Archive for the ‘Peru’ Category

First Quarter

We’re pretty well exactly a quarter of the way through our trip, and this milestone corresponds with the end of our time in Peru. We spent today in Puno after our three busy days out touring; packing to do and lots of catching up with photos (selecting, shrinking file sizes, uploading to Flickr and then including in our blog) – so far I have only put yesterday’s pictures on, but there are plenty more to come from our island visits…

This morning we popped out for breakfast to an eatery on the main pedestrian street linking the two main squares; pancakes all round with fruit juices.

Parque Pino

Jiron Lima, linking the main squares

The cathedral

Plaza de Armas

Later on we vacated our room for cleaning and walked the stiff climb up to Cerro Huasjapata, a hill offering great views over Puno and Lake Titicaca. The name means ‘witness of my love’ which could explain the ‘X loves Y’ graffiti all over the rocks there. We rested awhile at the top to get our breath back while the girls invented games among the rocky outcrops; I attempted a series of photos to create what might be termed a Punorama.

Statue on top of Cerro Huasjapata

View towards Lake Titicaca

View over the higher parts of Puno

We noticed a square near the top with seating and two polished concrete slides, so we paused there before descending for lunch. The girls risked the smaller slide and only Hannah eventually plucked up enough courage to try the longer, curvier one.

Down to a little cafe at the back of a courtyard where All Ways travel have their main office for a light lunch of sandwiches (girls) and salads. Then back to our hotel to sort out photos and to continue our attempts to find a hotel in La Paz. Our preferred choice (Posada de la Abuela) is full for the first three days, so we need an alternative; TripAdvisor shoots some of Lonely Planet’s recommendations down in flames, so we keep a close eye on the former.

Out for tea, back to Ricos Pan. The waitresses can never manage a smile and service is tardy – and we have tipped well on our previous visits. (This establishment receives fulsome praise from LP…) The cakes were rather good, anyway – some sort of Black Forest variant and another which seemed to contain rich chocolate mousse.

Back via the supermarket to get something to eat for breakfast tomorrow; we shall be off so early that we’ll need to eat on the bus. We just got caught in the beginnings of a thunderstorm; time to move on, apparently.

Out to the nearby pizza place where we had our pasta a few nights ago – this time for a pizza (cooked before our very eyes in a wood oven). We were down to our last 50 Soles by now (about £10), having settled the hotel bill earlier in the day, so we did the menu maths carefully.

During the meal we asked Hannah and Ellen about their time in Peru; here are their verdicts:


  • Leading alpacas out to pasture
  • Ellen’s tooth coming out on her birthday
  • Lasagna
  • Chicken and chips (pollo a la brasa)
  • Ellen’s birthday ice cream lunch
  • Seeing blue butterflies
  • Holding a clicket beetle
  • Banana pancakes in the jungle
  • Salpicon de pollo
  • Playing football with Melissa
  • The sunset from the hill on Amantani
  • Dressing up on the floating islands of Uros
  • Fresh pineapple juice
  • Hot springs on the way to the Colca Canyon
  • Eating trout from Titicaca
  • The big slides at Puno – scary but fun


  • Mosquitoes and the heat of the jungle
  • Passing Peruvian ladies squeezing the girls’ noses
  • Being forced off the narrow pavement into the road by inconsiderate tourists in Cusco.

As for me, here are some highlights:

  • Santa Catalina convent in Arequipa – the colours, the oases of calm
  • The entire Inca Trail, and especially visiting Winay Wayna
  • The night sky viewed from Amantani
  • Visiting Ticanipampa school
  • Sunrise on the Madre de Dios river
  • Almost all the food we have eaten in Peru

And low points:

  • Astonishingly thoughtless noisy guests in this hotel
  • Grim toilets on the Inca Trail

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After what seemed the worst night ever (one of the other guests switched on his television quite loudly shortly after midnight and again around 4am!)  I woke up with a splitting headache and wasn’t sure whether I would make today’s outing. 

We all went out around 8am in search of breakfast and found ourselves back in Ricos Pan for a selection of pastries.  We popped into the covered market for a large bottle of water and a packet of Oreos. 

After we had had our breakfast in our room we headed back downstairs and waited in the lobby for our coach.  Around 9am a small minivan turned up and we were introduced to our guide Ivan and a young trainee, Vanessa.  It turned out that we were the only people to book this tour for today!

After a 40 minute ride, with the second half on a bumpy road, we stopped at what seemed to be a small farm.  We were introduced to Julio, who took our orders for lunch time.  We were given the choice between chicken or trout, since we had trout yesterday, the four of us opted for chicken.  And then we were off to Atuncolla.

At the time of booking this trip we were told that some of our money would be used to buy school supplies (that was the main reason why we chose All Ways Travel) and now we were on our way to visit one of the schools this agency supports. 

The school is called Ticanipampa School and I have nothing but respect for both pupils and teachers.  The school seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and when we arrived we were greeted by every single pupil and teacher, all 45 children and 5 teachers – we had never shaken so many hands …

Colegio Ticanipampa

We were taken into the main classroom, which was also used as a dining room, and were asked to sit at the front of the room facing all the pupils and teachers.  We introduced ourselves and told them where we were from.  The children were then given the opportunity to ask us some questions – e.g. what do we do for a living, what is the weather like in England, what sports do we/England like to play, how old are the girls, …  We could then ask them questions in return and learned a lot more about their daily life.  We found out that all the children board at the school for two weeks, then go back home for two weeks as they are needed at home to work the land.  At the same time they are given projects to work on at home.  Also during those two weeks of no school the teachers will visit the pupils at home in case they need any help with their projects.  After two weeks at home they return to school for another two weeks.  We later found out from one of the teachers that most children live quite a distance away from school and sometimes have to walk or cycle 20 – 40 km to get to school.



Tomas and Viviana were chosen to show us around the rest of the school.  We visited the boys’ boarding room, which they share with the male teachers and the girls share with the female teachers.  The rooms were filled with bunk beds and on the walls we could see a morning and an evening prayer.

The boys’ dorm – remarkably tidy…

The kitchen was a small and dark room, and the pupils weren’t really allowed in there apart from peeling potatoes and carrots.  Other than homework the children also had to fulfil everyday tasks like cleaning, doing the dishes, looking after guinea pigs, etc.  We also learned that each of the five teachers was in charge of one particular area of the school, e.g. kitchen, library, etc.


The library had a couple  of bookcases with text books and exercise books and two computers.  We were surprised that everything we could see in the library had been won by the pupils at recital and singing competitions!  We had had a taster of this earlier on when three boys each separately performed a poem or song for us.

Library/computer room

Daily timetable

Rota of chores

Hannah choosing her lunch

At the end of our tour we were led back into the main classroom to say goodbye to everyone and we shook hands again after they all had sung a happy farewell song.  This school is so amazing, the children don’t have much, but see the school as a second family and they are so eager to learn and gave us the clear impression that they really want to be there.  I walked back to our minivan feeling quite emotional and really hope that we can come back in a few years’ time to see what has become of the school and the children.  At the moment they only provide education for the first three years of secondary school, but Viviana told us that they were hoping to build another classroom for the 4th grade as the children don’t want to leave the school.  (Some of the classrooms were built by British youngsters who had come over in 2007 as volunteers.)

After the school we drove on to Umayo lake where we met a fisherman who took us down to the lake via a precariously steep path with loose stones.  We then got into two little fishing boats and were taken to the other side of this peaceful and beautiful lake to visit Sillustani.



They row by standing up and pushing…IMG_5049


It was well after lunch time and we were all getting pretty hungry but walked up the hill instead to visit the chullpas, or funerial towers used for important Inca people.  The towers were round and wider at the top, and they all had a little door facing the east (sunrise).  Just as we were leaving Sillustani up came the first tourist coaches of the day – we had beaten the crowds and it was a nice change not to be surrounded by lots of other tourists for once.  I do think that All Ways Travel are very good at that – they do make their tours special and different from all the other tour organisations.

An Inca chullpa

Distant pre-Inca chullpasIMG_0109

Interior of a chullpa showing ‘lego’ constructionIMG_0114

Finally we were on our way to lunch.  We were greeted by the chef and his wife and after washing our hands were given a little plate with cheese-filled wontons, followed by a large bowl of quinoa soup.  Already we were beginning to feel pretty full, but then came our dish of chicken and rice, with one tiny bit of brocolli and cauliflower and two little slices of sweet potato.  Again it proved far too much for us, but surprisingly everyone had enough room for dessert!  This was the first time ever on a guided tour that we were offered dessert and very tasty it was too – a slice of peach covered in a mixture of chantilly cream, condensed milk and peach juice.  The girls wolved their dessert down!

The best was yet to come – the girls were each given a llama or alpaca to look after and walk down the road to one the fields for them to graze.  Hannah & Ellen absolutely loved this, and I think this really made their day.  Once back in the house came the inevitable question : “Could we have a llama when we get back home?” …





Our visit was ended by Ellen and Melissa (the chef’s daughter who was 7) playing football and having great fun.  All too soon it was time for us to return to Puno, and on the way back Ellen commented that she now had a new friend in Peru called Melissa!

Once back in our hotel we all had a rest and only went out for more chicken and chips for supper.

Tomorrow is our very last day in Puno and Peru – we have some fantastic memories to take with us, though.

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Taquile trek

Not the best night’s sleep (yet again), but not because of the cold; the problem was more to do with the three heavy blankets and a sheet which were provided to keep out the cold – they wouldn’t stay put… Much pulling and adjusting and negotiating – you’re either squashed beneath the sheer weight or else half exposed to the night air. By the morning the sheet was entirely adrift and the blankets diagonally skew.

But one night-time trip to the outside loo did at least give a memorable view of the night sky. A combination of the altitude (less atmosphere in the way) and the total absence of light pollution on an island with no electricity made for a spectacular display of more stars than you’ve ever seen with the naked eye, with the Milky Way running so clearly across from horizon to horizon. One of the highlights of the trip, and not even mentioned in the brochure…

Up at 6.30am to get dressed and packed before breakfast. Now this went down well with all of us – fresh, thick pancakes! With strawberry jam to spread on them and coffee with condensed milk, we were really set up for the day.

Time for some last photos – of Ana-Ruth’s family, of the view from the bedroom window down to the deep, deep blue lake, of the terraced hillsides – then down to the port with our bags to catch our boat.







Only a short hop across to nearby Taquile, and we were taken to the non-touristy side of the island to walk up, across and down to the sort of expanse of sand you would only expect to find at the sea-side. Titicaca is so vast that it’s easy to forget that it’s a lake, and the sight of sheep being driven down to the shore to drink reminds you that this is fresh water (well, 1 gram of salt per litre). And indeed all the water for our tea, coffee and soup will have come straight from the lake. It’s surprisingly unpolluted (except around Puno and Copacabana) and boiling should have got rid of any residual nasties – we haven’t had any upset tummies, anyway.

The part of Taquile that we saw was sparsely populated, with a wealth of magnificent views down to the lake or across the farmland. Not at all the Tacky-le we had been led to expect by the guidebooks.

First view of Taquile







We had lunch at an isolated restaurant by our beach, eating fresh trout from the lake – we had just enough cash to pay 15 Soles for each portion (the girls shared a plate) plus cold drinks, and we were then down to loose change only.




Before lunch, we were given more information about life on Taquile, and Kirsten proved uncannily accurate at guessing the answers to our guide’s questions. E.g. the colour-coding of their woolly hats; a white top indicates a single man, while a white-topped hat combined with a coca leaf pouch shows that a man is engaged (the pouch is usually restricted to married men). The ladies of Amantani wear a black head-dress with embroidered decorations while those of Taquile adorn theirs with pom-poms at the corners; big and colourful when they’re single and smaller and less showy once they get married.

A marriage belt, one half made by the bride and the other half by the groom. The halves are joined on their wedding day.

The bride’s half

Taquile is also notable for the fact that the men do the knitting while the women weave; on Amantani it is decidedly non-macho for a man to knit.

After lunch and shortly after noon we climbed aboard for the long journey back to Puno, stopping briefly at Taquile’s main port to collect a party of four who had stayed overnight here instead. We crawled the 40km or so back to the harbour, arriving around half past three.

A minibus to take us back to our hotels, but we elected to get off at the Terminal Terrestre to sort out our tickets for Saturday. We found the Tour Peru desk and booked four seats in a row near the front for the miserly total of 70 Soles (for a three-hour trip from Puno to Copacabana, including immigration formalities). It was still a little more than I expected, having read online that tickets would only be 10 Soles each if booked at the bus station rather than through an agency, but we mustn’t quibble over a couple of quid.

A taxi back to the hotel, and we found an email waiting for us to confirm our room at Hotel La Cupula, Copacabana – it has the top rating on TripAdvisor with four gardens, a selection of hammocks and good views of the lake.

Also waiting for us in our room was our washing – we’ll do the same again when we go on tomorrow’s day trip (beats a day of washing by hand…)

Out for supper to Ricos Pan – sandwiches all round and enough room left to share a couple of slices of a rich chocolate cake and a volcanic (in shape) lemon meringue pie.

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Amantani sleepover

A better night’s sleep – no TV at 1.30am or loud conversations in the corridor at midnight. But the world still comes to life with the rising of the sun so we heard blenders whirring, metal buckets clanking, shutters opening from 5am onwards.

We had vanilla cake and orange juice for breakfast in our room, then went down to reception at 7.35am to wait for our transport. To our surprise, the coach was already there so we got on and drove round Puno to pick up another two members of our group, a young Swedish couple (a lady from Canada was already on board).

Then to the harbourside to buy last-minute items such as water, fruit, rice or other gifts for the islanders. We thought we had the food organised, but we bought a couple of packs of coloured pencils for the children (not knowing if our host family would have children, or if they would be boys or girls).

As we waited, an American couple approached our guide to ask to join our group rather than travelling with the ‘classic’ pool tour; in fact, we expected a total of nine from what we had been told in the ticket office.

Around 8am we clambered over a row of waiting ‘Amantani’ boats to find our vessel.

Unusually, it was equipped with matching sofas and armchairs inside to provide a comfy ride; not that these were secured to the floor in any way. Also seating outside and on top for those requiring more fresh air.

We set off from Puno and made our way through channels cut in the reed beds, past the steamship Yavari and the posh hotels nearby, and soon we were nearing the floating islands of Uros.

We have been reading about these for perhaps two, two and a half years – the islanders perpetually renew these man-made rafts with fresh layers of totora reeds as the bottom layer rots away.

And what a versatile reed this is; not only are the islands constructed of it, but so are their houses, boats, handicrafts, seats – and they even eat it…

Anyway, despite all our reeding up beforehand (sorry) we were still taken aback at the vibrant colours of the costumes and the brilliant Titicaca sunlight which seems to suffuse everything here with an inner glow.

Yes, it’s touristy and that’s how the islanders make a living. Each island with its own moored tourist boat; you get off for a historical/engineering overview with your own guide, then you’re dragged into a hut to try on traditional costumes (yes, there was even something that fitted me) and then the hard sell (how can you refuse after all that?). They must be making a packet – we spent 100 Soles on a couple of cushion covers (we think Mrs Brewer has something similar from here) and the odd necklace thrown in. That’s twenty quid – a fortune by local standards. And virtually everyone in our group came away with something.

A floating primary school

A neighbouring island had this fancy lookout tower

An introductory talk about our island; Suche = Catfish

A demonstration of how the islands are constructed

Local handicrafts

The Prices go native

A view from the lookout tower

A passing reed boat

One freebie – Kirsten jointly won the ‘guess the depth of the lake’ competition (it’s about 20 metres at this point) and received a necklace and miniature reed boat with two figures on board.

In case you’re wondering what we were wondering, no, the floating islands can’t drift off to Bolivia overnight; they are anchored by long ropes and eight-metre stakes.

We had the 8 Soles tourist trip in a reed boat (we could have opted out, but no-one did) from one island to another, being serenaded by five ladies as we departed. Traditional songs in Quechua and Spanish, then ‘Row, row, row your boat’ and even ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon’.

We spent ten minutes on the second island – didn’t buy anything more – and then moved on.

Now a long trip to Amantani, the island where we would spend the night.

A calm, steady voyage, and we arrived a bit before 1pm. We disembarked, walked a bit and waited – like evacuees – to be allocated our families by the community Presidente.

Ana-Ruth led us quietly (and a little reluctantly, it seemed) up the hillside to her house. Most buildings are of mud brick construction with a tin roof and an outside loo in a corrugated steel shed. Our house, a little grander than most, has a larger outside loo with a basin and a shower too (but still a manual flush).


A little time to make ourselves at home – we have a double and two single beds in a room considerably bigger than that in Hotel Presidente.

Then down into the kitchen for lunch. We sat around a wooden table at one end of the kitchen and were brought big bowls of quinoa soup (with potatoes and carrots) – tasty but filling. Then a large plate of rice, local potatoes and tomato with slices of grilled cheese on top. None of us could manage everything – but there again we’re not out working in the fields all day. It’s simple, plain food – they only eat meat on special occasions, sauces don’t seem to feature and neither does dessert.

Springs of Andean mint (muña) – no tea bags here

After lunch, a rest before popping down to the community centre which is supported by All Ways Travel. A big hall with tables and chairs where local children come after school to read books, do colouring. We were invited to ‘read with the children’ but we got the impression that a lot of them just wanted to get on by themselves without daily inane interruptions of foreigners asking them how old they are and what their name is (usually inappropriately in the formal third person).


Soon we moved on (the children hardly responded to our farewells) and had a brief go at grinding quinoa flour and turning over soil ready for planting.

Also a bit of background about island history and customs; divorce is unknown here, and prospective couples live together before they get married. Wedding celebrations go on for three days, and a lot of the financial burden falls on the bride and groom. There is no electricity (bar a few solar panels and no running water; President Fujimori gave the islanders a generator, but they can’t afford the fuel to run it and so the impressive network of street lighting remains permanently off.

We then began our walk to Pachatata, a hill top with views to both sides of the island. The plan was to get there for sunset, but this is a high part of the world and we were climbing above 4000 metres, not far off Dead Woman Pass height. The girls struggled, but much to our and their delight, they made it to the top with no ill effects, and in time to see the sun go down. We had all brought head torches, so we lingered longer than all the other ‘cheap’ tours who also gravitated to the same hilltop, like flying ants.

View of the upper part of the village

The main square

As I was going to Pachatata…

Terraces in the evening sunlight

In time for the sunset…


A Twix for the girls from a ‘cafe’ just below the summit, then down in the twilight – we were the first group back to the main square, where we once again met up with our host families.

A walk in the dark back to the house, then supper. Quinoa soup followed by rice with a mixture of vegetables. All very filling, but I’m not sure I could stick out a lifetime on this diet; I’ve been spoiled by the marvellously creative Llama Path trek food. We met both of Ana-Ruth’s children, 13-year-old Mikey and Kenia who is six.

We opted out of the evening Fiesta for the tourists (dress up in traditional costume and dance) because it was dark, cold, late and a fair distance to walk.

Candlelight in our room; hope our thermals keep us warm tonight – plenty of blankets, anyway.

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After a rough and noisy night, not due to traffic but due to other hotel guests we were all awake by 5.30am.  Ellen had recovered from her travel/altitude sickness and had managed to keep some water down earlier on in the morning.  It seemed like we were all ready to pop out in search of breakfast when Hannah announced she had a headache and upset stomach.  Now it was her turn to flop on the bed to try and recover while Tim and Ellen (who was starving by now not having had anything to eat since yesterday lunch time) went down the corridor and ended up buying breakfast at the hotel’s coffee shop.

By mid-morning Hannah seemed recovered enough to have a short stroll to a nearby square in order to warm up in the sunshine and get some fresh air.  I’m glad to say that she managed to get her strength back fairly quickly and was even able to have something small to eat for mid-morning snack. 

Puno is so different from Cusco and Arequipa.  You still see quite a few taxis, but the streets aren’t jammed with them.  Whilst sitting in the square we were only asked once if we would like to have our shoes cleaned.  It seems that “shoe shine” is mainly for the local people.  I almost miss the ladies asking me if I would like a massage (I honestly can’t remember how many we were asked that question in Cusco, it was starting to drive me mad by the end of our stay there)!

After our mid-morning snack we decided to visit a couple of tourist places in order to get some information on trips to Amantani/Taquile and Sillustani.  The first place offered us the 2-day trip to the floating islands/Amantani (overnight stay) and Taquile for 60 Soles, but we were more interested in a company called “All Ways”, which organises its own tours and offers more money to the local people.  In the end we chose to go with them, it is a little more expensive but we know our money will go directly to the local people on Amantani island as we will be paying our host family 25 Soles/person directly.  We were also advised to take some food for our family, so we bought a 1kg bag of sugar and a 1kg bag of rice.  The man in the office told us that only a small group of 5 tourists was due to leave tomorrow, so we decided there and then to leave tomorrow and return on Wednesday, visiting the less touristy side of the Taquile island on the way back.

On Thursday we will then go on a one-day tour to Sillustani, which is only a 30 min drive by coach.  There we will visit a library and school where we might do some reading or drawing with the local children.

Once we booked our trips and paid for them we headed to the local supermarket to buy some goods for our host family.  Then it was back to the hotel to dump our stuff and top Ellen up with Calpol as she complained again of a headache.  Fortunately after a flop on her bed for about half an hour she recovered fully.  Back at the hotel we checked our emails and replied to some of them, but weren’t able to send them.  (We managed tonight though through Webmail.)

For lunch we went back to Ricos Pan (where earlier we had bought our mid-morning snack), Hannah chose a ham sandwich, Ellen a ham & cheese sandwich, Tim had a Buriffata (ciabatta roll with ham/lettuce and some sort of onion sauce) and I went for a vegetable quiche with carrots, spinach and mushroom.  The girls shared a banana juice (their favourite drink at the moment, one way of getting plenty of fresh fruit!), Tim had an ordinary tea and I chose “cafe cortado”, which was the smallest cup of coffee + milk I had ever seen – but it was extremely tasty.

After lunch we visited the other Central Supermercado and were pleasantly surprised at the size of it and the layout.  We arrived at the cheese counters and carried on past the meat counters, vegetable stalls, fruit stalls and cereals.  We went down the fruit stalls and walked past them slowly so we could compare the goods.  One lady came running towards us laughing and arms in the air – we had just walked past her stall!  I thought she was so funny and sweet that we turned around and bought our baby bananas, grapes and apples from her stall.  We then took our shopping back to the hotel (everything is within easy walking distance), grabbed our cameras and bottles of water and went back out to catch a taxi to a ship called “Yavari”.

Initially the taxi driver told us it would cost us 4 Soles, but once in the car their seemed to be some confusion as to which “Yavari” we wanted to go to. I thought there was only one, so told him we wanted to see the old ship. It would cost us 7 Soles instead as that ship was way outside the centre. Never mind, we paid our 7 Soles. The driver dropped us off at a very posh looking hotel and pointed to the ship on the lake. We got out and approached the security guard at the hotel, apparently to get to the ship you need to walk through the posh hotel’s reception and restaurant.

Once outside we walked down the garden and the wooden walkway, and were cheerily greeted by an older man in overalls. Turned out that he was involved with the restoration of the ship and after we had read the introduction he offered to guide us around the  ship.  The ship was made out of iron and all 2766 parts were made in England in the 1860s and then sent to Peru.  They were delivered by boat to Arica (now in Chile, but then in Peru), then put on a train to Tacna and then carried by men & mules for 290km to Puno.  It took 6 years to build two gunships.  The “Yavari” was launched on Christmas day 1870, the 2nd and smaller ship, the “Yapura” in 1873.  Several years ago an English lady (her name has just escaped me) started the restoration work, she believed her great-grandfathers were involved in the original building of the two ships.  The project entirely relies on voluntary donations of visitors, and the ultimate aim is to get the “Yavari” sea worthy again in a couple of years’ time to take tourists out on the lake.









Posh hotel on its own island near Puno

After we thoroughly enjoyed our visit we returned to the hotel for the girls to have some “play time” on the computers, followed by showers and supper out.  We went to a very local pizzeria where Tim & Ellen opted for lasagne, Hannah chose plain pasta with butter and I had spaghetti bolognese.  After quite a long wait, we were rewarded with very tasty food.  We ended up having a lovely conversation with Jeanette, the owner, who thought the girls were twins!  She asked for my email address in then end and wanted to know our plans for the next few days.  She promised us a Pisco Sour if we returned to the restaurant before moving on to Bolivia on Saturday … now there’s an offer we might not be able to refuse …

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Cusco to Puno

We were awake before the 6am mobile phone alarm – the girls sleep well, but we grown-ups have far more broken nights at altitude, it seems (I slept much better 3km lower in the jungle, despite the noisy wildlife!).

The girls’ special stones

A snack breakfast, final packing and out with all our luggage to get a taxi by quarter to seven. Several small taxis stopped for us – rather optimistically – but we needed a big one for our six backpacks plus extra bags of snacks, rain jackets, etc., for the trip. After four or five big empty taxis totally ignored us, one stopped for us and the driver knew exactly where to go, depositing us within feet of our waiting coach at the Inka Express terminal.

We checked in, loaded our two big rucksacks and found our front-row seats on bus number 2. A good view through the windscreen (with the driver sat lower) as well as to either side, so we have plenty of photos to choose from today…

As we set off, we were handed a glossy fold-out brochure about the route and the destination (Puno and Lake Titicaca), and we assumed that this was part of the luxury package. It then became apparent that these were for sale ($5 or 15 Soles) but we got one anyway as a souvenir/useful information source. (Indeed, it is helping to jog my memory as I write this entry.)

Five stops before Puno; four site visits and one lunch break. On board throughout the nine-and-a-half-hour journey we were offered coca tea, coffee, ordinary tea or water; we all stuck to water to accompany our biscuit snacks.

For the most part, we followed a well-maintained and fairly straight road (much better than the bumpy, twisty night journey from Arequipa to Cusco four weeks ago). And wonderful views of the Urubamba Valley (initially) with a cloudless sky overhead; a really scenic route to travel.





Our first stop; Andahuaylillas and its ornate church, known as the ‘Cusquenian Sistine Chapel’. Perhaps that’s going a bit far, and it is in need of a fair amount of restoration as the natural vegetable pigments used by the painters centuries ago have deteriorated. Vast amounts of gold leaf covering the altar; this was a church to mix Inti with INRI – i.e. the usual Catholic fixtures were topped off with representations of the sun (Inti is the Inka Sun God) for the locals to worship. Of course, all photography is forbidden inside the church, so you’ll have to Google it for yourselves…

Andahuaylillas church

Next up, the Palace of Wiracocha (the most important Inca Deity) at Raqchi. The sheer scale of it surprised us, as we have heard all about the major Inca sites near Cusco, but nothing about this one. Two hundred circular store-houses (some restored), each about 10 metres in diameter, many (remains of) houses and then the temple itself. This has a central supporting wall up to 20 metres high (the base is of perfectly-fitting stonework topped with adobe) and 22 pillars on either side used to support a vast thatched roof.

Raqchi pond





A little way on we stopped in Sicuani for the obligatory buffet lunch, only this time it was included in our ticket (well, apart from the fact that only hot drinks were included, so we had to splash out on a bottle of water for the girls). Not the best food we’ve had in Peru, but it filled us up for the rest of the journey.

We noticed what looked like every local family having a Sunday picnic at the river to do their washing; wet clothes hung on bushes to dry in the sun.

Blue loos

A short haul up to La Raya, which is a high pass (4300 metres) marking the boundary between the districts of Cusco and Puno; we had a brief photo stop, avoiding undue physical exertion.

Then a long drive to Pucara where we were shepherded around a small museum exhibiting pre-Inca artefacts (pottery and carved stones) found at a neighbouring archaeological site. Once again, no photos allowed – except for some stones standing outside.

The long road to Pucara

Square at Pucara

Central courtyard of museum, Pucara

The other claim to fame of Pucara is that it is where they make those bulls you see on rooftops (for fertility/prosperity/good luck, depending on your guide…)

Finally the long stretch along to Puno. The land is so flat here on the Altiplano, in marked contrast to the hills around Cusco. We passed through Juliaca – a sort of Peruvian Slough. Not the sort of place you would ever go for touristic reasons, unless to use its airport. Industry, pollution, a thriving black market (cheap goods from Bolivia) and 20,000 tricycle taxis, apparently. And somehow I failed to get a good photo of even one…

Beautiful Juliaca…


More photogenically, we drove alongside the Pucara river which hosts flamingoes from the north of Peru at this time of year.

As we neared Puno, the road degenerated to a dirt track and Ellen was travel sick after the long journey and the long day. Soon we were in Puno bus station and a taxi took us to our hotel near the centre of town (about 5.30pm by now). Percy (now is that a Peruvian name?) the Hotel Keeper met us outside and we were shown to our room.

A little cramped with four beds squeezed into it, but at least it’s facing away from the street. The long-sought internet access is disappointing (I am sitting at the end of the corridor outside our room to get a decent signal) but we have hot water and we are warm enough – and there is an eclectic selection of cable channels on the TV.

I popped out with Hannah to leave my passport number at reception and to get a few snacks and drinks for supper (Ellen has flopped out on her bed and isn’t fit to go out anywhere today); we found a mini supermarket at  the corner of our street – it only stocks non-perishables, though.

Tomorrow we’ll try to get some tours sorted out – the ‘ethical’ one I am interested in doing comes with a hefty price tag (e.g. 165 Soles for an overnight island stay, while Percy thrust a leaflet at me advertising the same sort of thing for only 60 Soles) but we’ll see if booking locally is cheaper than doing it online.

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At a loose end

Last full day in Cusco, and we’re at a bit of a loose end. Packing doesn’t take all day, and yet we can’t go off and do too much because we’ve an early start tomorrow. So we compromised and went into town for lunch and one last look around the centre.

And perhaps it is time to move on because Cusco was the busiest we’ve seen it so far; crawling with large groups of tourists seeing the sights in the blazing sun. At Jack’s Cafe they were queueing outside the door (and it’s the one place where we felt pressured to hurry up and finish so they could sit the next group down at our table) so we continued up the hill. Heidi’s lunch menu was a bit posher and more expensive than we were looking for, so we found ourselves back at Inka Andino for the third time. It only seats about 20 people, but we got our ‘usual’ table and ordered Salpicon de Pollo (for the third time) and chicken and chips to share. Just the right amount, but a shame the chips and chicken were a little undercooked.

Street down from San Blas to Plaza de Armas, with Heidi’s Restaurant on the right

Then to San Blas Square where there was a touristy craft market (we spotted it from the minibus last Saturday on the way to the jungle). A shop in a little courtyard off the square gave us a view of rickety old wooden balconies with washing hung out to dry.

Plaza de Armas

But it was so hot that we sought shade, eventually finding it in Plaza Regocijo. Time for an ice-cream from a shop opposite, and one tub plus two apple-flavoured cones came to a shocking 13 Soles, reduced to 12 Soles on appeal. You can get a couple of three-course lunches for that price round here.

Views from Plaza Regocijo


Another look in one of the bookshops that has a second-hand section – just one more children’s book there (Sweet Valley Kids) amongst the stacks of Mills & Boon and thrillers, so we got that for Ellen (who has finished two books while Hannah is still on her first one).

Then back by taxi, but our longest return journey yet because he either got lost or got the wrong district initially. We have come back via so many different routes over the past four weeks…

A rest, then out to the local playground – first time we’ve been there in three weeks – while I took photos of Avenida de la Cultura until it started to spit with rain, at which point we adjourned to one of the shelters in the square to check emails and put on yesterday’s blog.

Avenida de la Cultura


The local playground

We bought fresh rolls from Don Pedro & Don Esteban (where we had our cakes for tea a few days back) and had them for supper (including a weird one that looked like a pain au raisins but which contained ham and rosemary), with tinned peaches to follow. We’ve just about run our food supplies down ready for moving on, but we’ll have to get used to eating out more and managing without a kitchen for the next month and a bit.

Our home for the last four weeks



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Julie who?

The best model for long-term travel is to get a one-way ticket to somewhere, stay there for as long as you like and then move on somewhere else when you feel that the time is right. (And repeat until your money runs out.) We are now at the stage of feeling that we are ready to leave Cusco; we shall have been here for four weeks (minus a couple of trips away) and we have ‘done’ the main attractions and had plenty of rest days as well. No, we haven’t seen the whole city, but we’d like a change of scene, a change of accommodation, somewhere with internet access!

And this morning we got three positive replies from the three Puno hotels I emailed last night. Mosoq Inn (top rated on TripAdvisor) offered a four-bed room for $65, Camino Real discounted their usual $65 to $55, and Hotel Presidente blew them away with a room for all of us for 70 Soles (private bathroom, hot water, cable TV, wireless internet) – that’s about $24. They are also well reviewed so we’ll stay there for six nights and not worry about taking a night out elsewhere to stay on one of the islands in Lake Titicaca – had we stayed somewhere more expensive, we would have had the hassle of clearing out of our room, storing our surplus luggage and then moving back in again.

The only catch is that breakfast is not included, but apparently there are several good bakeries in Puno. So we’ll turn up Sunday evening, sort out our tours on Monday (and book our next bus and accommodation), take an overnight trip to the islands and a day trip to Sillustani and then have a catching-up day on Friday before moving on to Copacabana (Bolivia at last!) and then La Paz.

This is now the phase of booking ahead one place at a time, giving us flexibility as to how long we stay somewhere, but causing a few broken nights until we get something sorted out each time. (Especially when you have to leave the house to get internet access or check emails – how have we lived with that for nearly a month?) We have no more accommodation booked this side of New Zealand; just a couple of flights for which we have to be in the right place at the right time.

New Zealand will then offer us the luxury of pre-booked (and mostly pre-paid) accommodation for two months, before Australia and South-East Asia (Singapore/Malaysia) which are make-it-up-as-we-go-along.

Talking of taking to the streets to get internet access, I feel safer sitting out at night in the well-lit square just around the corner from us here than I would do sitting on a bench in Market Lavington. The uniformed security guards are always around with their ‘just to let you know I’m here’ short whistle blasts all the time (at first we kept thinking that we – or the girls – must be doing something we shouldn’t) and the atmosphere is non-threatening. No noisy mobs of drunken yobs roaming the night; young people congregate in small numbers to chat peaceably, women walk safely on their own, a few small children are up late with their parents.

The picture is no doubt rather different in other parts of Cusco, but in all our time in Peru so far, we have never felt unsafe (bar the odd unfounded concern about unmarked taxis…) Occasionally pestered by overpersistent street collectors who don’t seem to take ‘no’ for an answer. (‘Is for children with AIDS’, with dramatic emphasis on the final acronym – well, how do we know where the money from your tin is going?) But the majority of street vendors are good-natured, and the sunny voices of the llama ladies with their rising intonation on ‘no photo?’ are entirely charming.

As for today, we lunched on noodles/rolls and had empanadas for supper (all from the local Mega), did some school work in the morning with the girls, stuck tickets and things into scrapbooks in the afternoon, watched Zens. (The other day, Ellen commented that she had seen two films with Julie Andrews in – Mary Poppins and Mamma Mia. Mamma Mia? Some mistake, surely. Turned out to be Julie Walters…)

Also gathering our things for packing tomorrow, last bits of washing, doing some UCAS references for school, doing Sudoku puzzles. Now out to check emails…

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Not an awful lot happened today.

Armed with baby bananas and crisps, Zens for the girls and a Sudoku book for me, we all headed out to the square in order to check on emails and look into accommodation for Puno. On the way there, we spotted some people in the playground which we haven’t been to quite some time. The girls were keen to return, only the gate was closed with us on the outside trying to get in and a father and young son on the inside trying to get out. A lady approached us with the key. I ask her if we could enter the playground and was told it would cost 50 centimos! I was taken aback by that, I really thought playgrounds would be free all over the world, but not here … We decided to leave it and carry on towards the square.

Once there we noticed an email from a B&B place in Puno where we really wanted to stay, but unfortunately, they were booked up for 3 out of the 5 nights we had hoped to stay there. A real shame, but that’s life … Tim contacted another place, but we haven’t heard from them yet. (as I’m typing this, Tim has gone out to sort out photos for the blog and contact more hotels/B&Bs in Puno).

On the way home we stopped at the supermarket to buy four ciabatta rolls for £1 and decided to make a picnic lunch. We took it with us into the centre of town where we witnessed yet another parade. It is a bank holiday today, and for the “Cusquenos” a reason to party and parade.




Before having our lunch and watching the parade we had more pressing things to sort. We went to the office of Inka Express to book our luxury service coach tickets from Cusco to Puno. Tim haggled the price down a little and for $160 (for all 4 of us) we get four front seats on the second coach, five sight-seeing stops including buffet lunch and service on board. We leave at 7.30am on Sunday and should arrive in Puno around 5-5.30pm.

We had our lunch in one of the smaller squares and afterwards we headed back to Plaza de Armas to witness the end of the parade – again a lot of people dressed up (not sure about the monkeys) and dancing the same dance over and over again.

We wanted to cool off in another square, but on our way there accidentally walked past Museo Inka. This is one of the museums we had intended to visit, but we could never find it. The girls were up for it so we bought our tickets and in we went. At first I thought it would be like most of the other museums we had been to and only consist of one or two rooms with badly labelled exhibit cabinets, but I was very wrong. This was by far the best museum we have visited in Cusco. We saw lots of artefacts, miniature statues (including 40 turquoise figures, each about 2cm high – definitely the inspiration for ‘Go-gos’…), skeletons, paintings, weavings, etc. dating back between 100 and 7000 years. The girls’ favourites were the 3-D scenes representing life in the olden days – I, for one, wished we had brought their sketch books and pencils …

Once back out in the street, we all agreed we could do with a rest and went back to “Heidi’s cafe” which the girls really liked. They both chose vanilla ice cream and Tim & I shared fresh orange juice (well, they brought a mango juice by mistake to start with) and pineapple juice.

Before heading back home Tim thought he might like to try guinea pig. This is probably the one dish you need to order in advance so we headed up the road to another eating place we have been to several times to see if we could order it. Tim had a look on the menu outside, but on seeing an actual picture of the dish changed his mind. None of us were too impressed with the photographic evidence (a whole, skinned cuy) and decided to get a taxi home there and then.

Once home we all had a little rest (‘Bend it like Beckham’ dubbed into Spanish on TV) before going out to Etapoy again where the girls enjoyed another ‘Chicken & Chips’ dish, Tim chose a mixed meat kebab and I went for a chicken kebab (which unfortunately was very salty). Both girls had a good run around in the climbing area before going back home and getting ready for bed.

I’ll be turning in soon myself and hope Tim will be back soon with some news about accommodation in Puno.

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My beautiful laundrette

Another ‘down day’ to recover from our early mornings and to catch up with washing and blogs. I had a broken night readjusting to the altitude (they say your acclimatisation wears off in 48 hours and we were away for 72 hours); some breathing difficulty, a need to lose lots of fluid and also a tightness across the chest.

We got up luxuriously late at around 8am and didn’t go out in the morning apart from our standard excursion to the local square to collect emails and put the last four days’ entries onto the blog; Kirsten also briefly Skyped home until the connection failed. Ellen felt sick and took it easy for much of the day, lying on her bed watching her Zen; she had perked up again by this evening.

Lunch of ciabatta rolls with fresh pastries to follow. I popped out to upload our 72 jungle photographs to Flickr and to research buses to Puno, accommodation in Puno and trips from Puno. We might try to move on a few days early, say this coming Sunday, to give us enough time in Bolivia (we have to be in Calama, Chile, for November 14th for our next RTW flight).

Then we all went to ‘Don Pedro & Don Esteban’ (a posh eatery just around the corner) for tea – well, strawberry juices/coffees and large slices of chocolate mousse cake, apple pie, strawberry cheesecake and lemon meringue pie. Apart from good food, this establishment offers free internet access in a setting where we could take our time and look at things together (the internet place has limited space and nothing for the girls, and the square is usually too sunny to see the screen properly). We found a promising place to stay in Puno and emailed them for prices and details.

On the way back we collected our washing from the lavanderia; this time we are full of praise for the system – all done in 24 hours and returned on time, every garment with a little identification tag stapled to it. How long did it take to write all those labels, staple them and then sort all our 5kg of washing?

I returned home stuffed (after eating and drinking what the others couldn’t manage – too good to let it go to waste) and we opted for chicken soup and rolls for supper rather than going back to Etapoy for chicken and chips again (maybe another day).

Kirsten battled with the creosote stains some of the girls’ clothes acquired from the floor of the dining room at the jungle lodge (they treated the floor the day we arrived and it was slippery for the first two days). But we need something stronger to shift the marks. Any suggestions?

Another dark evening and another early night – it’ll be nice to go further south and get daylight right through to 10pm or so…

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