Arrival in Chucuito, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Mon 28 Aug 2017 20:59
15:53.46S 69:53.27W

Early the next morning, we queued to buy a platform ticket at the Arica International Bus Station (sounds grand - it was a concrete shed surrounded by a wall), then we queued to buy a ticket for the bus to Tacna, at which point we had to handover our passports. Franco was not a happy man, I was a little more relaxed as several tourists I met in Salta had warned me this would happen.

Once on the bus, the conductor returned our documents and he joked with Franco that he had given him heart palpitations. Crossing the border was easy.

As we approached Tacna, we passed some very poor housing in the desert and wondered how the people survived. A little further on we reached a large oasis of cultivated land and guessed that they must work there.

Tacna felt a lot poorer than anywhere we have been in Chile with most buildings unfinished or semi-derelict.

The next bus to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, was at 12:15pm from a different bus station. It was 11am, our timing was perfect ... then a gentleman told us that Peru was two hours behind Chile, it was going to be a long day!

Tacna expanding up the slope of the surrounding hills

As we were buying our tickets, two ladies in Peruvian hoop skirts approached. Curious, I was watching them discretely out of the corner of my eye. They showed no such reserve:

"¡Mira la gringa!" one said, elbowing her friend. 

("Look at the gringa" - for Peruvians, all foreigners are 'gringos')

The bus had the same categories of seats as in Chile, only a lot older and rickety and we made the mistake of accepting the front seats on the upper floor. The route to Puno was long and winding and our driver was a lunatic, taking the bends on the wrong side of the road. The highest point, as we crossed over the Andes, was 4,800m (15,840ft), very high, particularly since that morning we had been at sea level. Franco was fine but I was close to fainting with tingling in my face and black spots invading my peripheral vision but as soon as we started to descend towards Puno, at a mere 3,900m (12,870ft) I started to feel better. The same couldn't be said for the two Peruvian lads next to us; one was vomiting and the other was coughing up his lungs, both symptoms of altitude.

Road from Tacna to Puno

More desert on the way to Puno

An oasis village fields

Crawling over the Andes

We were fairly exhausted by the time we got off the bus around 10pm so caught a taxi to our hostel. As we staggered up two floors to our room, I understood why we had got such a good deal, even ten metres higher, at this altitude, makes a difference.

In reality, we didn't suffer too many altitude symptoms; Franco had a headache for a couple of days, any exertion would have us breathless, and it took about a week for us to sleep well but the worst was what 'Wikipedia' calls 'High-altitude flatus expulsion (HAFE)'. I'll let you guess what that may entail.

Puno cathedral

Franco in one of Puno’s squares

Puno was quiet the next morning, a Sunday. Through the volunteering website 'Workaway' we had applied to spend a month volunteering for Anja and Santiago who are running a lodge and horse riding venture in the small village of Chucuito, thirty minutes south along the shore of the lake towards Bolivia.

We caught a 'collectivo' (public transport minibus) to the village and as we waited in the square for Anja to meet us, we enjoyed watching some dancing and music put on by older members of the community to mark 'Senior citizens Day'.

Performers - all over 60

OAPs dressed up as even older people