08 November, Saturday - Day 12

Bus tour to Puno

Today would have ended Earl’s trip if he had been with us. We’re up at 5:30 am. I had saved bread from yesterday so we microwave it and have warm toast with bananas. Taxi arrived at 6:15 am, and we’re off to the tour bus to Puno. Puno would normally take about 6 hours to go directly as it is 250 miles (400 km) away. Because we have a tour bus which will make several stops along the way it will be a 10 hour ride. Rusela reads a magazine at the bus station which has an article criticizing Peru Rail’s environmental impact and lack of maintenance. We agree. The train from Aguas Caliente to Cusco was uncomfortable and hot. There had been no service for buying water, only for alcoholic beverages. The last hour getting to Cusco was extremely strange with all the reversing to change tracks.

We have assigned seats near the front of the bus. A couple tried to pull a fast one and insist we were in the wrong seats to make us move. We stood our ground and eventually they had to move.

The bus stoppedat the Southern Inca Control Gate checkpoint so we can take photographs.

We pass the basalt mining area, adobe brickmakers, roof tile factories, and eucalyptus tree lumber yards.

The eucalyptus tree was brought to the Andes in the mid 1800’s from Australia to prevent soil erosion. Since it is a fast growing tree the natives like to use it for building and fuel. Unfortunately, it isn’t the most environmentally friendly plant for the region.

Typical ad painted on the side of a building

Another type of ad utilized in the region. This mountain had quite a few.

There are hardly any cars on the highway to Puno. I only see other buses and an occasional truck. Sheep, cows and alpaca herders often are on the highway or side of the road and need to move over.


The first stop is at the Andahuaylillas Catholic Church of St. Peter.

It is the Andean version of the Sistine Chapel. There are many images to try to absorb in the time given to see the church. The guide points out the murals displaying the paths to heaven and hell. The road to hell is paved with flowers and is wide and easy. The road to heaven is rocky, narrow and covered with thorns and branches. One solar disk was moved to cover holes in the wall left by earthquakes. The church has the oldest German organ in Peru dating from 1610. Inca mirrors are placed on the altars for illumination.

Street Scene

The 2nd stop is Raqchi.

This place has the tallest Inca temple, 92m long and 25m wide. It was made of both adobe brick and volcanic rock 600 years ago to commemorate the uniting of the valley (Inca) and high plains (Cholla) regions.

Originally, the temple had 11 circular columns on each side supporting a thatched roof of 7 meters. The Spaniards burned it down. There were over 200 round silos that were used for storage and a 6k wall surrounding the temple to protect the priests and women.

The 3rd stop is for lunch buffet. Since Cusco, I’ve heard El Condor Pasa being played three times. The musicians at lunch play it again. There are alpacas available for tourist pictures. The alpaca was domesticated 5000 years ago.

Domesticated but still stubborn

Rugs for sale. My dad used to bring home many of these back in the 1960's. I would lay on them as a kid.

The 4th stop is at the highest point of the road trip at La Reya 4222m. We are now in the altiplano (high plains region) where there are no trees. The barter system in the region is still in use today.

The 5th stop is at Pukara. A kid stops me as we exit the bus to sell me two nice ceramic bulls for 5 soles (less than $1 each). The guide says these are made here. The natives always placed 2 ceramics of llamas on their roofs for protection, prosperity and luck. After the Spaniards arrived, they changed the llamas to bulls to not run afoul of the religious authorities. We visit a small sculpture museum. Again, no photos allowed. There’s a nice monolith showing a catfish pointing towards a donut shape which represents Lake Titicaca. The guide shows us statutes displaying trophy heads which represented good luck for hunting, fertility for women and abundant harvest. To possess a trophy head was a great sign of prestige. The great beheader made a blood victim offering to mother earth as natural disasters were tough for these agricultural people. I think there was a leper begging outside the museum. His hands were bandaged up but what could be seen of his fingers looked terribly rotten.

A lady comes on board the bus to sell a DVD of Peruvian music and photographs. We pass the city of Juliaca which the guide tells us is rife with corruption, black market smuggling from Bolivia, and tax evasion. One method of tax evasion is that buildings are left unfinished because once finished the owners would have to pay taxes. The town is under construction, industrial, commercial and most of the roads are unpaved. It is very dusty and unattractive. Also the area is prone to flooding. We are glad we are not staying there. There are many motorized tricycles running around on the streets. The bright spot in town is the new university.

We arrive in Puno (3860m). It is supposed to have some of the same problems as Juliaca but seems nicer. One difference is tourist money is being dropped here. Our transfer guide arrives at the bus station but amazingly, his taxi deposits us at the wrong hotel. He apologizes and gets us another taxi. I have an altitude headache so pass on eating dinner. I try a saltine cracker instead and manage to keep it down, barely.

Next Day

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