April 10, 2015 (Friday)
The next morning (at a reasonable hour, thank goodness!) our group was off to the boat. As we pushed off the dock I realized I’d left my camera in the hotel. The other Brian was kind enough to let me use his smaller camera, and he would send me the pictures after his return to AZ. His was the same make as mine but with a much higher resolution. At our first stop we received a simple demonstration on how the floating islands were constructed using cut reeds and mud, followed by a reenactment of how the locals barter with the mainlanders over needed supplies. The toddler daughter of one of these bartering women joined in the process to the consternation of her mother but to the delight of the tourists. Needless to say many photos of the cranky child were taken during our stay. Most of the island inhabitants' spending money comes from tourist purchases of goods made on the island, so the second half of our visit was spent shopping.
Our group then took a local boat (as opposed to our tour boat) -- designed, built and operated by islanders -- to our lunch spot. As we departed the women sang to us in thanks and farewell. The local boat took us to another island where we had lunch of trout and vegetables served at a restaurant which could just barely fit our number at the table. On the trip back to the mainland most of us sat up top on the boat until Betty chased us down at the arrival of the Peruvian equivalent of the Coast Guard. Apparently we were supposed to be wearing life vests when riding on top of the boat.
For our last night in Puno (and in Peru) the group once again scheduled a dinner, and once again John and Joy (with my assistance) were put in charge of finding a place. We settled on Colors, because it had an upstairs area that would seat a group of 13 comfortably. Also it was only a couple of blocks from either hotel. John texted Arelys to see if she’d care to join us (we had seen her in another tour bus on the road to Puno), but she was doing a family stay on Islas Uros that night. Once reservations were secured, we were left to our own devices until dinner. I bought some Inca Kola. It was sweet for my taste, like Mountain Dew in color and flavor. But when in Peru. I stopped at a lovely little artisan shop where I picked up a gift then spent a relaxing hour sipping a café latte at a nearby coffee shop while waiting for a rain shower to pass. At some point a small group of American tourists arrived and raised a fuss with the staff when they received a bill in soles yet paid in US dollars. They had failed to grasp the concept of an exchange rate. This went on for a time, and I debated stepping into the fray, when two local girls who spoke English intervened and helped sort everything out. These Americans weren’t ugly per se, but they were sadly ignorant, or (if I were to be more generous) woefully unprepared for their trip at a fundamental level.
Dinner was delightful and went smoothly considering the size of our party. The trout (yes, again!) was good but was blackened, which I didn’t care for compared to the previous trout preparations. Rain chased us back to our respective hotels. The next morning we were to check out by 10:00 a.m., so I hoped to get up early enough for breakfast and perhaps a jaunt to one of the nearby lookouts for a vista of the city before leaving for the airport.
According to Lonely Planet, Puno has a worse crime problem than the other places we’d visited. Certain areas should be avoided in the evening and walking places alone was discouraged.
Another curious Peru fact was their monetary fastidiousness. You should never accept torn soles, because a proprietor may not accept it. Banks and currency exchange places wouldn’t accept $US dollars with even minor blemishes and tears. They refused anything obviously flawed and, even at the bank, each bill was meticulously inspected. Someone should remind them that in the U.S. we use bills more than once.
April 11, 2015 (Saturday)
At breakfast the next morning I had my usual yogurt and cereal, when John pointed out that the hotel was offering eggs any style. I had scrambled. John ordered an omelet. Breakfast ran long, and my stomach was jumpy, so I didn’t get out to any scenic views. John had told the Asian contingent to be ready at 9:45 a.m. for our bus ride to the airport. I thought he was being clever. The day before the contingent had been late, because they failed to wear warm enough clothes and had to go back to their rooms and change. As it turns out, he wasn’t. I was putting the finishing touches on my packing about 9:45 a.m. when I started getting calls from the front desk. Apparently Betty the guide had already arrived and was anxious to pick the upgrade group up. She even sent the porter up to knock on my door. I ignored the knock because I was using the facilities as a final precaution before departure. As I left the room, the porter grabbed my suitcase, and my telephone started ringing again. I just shut the door and left.
The bus ride to Juliaca was uneventful. The roads were in decent shape despite the downpour the night before. Betty dropped us off for our flight. In Lima we would have an 11-hour layover until the plane to LAX departed at 2:00 a.m.
John, Joy and I took a cab into Central Lima. Our driver, Lincoln, agreed to pick us up in front of the La Catedral de Lima at 10:00 p.m. and return us to the airport. The plan was to catch as many sites as we could before most of them closed around 5:30 or 6:00 p.m., then grab a bite to eat, stroll around the area, maybe get souvenirs, and wait for our pick up. Some mucky muck was getting married at the cathedral when we arrived. There was significant security presence in the area.
Our first stop was the Monasterio de San Francisco to tour the catacombs below. An English speaking tour started in 10 minutes. Our timing was perfect. The guide was very enthusiastic, and the crypts were amazing. The smell of death permeated, and it felt genuinely claustrophobic. The tour lasted longer than expected, so we couldn’t see any other sites that evening. We meandered down to the Plaza San Marco where a Latina songstress had drawn a huge crowd. We jostled our way to a bakery called Pasteleria San Martin and tried the turron de Dona Pepa, an incredibly sweet dessert. I should have grabbed an espresso as well. Yikes, sweet was an understatement. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, so the proprietor boxed up the leftovers.
By then it was time for real food, so we walked back toward the Plaza de Armas and found a quaint local eatery called El Cordano. John ordered the goat but was disappointed. I had a pesto pasta dish, which was filling but quite good. We split a couple of large beers for the table. We still had about 90 minutes to kill, so we did some souvenir shopping.
The Lonely Planet guide was always warning of pickpockets. Unfortunately we encountered a team on a crowded street corner, with a policeman only a few feet away. I saw a youngish man approaching, carrying a large box over his head. I stepped out of the way to give him room to pass, but he nevertheless clocked Joy on the back of the head with the box. Joy responded with understandable profanity. A moment later a woman pointed out that Joy’s backpack zipper was open. Sure enough, while the guy with the box created a diversion, his unseen partner opened the zipper and nicked Joy’s phone and sunglasses. Joy was distraught, and John was furious. We spent the next 45 minutes contacting their cell carrier to report the phone stolen and get it turned off. We agreed not to speak of this to the others, so as to not to end the trip on a sour note. Lincoln was a little late picking us up due to traffic (that I believe; Lima drivers are insane) and took us back to the airport.
Linda, Debbie and Dan were flying out on an earlier fight to Miami, and Linda was stressed due to the sudden onset of Atahualpa’s Revenge. She took an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicine, which, I found out later, worked well. The rest of us were flying to LA, and that flight had now been delayed to 3:00 a.m. Aside from the delay, and the fact that you could not bring bottled water onto the plane (even bottles you had purchased in the airport), the flight was painless. Apparently I was so dehydrated that the 2/3 bottle of water I guzzled before boarding the plane didn’t make its way through me. I slept most of the flight. I had bought a neck pillow, which really was a lifesaver on this trip. We said our goodbyes at the baggage claim. I hope to see John and Joy and Brian and Nikki when next I’m in Arizona. It took a while for me to find my Super Shuttle check in; but, once that was done, it was smooth sailing.
After unpacking (which I like to do immediately) I went to Rae’s diner to meet friends John Mark, Kurt and Rachel for brunch. I loved my Peru adventure, but it was good to be home again.