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  • Day28

    Across the Altiplano

    May 25, 2018 in Peru ⋅ ☀️ 2 °C

    They often say that there is nothing like a good night's sleep to make you feel on top of the world. If that is the case then I should be feeling terrific, because last night was nothing like a good night. In fact my final night in Cusco was a disaster.

    It certainly started OK. After grabbing a quick dinner and having a final walk around the perimeter of the plaza, I returned to my room, eagerly looking forward to an early night. By 9.30 pm I was in bed and drifting away to the mythical Land of Nod. By 12 midnight I was rudely and abruptly awoken by some extremely loud music coming from somewhere nearby. It went on and on.

    By 1.00 am I turned on the TV to try and get some distraction. By 2.00 am the music was still thumping away and my thoughts were turning murderous. By 3.00 am I had tried hiding my head under the blankets, putting my fingers in my ears, tossing from one side to the other. Nothing worked. The music played on.

    When the clock finally showed 4.30 am I gave up, got out of bed and spent some time on my computer. My only consolation was that I knew that we were going to have a very long time in the bus today and hopefully that would give some chance to catch up on lost sleep.

    After a quick breakfast we were met by a tall Quechuan, introducing himself as Karlos, or more particularly Kar-r-r-r-los (with a rolling r sound). He was going to be our guide today to safely escort us to Puno, about 350 km further south than Cusco.

    We were quickly ushered to a small bus that was parked outside the hotel. By the time we crammed all our luggage and our 13 travellers inside it was quite squeezy. The thought of 10 or more hours of travel in this bus no longer seemed quite so attractive. Fortunately I needn't have worried as the small bus was only used to transport us to the outskirts of the city where we were transferred to full size luxury tour bus. Beside our guide, Karrrrlos, we also had two drivers to rotate the driving duties. We all spread out, tilted the seats back and made ourselves comfortable.

    As we left Cusco behind we first stopped at the mighty Incan wall that marked the southern entrance to the city of Cusco. Each time we are presented with such a structure we have to marvel at the engineering brilliance of these people. How did they achieve so much in such a short time, without even having written language ?

    Steadily climbing we soon reached the massive central plateau, known as the antiplano. This massive region is mostly over 4000 metres above sea level and consists of a huge central flat region surrounded by towering mountains. Along the road we passed through a never ending succession of tiny towns, all languishing in the dust. All that was missing were a few tumbleweeds to complete the scene of desertion and dilapidation.

    After a lunch stop at a large roadhouse the journey continued. Each little town was preceded by a large speed hump, requiring the bus to almost slow to a stop in order to bounce over it. The towns themselves always consisted of several large petrol stations and a motley collection of half finished buildings. In fact nothing ever seems to actually ever get finished here. The skyline is populated by a sea of reinforcements pointing into the sky. I would have loved to have visited each town with an angle grinder, just to give all these unfinished buildings a proper haircut.

    After about 10 hours in the bus we had covered a distance of a little over 300 km. In Australia such a drive would probably have taken around 3 hours, but we were certainly NOT in Australia. Our final destination for the day was to be Puno, the city at the edge of the mighty Lake Titicaca. This massive lake is shared between Peru and Bolivia and, at 4000 m elevation, is reputed to be the highest navigable lake in the world.

    Before reaching Puno the bus had to travel through Juliaca. On our last trip to Peru in 2010 we all agreed that Juliaca must be the dirtiest, ugliest and dustiest city in all of Peru. By 2018 I think the place has deteriorated even further. I won't try to describe the chaos and filth of this crowded excuse for a city, but I would advise any would be traveller to NEVER consider looking for a hotel to stay in Juliaca.

    About 30 mins later we finally reached Puno. The sun had set but we were able to get our first sights of the mighty lake as we fought our way through the traffic into the centre of the town. Our hotel is the Casa Andina, not far from the centre of the city. The location is quite good, but none of us could ever understand how our driver managed to squeeze a full sized bus through narrow lanes without causing major damage along the way. It did require the additional services of an outside assistant and much reversing and manoeuvring to finally reach the hotel. But we did make it. Tomorrow we will explore the lake itself and visit the enigmatic floating islands of Uros.
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