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Puno, Peru - 8th September 2009 - 7Arrived only about an hour late in Puno, via Juliaca. The guidebook was bang on this time when talking about Juliaca, that it’s just a big junction on the way to somewhere else. Looking more like Nazca but with American sized streets, this town houses the nearest airport to Puno and that’s about it. It was great to see some traditional dress in the streets but the living conditions were not such a welcome.

Puno is such a claustrophobic collection of small buildings and steep streets, like a mini San Francisco. Rubble in random places, buildings barely patched and holding together but still all smiles and a thriving community. Soon as we got off the bus, taxi drivers were waving for business and we hopped on for a 3 soles ride around town to the hotel. The driver was trying to explain the local area in Spanish but managed to break a few key words of English to help us along.

Again, the streets are narrow and the drivers fast and erratic but it all flows like water, seeming held together by some invisible thought process that makes everyone aware. The hotel (Qelqatani) is pretty awesome and would compare to a 4 star back home. It’s rated a 3 star here and covers everything you would need under one roof.

While checking in, we were offered some Coca tea. As the Inca Trail hike will be supplying us with an endless amount of the plant that makes cocaine, I figured I’d better try it out to see if my body rejected it. Thankfully no bad reactions so far and the taste is somewhat similar to a green tea.

After settling in, it was time for a quick walk around the Plaza before it got too dark. As I discovered in Arequipa, there’s no shortage of churches and small cathedrals from colonial imposition but still, they are some wonderful buildings. Just across the road from the cathedral, there was some kind of protest going on. Wanting to avoid getting mixed up in any local arguments, we made a diversion and headed back to the hotel.

Getting pretty hungry by this time and it was dark outside, so the concensus was to eat in the hotel restaurant for tonight, as we weren’t familiar enough with the area. The menu had some great looking meals with Kingfish, Trout and Alpaca on the list, all of which are local items I really wanted to try. Bizarrely, all items except the few Euro dishes and a Pisco sour, were not available.

I ended up ordering a dry and bland Chicken Cordon Bleu – seriously, how can you screw this up? You knew it was going to be bad, when the food arrived with eyes and a smiley face arrangement. For that sole reason, the hotel loses most of the kudos I had given it, for its effort to cater to people who wanted something clean and classy, amongst the dirt and poverty of Puno. Maybe in that statement I’m missing the point – I should have opted for a cheaper place that was run by locals, and had a much better experience.