Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Peru  ,
Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Riding the bus in Peru proved to be a most interesting experience and one kept hidden from me until now due to a couple of flights on StarPeru.  Having no clue how or when I would be departing for Puno, I just showed up at the Arequipa bus station and hoped for the best.   Counter after counter of companies compete for business and the one reputable line Cruz del Sur already had its departure for the day.   A lady from Jacanbus screaming "Juliaca, Puno" over and over got my attention, and I decided to just hop on her bus since departure seemed imminent.

Twenty Soles ($7) later I had my ticket in hand for a departure in five minutes and went to pay the extortion, I mean station fee, of 1.50 Soles (50 cents) that allows passage into the boarding area.   Of course this being Peru, the 10:45 printed on my ticket came and went.   As the minutes ticked by the customers on board the bus became even more ticked off.   Windows flew open and they banged on the side of the bus while shouting vaminos at the driver.  Finally when every seat in this piece of crap bus was finally full of highly agitated folks, we were on our way for the 6 hour ride higher and higher across the desert to the scrubby Altiplano which is a largely treeless high plain averaging over 12,000 feet above sea level.  

What I saw today enroute makes the Jesus Cream Dude from Mexico seem like a benign oddity.   Normally my preferred source of entertainment on a bus or plane is watching the insides of my closed eyelids but today didn't pan out that way.  Not even an hour outside of Lima we stopped at a toll booth and a random guy hopped on and began playing a tiny guitar and wooden flute instrument while singing.   He then began passing out a pack of mints to every passenger whether we refused this "gift" or not along with a five minute speech how special they are.  Some more singing followed and he came around to collect either money or the mints back.   I actually felt kind of sorry for the guy and bought a candy bar from him for about 40 cents.

Thirty minutes later he was gone and replaced by the meat woman as we rolled higher and higher into the desolate Altiplano.   Now we all know in these types of countries food safety is a dicey crapshoot, but she took gastromical risk to the next level.   This lady as filthy as her basket holding chunks of some sort of alpaca meat product moved up and down the narrow aisle shouting she has said meat for sale.   No shit sherlock...we are a foot away from you and can smell both you and your food basket. 

As luck would have it, the man sitting next to me ordered a portion and I can report it looked like chunks of wet dog food, smelled like ass, and the grey sauce she squirted from a worn out plastic water bottle had the consistency of loose dog squeeze.  One of her three foot long braids fell into my lap as she prepared my seatmate's one way ticket to the toilet.  On the one hand I wanted it off my jeans immediately but on the other I didn't dare risk touching it.  The meat lady passed on but I still had to hold my nose as my neighbor picked rancid smelling nuggets out of the tiny plastic bag and spit some gristle on the floor.

By the time we bounced into Juliaca five hours later for a quick stop, I was just ready to get off this thing.  Only problem is all of us passengers were ready to roll but the bus wouldn't come out of reverse after we backed out of the stall.   In the process we blocked other departures and arrivals and the bus station disintegrated into honking chaos.  Just as with the delay in Arequipa, a lot of the passengers started yelling and banging hands on the bus in protest.   I think this particular bus commonly has forward movement issues because the driver knew how to poke around underneath it with a long metal rod to unstick the clutch.  

About ten minutes later we were finally underway for the last hour over to Puno and Lake Titicaca but not without a stop at the gas station to refuel. And yes, you guessed it, for ten minutes my fellow travelers right on cue loudly yelled and banged their hands in protest on anything and everything that makes noise.  For a country that in my observations seems to place little value on punctuality, people sure do get upset over delays.

As the bus descended down towards Puno I got to thinking that this part of dusty Peru feels a continent and culture apart from where I entered the country in tropical Santa Rosa just across the Amazon from Leticia. My plan is to spend a couple of days on both the Peruvian and Bolivian sides of Titicaca and explore what this 12,500 foot high lake has to offer.   I've wanted to see it ever since we snickered at the name in elementary school when we first heard it.   Come on, I know you did, too and probably are now as well.

How I Got Here:

Flying Dog Hostel to Arequipa Bus Station - Taxi - 5 Soles ($1.80) - 15 minutes
Arequipa Bus Station to Puno Bus Station - JacanBus 20 Soles ($7.00) - 6 hours
Puno Bus Station to Marlon's House Hotel - Motorbike Taxi 4 Soles ($1.40) - 10 minutes
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