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Puno, Peru. Culture Shock. November 5, 2006

Posted by danaslone in Uncategorized.

Puno is gateway for Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,850 meters or so and the cusp of Pre-Inca and Inca civilization for Peru and Bolivia, pre-Spanish of course. Home to some of the oldest cultures (the Amayara and Quehcua) still living on the islands and shores of the (once you get out of the polluted part) deep, blue-green, crystalline, sweet waters. 

I visited Uros Islands, an amazing, ancient man-made neighborhood in the water made of reeds, or tortora. An island lasts about 30 years then has to be rebuilt. If you want to see some fascinating engineering, do visit. They live much now as they had back then, in this special world, utilizing the best of available natural resources. They are very welcoming to tourists and you literally are on their floating home island when you visit. The men hunt birds and fish, the women sell crafts and raise cuy (and children of course). They trade between the other islanders and sell crafts for essentials needed in Puno. The Footprints guide made it sound cheapened somehow and seemed unnecessarily judgemental. I found it warm and sincere.  Maybe we got a `good´island. Okay, so they have solar power and one hut on each island´of five huts has a communal TV and radio, but I´d like to see the Footprints editor spend three days out there. I have pix, yes I do, we all know that refrain.

Spent the rest of the afternoon on the very beautiful island of Taquile. This is a terraced island and a very steep and breathless climb gets you to the top. The reward is stunning view of the lake, islands and horizon. Bolivia is a stone´s throw away. They also have some interesting pre-marital customs, a very progressive but ancient practice…you can test out (but only three times) your potential mates by living together and “practicing sex” and if after while you feel don’t like each other you can go back to your parents homes and try again with someone else. But you only get three times before you have to eventually marry someone and stop “practicing.” Or you have to look off-island.

This is a very important weekend in Puno. It is the founding anniversary and thousands, I mean, thousands of folk dancers and musicians from all over Peru and Bolivia are here on parade to celebrate to the many hundreds of thousands who live here or traveled here for it.  You say, how quaint yeah. Mmmm, it ain´t no pan flute no´ mo´. The folks here love a brass band.  Cymbals and drums too. All day and all night. It is like a New Orleans funeral procession that never ends. But it has been a blast to see the wild array of costumes and dances (the young, the old, I can´t tell anymore) even if they all seem inspired by the same brash song.

What is Puno like? After eveything I have seen in my travels (except for the whole peeing-alongside-a-bus-in-line, public urination thing), I was bit unprepared for it´s ´just got nuked´ architecture. It is rough around the edges to say the least, has a distinct Tijuanana meets Shanghai chaos, complete with trici-taxis, sprawling craft and food markets in the middle of rubble and waste, and like Arequipa, there is a shocking poverty visible for the very old (and young).  The city and it suburbs (and favelas) for lack of better words, are built into the steep and terraced mountains surrouding the lake and on the shore. It is quite phenomenal. There is some of the elegant Spanish influence in architecture to be seen but that too has a tarnish of decay. Yet there is also a lot of construction (and destruction, it is hard to tell which at times) and what is here in total is a very interesting, culturally proud and rich center of heritage not to be missed. It is known as the folkloric capitol, and I happened to land right in the middle of its bountiful display. Did I mention the whistles? Argh.

Tomorrow I take the Inka Express bus to Cusco. It stops at five major points of Inca interest along the way, the highest La Raya at 4335m. Then to Cusco. I have a Sacred Valley exucursion one day, followed by two days at Machu Picchu/Agua Calientes, and maybe a horse ride through the ruins outside of Cusco at a place I forgot how to spell. The rest is, well…see below.



1. Claire - November 7, 2006

Hi Dana and Kevin – finally caught up with your blog and are sitting here in London wishing we were out there in South America with you again. Have a wonderful time in Cusco – its pricey and touristy but can be good fun if you take it for what it is – we enjoyed the bar Los Perros and the bus through the sacred valley on which we tried some amazing orange sponge cake off the vendors. My big regret, that I didnt invest in a big alpaca poncho – it would have come in handy now that none of my coats fit and the temperature is dropping leaving my bump exposed!! – buenos viajes and muchas fondles Claire & Simon xx

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