Monday, February 10, 2014

Puno Preparation and Departure!

I am very far behind in blogging because of my trip to Puno, so please forgive my tardiness.  This post is about Thursday and Friday, the rest is coming soon; hopefully tomorrow.

Thursday was a relatively routine day in the clinic.  One birth, rounds, etc.  The main significant aspect was that there was another foreigner working in the clinic today!  Her name is Sofia, and she’s a med student from Italy.  It was cool to get to talk to her and learn about another medical system.  The schooling is more similar to Peru.  America might be the only place where we have to go to university first then apply to med school. 

On my way to the plaza to meet some ProWorld people for dinner before my bus left, I got onto a bus and had another new experience.  In the isle was a man playing his guitar and singing.  This must be common, since everyone else was carrying on exactly as usual.  I was genuinely impressed by his ability to stand on a moving vehicle and play.  He did ask for tips afterward from his captive audience. 

Now will begin the narrative of my Puno experience.  I don’t hesitate to call this weekend one of the best I’ve ever experienced, certainly during my time in Peru.  As you will soon find out, my complements are not because nothing went wrong.  Rather, everything was an unpredictable adventure.  It came in all shapes and sizes, from beautiful nature to ancient ruins, getting lost in a foreign city to a hail storm, new friends to dancers with bizarre, extravagant outfits.  Unfortunately I am having a problem with my main memory card, which I used until Saturday night.  If I can figure out how to extract the files I will later accompany this post with pictures, but right now my computer is unable to access any of the first 500 pictures I took on this trip.  I do have over 400 more of the festival Saturday and Sunday, but that post likely won’t be ready for a few days.  I advise that you look up the sights I describe to you on google.  I did manage to write the following on Friday night, so the following is copy-pasted from my notebook. 

At 9:30 last night, I arrived in the bus station.  Katherine, Michelle, and Rani arrived later than expected; approximately 9:47.  We thought we could just get right on our 10:00 bus, but our assumption was incorrect.  In order to board, we had to pay a tasa, or tax.  The 1.30 soles was no problem, but the long line that snaked through the bus terminal was ominous.  We’ve become accustomed to waiting excessively long in lines in Peru, further extracting any remaining calm from among us.  Fortunately the line moved quickly, and soon we were safe and sound in our seats on the bus.
Or so we thought.  After a few minutes a couple came up to Michelle and I, telling us we were in their seats.  Both sets of tickets showed the same seat numbers.  We were double booked.  I didn’t panic just yet because we were the ones already sitting.  Eventually the man from the bus company came and told us to move to another pair of seats.  Apparently 2 buses were combined last minute so some ticket discrepancies arose.  Eventually everything worked out, but other customers were more difficult to work with than we were.
The ride itself was long, boring, and uncomfortable.  Exactly as expected.  I likely managed 3 hours of sleep.  On the bright side, our bus didn’t fall off a cliff!  J

We arrived in Puno before 5 AM, where someone was supposed to be holding a sign with my name on it.  Nope.  We looked for about 30 minutes, then gave up and took a cab to the hotel Monica told me we would be staying at.  We showed up at their doorstep at 5:30 AM to find out that we weren’t on the reservation list and there were no vacancies.  Considering I didn’t even have a receipt, it was a tad disconcerting that nothing was going as planned.  I called Monica and she didn’t answer.  Even though I hated doing it, I called Sandro since I knew he could help me.  He tracked down Monica and she contacted the people in Puno, who met us at the hotel we were waiting in.  She was very nice, and explained that this hotel increased prices for the weekend so they were forced to switch hotels.  Finally we arrived at our actual hotel and slept for 2 hours before having to report for the Islas Uros.

All went smoothly with the floating islands.  They are made entirely out of 5-8 meter long reeds and their roots from Lake Titicaca.  Every week the rotting reeds at the bottom of the island are replaced by new ones above.  Each Saturday the men are committed to this task.  When not replacing the island, the roots are used as food for the people, which I got to try as part of the tour.  Yuummm.  Actually it was basically flavorless, but the experience was fun.  They have anchored the islands to the bottom of the lake, which is about 20 m below the surface of the water on which they float.  One to five families live on each of these marvels.    They’re incredible, and they represent a completely different lifestyle.  There are so many things we don’t have to think about because we live on land.  We can have gardens, we can bury sewage in the dirt, we don’t need to worry about putting more material under our house every week lest it sink into a lake.  It’s a beautiful place to visit though.  Incredible that people have adapted to living on reeds above 20 meters of water for a thousand years.

After the tour, a bus was supposed to take us back to our hotel.  The driver didn’t actually have the slightest idea where our hotel was so he dropped us off in a random, distant part of the city.  By asking taxi drivers and store owners we were able to get close, but a taxi ended up taking us the rest of the way because we were frustrated, confused, and disappointed that napping was forcefully ripped from our afternoon. 

The last visit of the day was Sillustani.  Beautiful, pre-Incan structures estimated to be 6,000 years old.  These towers were up to 12 meters tall and are cylindrically shaped.  Yet another feat of ancient men.  There were many interesting mysteries surrounding these structures.  For instance, the nearest town of that time was 100 km away.  Apparently these people believed that the dead would come to life at night, so putting them far away was best for the society.  Our guide also rattled on about the significance of the number 12 in Incan and Pre-Incan structures.  For example, there is a famous rock in a temple wall in Cuzco that has 12 corners.  Of course the Incans were using meters for their measurement, so 12 meters was intentional.  Right.  The trip ended with some spectacular natural beauty.  I certainly hope I can resurrect those pictures to show you, they’re absolutely stellar.

If you thought the absurdities of our day had ended, I’m afraid you’re wrong.  An immense thunderstorm hit while we were driving through the mountains on the way home from Sillustani.  Lightning several times a second.  Driving wind and rain.  Enough hail that it was 2 inches thick on the road.  Conveniently the windshield wipers stopped working when the storm hit, so we pulled over for caution’s sake.  I was having the time of my life with the extreme weather.  It may have been excessive because I was so excited, but I still have friends so it’s all good J  Eventually the driver fixed the wiper and we returned to Puno, which had become one gigantic ice-river.  Inches of water flowing through the streets, demonstrating the dysfunctional drainage system of the city.  At this point we scarcely wanted to exit the hotel for dinner, but we did venture out and get a quality meal for 5 soles.  The rest of our night was tranquil. 

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