Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Day 1 Lake Titicaca - The Day I Almost Lost Jay

High Drama Unfolded Upon Our Arrival In Puno

The next stop on our Peruvian adventure was the world's funniest named lake: Lake Titicaca. Also the world's highest lake, Titicaca straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia. For the next few days, we planned to base ourselves in Puno, touring the lake's islands and recovering from our trek.

We booked our activities in Puno in advance, through our hostel in Cusco. Vicki, the woman who worked at our hostel, sold us a tour package for 45 dollars each. That included a boat ride to the Uros' Floating islands, an overnight with a family on Amantani Island for new years, a trip to Taquille Island, and transportation to and from our lodgings in Puno. She also made a reservation for us at the Hostel Margartita in Puno. We'd be picked up from the bus and driven there. It seemed like a great deal.

The six hour bus ride gave us both plenty of time to do something we should have done all along... actually read the guidebooks we had purchased back in the States. In them, we found out some fascinating information. Including the following tidbit:

"Tours of Lake Titicaca, including the floating islands and an overnight with an indigenous family on Amantani Island start at around $12."


We asked these two Irish guys who were on our bus how much they paid for their Lake Titicaca tour.

"20 bucks," they said.

So we got screwed out of $25 bucks each. Not a huge deal. But it got us thinking. After 4 days roughing it, and a week of nice but basic hostels, we weren't sure we wanted to stay in the hostel Vicki had set up for us. We hadn't paid for the hostel yet, so it seemed we were free to look around. The guidebook listed about a hundred different places to stay in Puno, including 4-star hotels for just $45 a night. We decided that there was nothing we could do about overpaying for the tour, but at least we could find a hotel on our own that was worth the money.

Traveler's Tip: The bus service we took from Cusco to Puno was iMexo, for $20. Comfortable, pleasant ride with free cake and fanta. Also stopped at a great viewpoint, see below. Highly recommended.

I had a lot of fun looking out the windows while we were on our long bus rides. They may seem like the perfect time to sleep, but if you keep your eyes open you'll really get to see the Peruvian countryside.

On The Way To Puno
A Quick Stop Along The Way To Puno

Our bus arrives in Puno, and the second we step off, we see a woman holding a sign with my name. Vicki's counterpart at the Hostel Margarita. She's with a cab driver and another guy, who's some sort of tourist agent.

We get in the car, but try to explain that we're not sure if we want to stay at the hostel. We'd like to look around and see what else is out there. The woman doesn't speak a word of english, and doesn't seem to understand our butchered spanish. Luckily, the tourist agent translates our message. The woman seems fine with this.

We get to the hostel, check it out. It's nice enough, but nothing special. Jay meanwhile, has already picked out a hotel from the guidebook. "Large spacious rooms, cable tv, room service, three stars..." I have to agree, it sounds awesome.

So we tell the woman thanks, but we'd like to look around. We may end up coming back
if we don't find another place that's better. We walk out into the street and begin heading down the block.

Suddenly, the woman races down the street after us, shouting in Spanish. We stop. "Tu Pagas Para Taxi," she demands. "Dinero para taxi."

She wants us to pay for the cab, which we were pretty sure was included in the $25 bucks we overpaid. We're tired, we're pissed, we just want to get away from this woman. She demands 3 soles... 1 buck. But I don't have any small change on me. Not that I feel like paying anyway. We said we might come back... if we went back, would she give us the cab money back? All this shouting just convinced us not to stay at her place.

"Come on, we don't have to deal with this crap," Jay says, and starts walking away.

I continue trying to reason with the woman, who is becoming more irate each second. A woman on the street connects eyes with me and gives me a "I-feel-your-pain" look.

I turn around, and see Jay disappear behind a corner. "I've got to go... mi amigo..."

"Tu es rata! Rata!" The woman snarls angrily.

I assume that means I'm a rat. I apologize, and run down the street, my huge backpack bouncing up and down.

But I get to the corner, and don't see Jay. Maybe he headed towards that hotel... what was it's name? Started with a Q? How do you say Q in spanish?

I walk further down the block and reach a main street. I look off in both directions. No giant backpacks. No Jay. Did he run to get away from that woman? Where could he be? I'm starting to panic. Jay doesn't have a cell phone. We've been in town for five minutes and don't know the lay of the land. We have no established meeting place. To top it off, I'm pretty paranoid that the lady at the hostel called the cops.

I wander down to the Plaza de Armas. Still no Jay. I'm a little afraid to head back to where I lost him, because that woman might still be there. But it's the best option if I'm ever going to see Jay again. Now... where was it? Did I turn right or left? ...sh*t.

I'm lost in a foreign city, no way of contacting Jay. I almost sit down on the curb and cry. Then a little boy comes running around the corner.

"Buscando por Tu amigo?"

My heart leaps. "Mi amigo! Si! Donde esta?"

The boy beckons me to follow him. We walk up the street, turn a corner, and there, in the distance, is a big gray backpack.


He turns. "Huntman!" (its a nickname)

We hug. Yeah, its not manly to admit that, but it was a pretty cinematic moment.

The woman who witnessed the argument with the hostel lady had sent her son to reunite us. We thanked her profusely.

Then, together, we walked into the Qelqatani Hotel. Or as I call it.. heaven.

The Lobby
They've Put In A New TV Since This Pic Was Taken

Big, american style hotel rooms, plush king size beds, a shower with a detachable showerhead, room service, complimentary bottled water... Jay and I immediately decided that this was where we'd stay.

We decided then and there to cancel our plans to travel the 12 hour or so bus ride to Arequipa (where we would probably have to do more hiking) and stay instead in the Lake Titicaca area.

That night we dined on lomo saltado (stir fried beef with tomatoes, onions and fried potatoes) with apple pie and ice cream for dessert. And a bottle of wine. All delivered to our room while we watched "The OC." After four days of living the dirt life, we were ready for a bit of luxury.

Double Room
A Qelqatani Room, Similar To Ours

Qelqatani, how I love thee.

(In case you're wondering, we did go back and pay the woman her 3 soles. People hate Americans as it is)

Tomorrow, the floating Islands, New Year's Eve on Amantani, and The End of El Corazon.


On a different note:

Did you watch Fox News call Obama a terrorist? Let the ridiculous smear campaigns begin.

Fox issues a half-assed mea culpa.

Tonight, The State Of The Union. Don't you wish it was the season premiere of Lost instead??

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