Puno and Tacna

Puno (June 21 - 23, 2016)
Our commute to Puno was an adventure in itself. We could quickly tell that there was an issue with the engine, most likely with overheating. The bus constantly took breaks on the side of the road, until two hours in, where the bus stopped totally. The passengers waited for an hour, many stepping off the bus. I got startled when a woman, like an actress in a Spanish soap opera, dramatically started yelling in Spanish as if a life-threatening emergency was occurring. The backup bus arrived. Some commuters didn’t have an assigned seat since they boarded the bus later on the side of the street, and overfull, 2 people had to nest in the hallway. So now the passengers with assigned seats didn’t want their spots stolen by the others. I never saw a transfer that fast. After a minute, moving their belongings first, everybody had taken their spot on the second bus. Because of this fiasco, our 7-hour ride got extended to 9 hours. Every time the driver would stop at a station, passengers furiously yelled “let’s go” in hope to rush along the driver. I was glad others were annoyed, since I had concerns at arriving at my destination during the wee hours.

With us having researched hostel options prior, arriving at night didn’t end up posing an issue. The nice hostel felt more like a hotel. After a sturdy, complimentary breakfast, we were off to Lake Titicaca. The floating islands are the major attractions of Puno. For $1.30 we could have taken a boat over to an island, but caught up in the moment and unaware of this option, we ended up with a last-minute tour for $8.

View from our boat ride to the floating islands

View from our boat ride to the floating islands

The tour offers background information on the history, native citizens (Uru), and construction method of the islands. Funny to learn how the Incas, a major empire, ignored conquering these islands because they were considered unimportant. The Incas collapsed, the Uru people are still alive today. The islands lack natural resources, obviously. The ground being totora reefs woven together makes the islands only useful for shelter. In addition to being building material, the reefs are utilized for food, apparently especially healthy for the teeth, keeping the choppers white and shiny. For Lake Titicaca, the “Titi belongs to Peru, and the “Caca” to Bolivia (joke by guide since the lake stretches in both countries.)

Today the locals rely heavily on tourism. Most people are naturally curious about other people’s homes, which makes viewing their humble dwellings from the inside enthralling. There is not much to see in the tiny huts, but as the owner explains their home, comparing them to other options is still entertaining.

Standing on a floating island

Standing on a floating island

I enjoyed meeting the natives, but hated the constant peer pressure. During the tour, I felt guilty for not purchasing handcrafted goods, nor taking the special, reef boat ride. The entire time the guide would emphasize how much the locals rely on tourism to pay for schooling and medication. Trying to get tourists to pay for the local boat ride to the bigger island, the island president kept pressing on for us to go. Initially charging $3, the two of us ended up getting a half off deal ($1.50) and told to not tell anybody else. We declined. Multiple times. Constantly needing to explain why not. The bigger island is just a minute away, and we ended up going there anyways with the regular boat because we needed to pick up the other people. Glad we didn’t spend the extra money. If you go, they will first sing some songs in their language to you, and for some hilarious reason also the song “My Bonnie lies over the ocean.”

What I found the most fun about the island, was the strange feeling standing on the reefs. Has this bouncy, squishy quality to it. I think the island is worth going to, just hide your wallet and don’t succumb to the pressure if you don’t want the items.

One of the floating islands

One of the floating islands

Other than Lake Titicaca, the Puno is a small, quiet town. The only additional advice I can give revolves around food. If you want to eat cheaply, ask for the local market. While eating at the market, I didn’t see one other foreigner. Standing out, lots of kids stared at me. A girl made a point to touch my arm while she walked past me, but this didn’t bother me. I ate up, and returned to the hostel to make preparations for departure the following day.

Cost breakdown of Puno in USD:

  • Hostel: $17.86 (2 nights)
  • Transportation: $6.49
  • Food: $7.89
  • Activity: $8.04 (Floating Islands)
  • Miscellaneous: $5.06 (laundry)

Daily Average Cost: $ 22.66

Tacna (June 23 - 24, 2016)
Tacna is a town at the border to Chile. We stayed here solely due to its location. From the regional bus terminal, we took a cab to the international terminal. The nearby restaurant options are at this terminal. 2 blocks away, a row of cheap hotels compete for your business. In the morning we caught a bus to the border crossing. Everything went smooth, until we got into Chile… Keep tuned for my first post about Chile, where one weird occurrence after the other happened on the same day.

Cost breakdown of Tacna in USD:

  • Hotel: $5.21 (1 night)
  • Transportation: $5.06
  • Food: $2.08

Daily Average Cost: $ 12.35