Okay. So it’s only been four days since we were in Lima but it feels like a lifetime ago. Since accidentally ordering an olive sandwich in Lima’s airport, we’ve spent 22 hours in Arequipa, eight hours on a bus to Puno, way too many hours on a boat in Lake Titicaca, and are now prepping ourselves for two consecutive overnight bus trips to cross into Chile. Yup, it’s a lot. But we’ve now found a lovely cafe with incredibly fast wifi just off the Plaza de Armas in Puno and I’ve ordered a salad, so really all is well. (Most meals for the last four days have consisted of rice, potato and bread in various forms…so yes, I’m quite excited by the giant plate of raw veggies in front of me.)
With under 24 hours in Arequipa, we constricted ourselves to walking around the Plaza de Armas and meandering towards whatever parks seemed to appear close on google maps. This relaxed day led us to one of my favorite spots of the trip so far– Mirador de Yanahuara. From this vista, Misti towered above the unrolling city and left me in a state of awe. (It’s probably for the best that I didn’t know Misti was in fact an active volcano until going to its Wikipedia page right now.)
While a beautiful stop, Arequipa may be most remembered for instigating my first bout of traveler’s diarrhea. (Apologies if this is more than you cared to know, but I don’t want this blog to only be pretty pictures. Just mostly pretty pictures.) So when we started our eight hour bus journey to Puno, I was feeling pretty nervous. Although I had to ignore the “Solamente numero 1” rule of the bathroom on board, I have a feeling Cruz del Sur would agree that violating that rule was the lesser of two evils.
Upon arriving in Puno and clambering up three flights of stairs to our airbnb, I realized immediately as my heart began to thud that we must have gained a lot of altitude during that bus ride. Our airbnb host also realized immediately that I had made such realization, as she offered coca tea the moment we walked through the door. “Esa te ayudara con la altitud,” she told me while worry coated her face.
When Dom and I trekked Machu Picchu two years ago, we made sure to acclimatize in Cuzco before beginning the journey. At an altitude of 12,555 feet, Puno is almost 5,000 feet higher than Machu Picchu, yet just 11 hours after arriving in Puno we were off for an overnight tour of Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca is large, but I’m pretty certain that all tour companies have signed a pact to have the slowest boats possible in an attempt to make tourists think the lake is much larger than it is. “This boat is the donkey of boats,” I said to Dom when it seemed we’d never make it back to Puno. “That seems a bit harsh on the donkeys!” Dom replied.
Our first stop in the lake were the Uros floating islands. There are nearly 100 tiny floating islands fashioned from totora reeds in Lake Titicaca, with one or two families inhabiting each island. While the cultural tourism did feel rather forced (five small local children didn’t seem all too pleased to sing songs to our group on a traditional reed boat and then hold out their hats asking for money), it was interesting to witness such a different way of life.
We then re-boarded our donkey boat for Amantani Island, where we stayed overnight “with a local family”. After disembarking the boat, our group of 15 (I was the only American!) awkwardly waited as our tour guide pointed to different pairs assigning us to different hosts. I shuffled my feet. “Feels like we’re getting picked for PE teams,” Dom and I joked with each other.
Our team consisted of two British travelers who had just graduated university, two French women who had a field day when they heard me pronounce Montreal (just saying, the “t” does exist in the word) and a Spanish guy who took on the role of translator. While we didn’t interact much with our hosts (it was honestly more like staying in a local hotel that provided food than with a host family), I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with our fellow travelers. As we get deeper into our travels, I want to prioritize engaging with others so Dom and I don’t become too isolated.
Beyond the friendly conversation with our international team, the other highlight of this trip was climbing both Pachatata and Pachamama on Amantani. Watching the sunset from Pachamama is one of those moments that will stay with me forever.
Although I experienced altitude sickness the entire journey and had the worst migraine of my life after walking up to the main square on Taquile the second day, I’m glad we went on this tour.
(Migraine anecdote: Dom was a hero after I literally collapsed in a heap on the main square holding my head and crying, thinking the world was collapsing in on me. He quickly found ibuprofen from a fellow tourist, and after I was finally able to move enough to take the ibuprofen, I read each pill was 600 mg. I couldn’t quite recall how many milligrams normal advil was (now I know it’s 200) and swallowed two. No regrets. “I knew you weren’t playing when snot was flowing out of your nose and blood out of your lip and you didn’t seem to care.” Dom sweetly said once I had recovered enough for us to rejoin the group. True love.)
When our donkey finally made its way back to Puno, we checked into our first hostel of the trip. Although it got off to an ominous start (took forever for someone to let us in; the key to our room didn’t work; the bed broke once we both sat on it) it redeemed itself by providing us a kitchen to cook dinner and a lovely owner named Norma. Even with a crazy thunderstorm waking us up in the middle of the night,
(“Is that rain?” I turned to ask Dom as he stared out the window. “No,” he replied.
I jumped out of bed.
“Then what the fuck is it?!” I squealed.
I ran to the window, opened it and leaned out. It was rain.
“Oh. Well the weather app didn’t say it was raining,” Dom sighed.)
I woke up refreshed and finally without any headache!
Today we walked through some local markets (I made the mistake of crossing down the meat aisle…) to the bus station to purchase our overnight ticket to Tacna. If all goes according to plan, in 24 hours we will be in Chile. This time now fully armed with ibuprofen and anti-diarrhea medication 😉