age, pottery and remnants of ancient fabrics that had withstood the test of time.


The bus at Sillustani - image: AV

The bus at Sillustani – image: AV

Coca tea finished, we faced the throng of kids again, some of us bargained for the offered goods and after winning small concessions from the expert negotiators we boarded the bus and were soon bouncing along the dirt track back to the potholed tar-seal. Eventually we came to the main road and turned right to Puno.


Our first sight of Puno was reaching the top of a hill and the road veered to the right and began its descent giving us a panoramic view of Puno, the bay, and the fabled Lake Titicaca as a backdrop. It was quite spectacular and several of took advantage when the van driver stopped. We piled out and took some photos.


Puno is an unremarkable city, plain, nothing to consume the interest of the visitor. Its popularity lay directly with it being the gateway to the famous lake. In fact Puno is a major hub for tourism in Peru; whether you came from Bolivia travelling to Cusco, you passed through Puno, or, if you came from Arequipa by plane, bus, or train, you passed through Puno, or, if you were doing the reverse, you passed through Puno. And, of course, while you were in Puno, there was the famous Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and it’s equally famous islands, the Uros floating islands and Taquile. Taquile is not the only attraction, fast gaining popularity is another of the Titicaca communities, the island of Amantani. Also, surrounding Puno, there were things to see and do like Sillustani, where we had just come from, and Chucuito, which was on our itinerary.


The railway station in front of our hotel - image: AV

The railway station in front of our hotel – image: AV

We arrived at an unremarkable hotel, totally non-descript, called the Railway Hotel, and as one would have guessed, it was in front of the railway station, which was slightly more picturesque.


Collectively we looked warily at our lodgings, and once we were settled in our quarters, decided that the hotel restaurant didn’t endear us to the festive mood that was around, for we had arrived during carnival. In the failing light we wandered as a troop to the tourist street. Jirón Lima had been turned into a pedestrian-only street and was home to the many travel agencies, banks and restaurants that catered to the needs and tours of the visitors. We found Edgar’s agency and were directed to a suitable restaurant, A London Pub, right here in Peru.


The Lake Pub, Puno - image: AV

The Lake Pub, Puno – image: AV

Once inside “The Lakeside Pub,” we were welcomed with, yes, if you guessed a complementary Pisco Sour? You’d be right. We drank them and ordered beers, not British, but certainly acceptable and well chilled. Even though the air outside was already chilling. Puno is 3,800m a.s.l. so at night, with no intense sunlight, the air chilled considerably. We were surprised we could get fish ‘n’ chips and enormous American style open hamburgers, even cottage pie was on the menu. Some of us opted for recognisable dishes, others experimented with lake trout and more ceviche.


Dancing in the streets - image: AV

Dancing in the streets – image: AV

After our meal, we discovered that the festive climate was heating up outside, so we went to explore. The streets, including Jirón Lima were crowded, gaily costumed dancers wriggled their bottoms in a quaint Peruvian fashion and we stopped to watch them. I don’t know the name of the dance, nor did I recognise it, although there were overtones of the “twist” from the early Beatles years, although there was more swivel than the “twist.”


We wended our way amongst the revellers and found our way back through the market to the austerity of our hotel. We were pretty shagged, but we did stop in the hotel restaurant for a whisky nightcap and an early bed.


The market near our hotel - image: AV

The market near our hotel – image: AV

In the morning we were awakened by our wake up calls. We had been given a list of things that we would need for our trip to the islands. So it was off to the market to search for such things as torches and batteries, because Taquile Island had no power; sunscreen was a must as well to combat the intense sunlight to which we would be exposed during our five hour boat ride on Lake Titcaca; and also some basic necessities such as the humble toilet roll, which wasn’t supplied in our next accommodations. Despite the early hour, the market was alive with throngs of people already going about their daily business. We joined the throngs and searched for our treasures. We found stall selling hot sweet fruit juice mixed with porridge, but not like the porridge that we know. Apple and porridge, heavily tinged with cinnamon in the crisp morning air, made a change from bread rolls and strawberry jam.


Back to the hotel, packed our bags for the trip. We were leaving most of our baggage at the hotel, only taking the travelling necessities for two nights and assembled in the “lobby” which was actually the wide corridor between reception and the restaurant, to await our transport.

Sunday Travel Tales

Puno is on the northwestern side of Lake Titicaca

Back to Peru this week, but not Cusco, at least not yet.


This small city is the hub for Peruvian tourism. Nearly every tourist passes through Puno on the way to somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from Bolivia, going to Bolivia, coming from Cusco/Machu Picchu, going to Cusco, or if you’re coming from Arequipa or going there, or whether you are visiting the Uros (floating) or Taquile islands on Lake Titicaca. The tourist trail goes through Puno.

Most people don’t spend much time there, usually an overnight on arrival before onward plans, trains boats or buses. They don’t go to see Puno.

The centre of Puno is Jiron Lima, travel agencies, cambios (exchanges) restaurants and banks.

I spent five months there in 1999, I worked as a dog’s body for an agency. Sometimes as a guide out to Taquile Island which I knew from past trips very well, sometimes I simply collected tourists from their hotels and saw them off on their various transports.

When I wasn’t doing this, I was opening a restaurant. You see for all the tourists passing through Puno, there wasn’t one restaurant that offered them anything familiar except pizza, and it wasn’t very good pizza. The agency I worked for wanted a restaurant, mainly for their tourists, but that is another story, the politics of which were screwed up beyond recognition. I designed the restaurant, the bar and the kitchen and prepared the menu as a Peruvian/English parellel, and I named her.

The Lake Pub

I also carved the plaque for above the door. It started out as a 40kg slab of hardwood, geez was it hard wood, 100cm x 55cm and about 10cm thick.

The result was this…

The Lake Pub


The centre piece was an oil painting of Taquile Island sunset. I paint too… Sorry the photo is B&W, but I haven’t managed to recover a coloured version yet.

As I mentioned, the politics involved eventually meant that I quit the project and moved on to my next job. I heard the restaurant was changed to solely Peruvian and became ‘just’ another restaurant in Puno which failed after a few months.

Sad really, after all the work I did.

Sunday Travel Tales

I was out of sorts yesterday. The last thing on my mind was posting seriously. So just a little teaser for a later Sunday.

Sillustani, Peru

Sillustani is between Juliaca and Puno, just off the main highway. It is one of the most famous burial sites of the Inca and features chullpas (tombs)  from three distinct eras of the Inca civilisation.

The famous Lagarta chullpa (burial mound) above is probably the most photographed.

Sunday Travel Tales

Lake Titicaca

Puno, Peru

In 1999 I was in Puno working as a dog’s body for one of the local travel agencies that ran tours out on to Lake Titicaca visiting the Uros (floating islands), Taquile and Amantani as well as tours to the chullpas (burial tombs) at Sillustanti. My main job was the development of a restaurant for the agency catering for tourists, the other stuff, meeting tourists at their hotels, sending them off on their tours at the port, and occasionally getting out on to the lake itself to visit Taquile Island, a place I love.

But this story is about a ghost. While I was at the port one morning, I heard a loud ‘chuff come from behind’. I was alerted. Silence, then another ‘chuff’. It suddenly dawned on me exactly what I had heard, it was the sound of a boiler coming to life. More silence, then another ‘chuff’.

I ran up the wharf to the bus and grabbed my camera and ran back. In those days I was still able to run.

The first signs of life "Chuff!" and smoke rose from the smokestack

There on the mooring across the way was an old steam boat. “Chuff!” and a cloud of smoke left the smokestack.

I was watching a ghost come to life. The Yavari hadn’t moved under it’s own steam in 40 years. I had heard they were restoring and rebuilding her, but apart from that, I knew nothing. “Chuff!” louder and stronger, more haunting, less silence and then “Chuff!” The chuffs got closer and soon, about an hour later, she was building up steam.

I was watching history.

The Yavari returning to port after its first trial

Eventually the Yavari threw off its moorings and was off sedately around Puno Bay. I guess it was about an hour later, she came back to her moorings.

The above photos were ones that I had managed to salvage from an old HD where I had scanned the old negatives, the quality is poor, but it’s real.

You can read more of the Yavari story

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