After an exhausting two days in the Cusco region of Peru — where for the entire 48 hours we felt simultaneously sluggish and rejuvenated by a new, exciting culture — and a day traveling via bus down to southern Peru, my pals & I eagerly arrived in Puno on a drizzly, gray February Friday night.
When we planned our weeklong trip, we separated it into three main stops: Cusco, Puno and Lima. By the end of the week, it was unanimously decided that Puno was our least favorite stop on our tour through Peru, and if we could have redone the trip, we might have even skipped it altogether for more time in Lima. It’s not that we hated Puno… the city just left a lot to be desired and we absolutely loooooved Lima.Rolling into Puno that evening, we immediately sensed that it was a grittier town than we’d experienced in Cusco — a town lacking that old world charm & a place where we felt like we had to keep a tighter hold on our bags. Not far from Puno, we passed through the city of Juliaca while on the bus, and we were told it was one of the most dangerous places in Peru. How great! We were flying out of Juliaca just a few days later! Within a few hours of checking into our (Joe Paterno win-inspired) hotel room, we realized that our time in Puno would be anything but a restful one. Apparently, we ever so serendipitously booked our time in Puno for the exact weekend of the Festividad Virgen de la Candelaria… aka a weekend-long celebration of the Virgin Mary. While this may at first sound like a nice, respectful religious commemoration of an important figure in the Catholic faith, what it actually turned out to be was a LITERAL FORTY-EIGHT HOUR LONG FIESTA of round-the-clock brassy parades, dancing and partying in the streets.
At first, it was thrilling! We heard the parade coming from our fifth floor room that looked directly down into the street, and we excitedly flung upon the windows to capture the merriment with our cameras and iPhones. It passed by and we were all jittery and pleased with ourselves for getting such a prime spot to watch all the action.
Then it came back.
Then it came back again. And again. And again. All night. Continuously. Perpetually. Non-stop. At midnight. And at 1am. And at 4am. And at 430am… Sometimes at night, while I’m sleeping peacefully in my bed 4,500 miles away from Puno, I abruptly wake up drenched in sweat, panting loudly, and with the sound of the trumpets and drums and cheers that repeatedly passed by our window that weekend playing in my head. They haunt me until I remember that I’m back in Colorado now. It’s May. The parade is over. It won’t come back anymore & I’m safe.
Though the parade was annoying and intrusive upon our sleeping schedules, we did try to have some perspective for the most part, and remembered that this was a beloved and long-lasting tradition of the Peruvians in Puno. We came to Peru in search of cultural experiences beyond anything we’d ever encountered before, and we definitely found them during our stay in this city. While the parade kept us up and put us in cranky moods somewhere around 3am those nights, we purposefully chose to stop in that city for the major tourist attraction that is Lake Titcaca and the famous floating islands known as Las Islas de Uros.
Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America, bordering Peru and Bolivia, and its biggest claim to fame is that it is the “highest navigable lake in the world” (meaning there are 2 other bodies of water that are actually at higher elevations, but they are much much smaller and much much shallower) — it’s surface elevation is more than 12,000 feet!
Our first morning after a semi-sleepless night, we hopped a boat to the floating islands to see what they were all about. It ended up being one of the strangest places I’ve ever experienced in my life… in a good way.
Las Islas de Uros/the floating islands are a group of islands made entirely out of reeds. The people of the floating islands — the Uru people — have been living this way for thousands of years, and they even have their own language apart from Spanish.
We learned so much about them on our brief stay on their homes: their diets consist mostly of fish and reeds, going on “dates” for the Uru people usually means going on a little boat (also made out of reeds) ride around the lake and talking, and until very recently, they were completely electricity-free. They used to use candles for light at night, but stopped doing so after a few (reed) huts got accidentally burned down… Now, many of the huts use donated solar panels to power their electricity — while touring the islands, a nice woman let us see her home and showed us that she has even as a TV inside! The people of the islands live simply and are happy to do so.
After awhile of learning about the islands and touring the homes of some of the island’s inhabitants, we were invited on a boat ride around Lake Titicaca on a reed boat. We took our seats on the boat and were promptly greeted by an overly friendly little girl named Josefina (whose mother showed us her TV) and she became our pal for the duration of the trip. She was pretty cool and we were able to communicate with her through our essentially-elementary-level Spanish, but she had a lot of snacks that she refused to share with us. It was pretty rude, Josefina. (lol)
For me, the floating islands made our trip to Puno worth the headache. Had I known just how long the parade would last and how loud it would be, I’m still not sure I would have chosen to go. But one thing is for sure — I’ll never forget Josefina and her pretty mama and the happy people of Las Islas de Uros who were so eager to share their lifestyle with us.
We returned to the mainland in Puno, and after a refreshing little nap that afternoon, we aimlessly wandered and joined the partying streets… and ended the night with ice cream. Because obviously.
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