Ballestas arch (Harold Greig)
Karen was ill with altitude sickness this morning when we packed and left our room. She managed to struggle to the lodge, but was unable to even think about breakfast. However, she was able to make it to the van unlike the British lady who was so sick that she had to be carried to the bus in a chair by the lodge porters. Karen fortified herself with a couple of Gatorades and rested much of the way as we began the long trip across the altiplano to Puno. We stopped briefly in Chivay to view the colonial church, and Agusto loaned his new blanket to Karen so she could be more comfortable. On the way out of the Canyon, an Andean Sechuran red fox ran across the road and into the brush. We were amazed to see that it was as large as a big coyote. Carlos said that the red-tailed creature is the worst enemy of baby alpacas. It was a long, more than seven-hour journey over the altiplano to Puno. It was very desolate and high, more than 4528 meters. The only sign of civilization was the occasional shepherd, who with great skill used his long staff to move his flocks away from the cars and busses. It was curious to see the shepherd dogs waiting along the road every mile or so for handouts. Evidently truck drivers throw bits of food to the dogs as they travel the lonely altiplano. We passed Lago Lagunillas, a breathtakingly beautiful high lake where colorful Chilean flamingos swam lazily in the late afternoon sun. We stopped at Santa Lucia, the only chance for a bathroom stop on the entire long journey.
Nearing Puno, we passed through Julica, a mid-sized town that was caught up in a celebration of sorts. There, to the consternation of our driver, but to our complete enjoyment; we were caught up in a traffic jam while the revelry whirled all around us! Carlos told us not to use the banks or money changers in Juliaca because counterfeit money is the main industry there.
We eventually reached Puno, and got our first view of Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of the Incas. We traveled down the hill into the city and checked into the Qelqatqni Hotel. I slipped getting out of the van and badly scrapped my right shin. I was afraid that I had possibly broken a bone, but it was only just badly bruised. Karen was so sick, that she went straight to her room and went to bed. At that point we reorganized our tour a bit so that Karen could recuperate. We decided not to stay overnight on Amantani Island as it would have involved a strenuous walk in the great altitude. While Karen rested in bed, I visited the streets of Puno. A colorful early evening celebration was taking place with native dancers and flute and drum bands marching around the Puno Plaza de Armas in the center of Puno, not far from our hotel. It was a festive sight. By now, we were beginning to realize that every Peruvian town, large or small, had its own Plaza de Armas.
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