Monday, October 14, 2013
Arequipa to Puno and Lake Titicaca – Peru
After our return from Machu Picchu, our next venture in exploring Peru is Lake Titicaca. We have decided to rent a car and take Winston with us. This involves the search for pet-friendly hotels but since the larger town of Puno will be our base, we found several that would allow pets. At $20.00 per night, we settled on one of the less expensive hostels, Hostel El Manzano since we definitely splurged in Machu Picchu. We are also hoping to cross the border into Bolivia and spent a few extra days in Arequipa waiting for the rental company to get the paperwork together and notarized. We were told we would have to contact an agent at the border in Desaguadero to help us get across, so we can only hope. This will be our third attempt to get into Bolivia and at this point we are ambivalent about it. If it happens, great, if not we will see Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side and then go to Colca Canyon for a couple of days on the way back. From Arequipa it takes about 6 hours to get to Puno and we are traveling over the Andes at the highest elevations we have taken so far. Arequipa sits in the Andes at about 8,200 feet (2,560 meters) and Lake Titicaca is at 13,300 feet (4,150 meters), breath-taking in more ways than one. At that elevation we know the air is getting really thin and the simplest of activities become heart pounding with the possibility of nausea and headaches. We are hoping that having lived in Arequipa for the past month we will have acclimatized somewhat and not experience too many problems. We will leave the motorhome at Hostel La Mercedes and after getting some travel information from Ursula, we have the car loaded and Winston ecstatically panting at the opportunity to come along with us is settled on the back seat with his pad and pillow. After leaving Arequipa with its two towering volcanoes, El Misti and Chacani behind we turn north and begin our steady climb over high mountain passes, past incredible snow capped cone shaped volcanoes and shimmering Andean lakes. The day is gorgeous, sunny with a little breeze. We pass the local wildlife, camelids – llama, alpaca and at higher altitude the rare and beautiful vicuna. At first we could not tell them apart but they all have a subtle but distinctly different appearance. Guanaco, which we had first seen in Argentina are the most common and seem to range over a variety of elevations. They are the largest, with long necks, legs and a slim body. They do not vary in color being light brown and white. Llamas also have long necks but are smaller and are usually white or cream color. Alpaca are well, they are funny looking. They have a more squished face and their coat, unless it has been recently sheared is long and curly. They also come in a myriad of colors, all shades of brown, white, grey, cream and black. Then there are the vicunas. Similar to a llama but much more delicate looking and graceful they live at the highest elevations. Almost hunted to extinction due to their prized wool, they are protected and only in the past few years have the herds increased. Now, the gathering of their wool is state monitored and sells for hundreds of dollars. I had tried on a vicuna coat in Arequipa. It was gorgeous, softer than any cashmere or alpaca that I had felt and supple and warm and….$7,000.00. Men sweaters are around $900.00 and even a simple scarf sells for about $500.00. A little out of our price range, we were happy with alpaca. Seeing the vicuna in small herds on the high pampas was a testament to how, given a little forethought and effort, we can save a species. While Tom and I talked about the animals, Winston was content to bark at them every now and again. Given our frequent stops for photographs and to let Winston stretch his legs the projected 6 hour drive was in reality for us about 8 hours, but that was okay. We are in no real hurry. Although Puno is the largest town on Lake Titicaca, it has the appearance of being about 50 years behind the curve. A few cars are on the streets but small mopeds predominate, many converted into taxis. Another popular taxi mode was converted bicycles which Tom and I decided not to use. Our combined weight would have been too much for the poor cyclist, besides they looked a little flimsy. El Manzano was almost exactly how we pictured it but a little nicer. Our room was large and clean with plenty of thick blankets for the freezing nights ahead. There was an attractive grass and flower filled courtyard for Winston to roam and check out and the staff were friendly and knowledgeable. All for $20.00 a night, breakfast included. Perfect for us for the next three days and ideal for Winston. Now we need to see the lake.