The night before in Aguas Calientes, we had drunken heartily to both celebrate and mourn the loss of our friend Juan who had to return to Cusco to monitor the upcoming elections. It was a moment we both dreaded as we couldnt imagine our time in Peru without him. In the short while we had together he had become a friend and companion, a person we had trusted completely and implicitly. Always we would look back fondly on the many evenings spent drinking and laughing at his incredible stories; New Age hippies running naked and wild in the jungle, of the many close calls he had encountered as he explored the Andes with organizations such as National Geographic or the British Army, the dangers he faced as he swam the Amazon or was chided by his amigo into poking an anaconda. So that morning we said our goodbyes, I had made a gift of my new Bowie knife to him (after hearing his of his many adventures I knew he needed it more than I) and boarded the bus heading south to a new phase of our journey, the Andean highlands.
The bus ride from Cuzco to Puno consisted of an eight hour climb to 14,000 feet, to the roof of South America herself. Rolling plains and snowcapped peaks bordered us on all sides as herds of Alpaca and Llamas drank from the one lone river where flocks of flamingos fished and pruned their strikingly pink feathers. The culture of this region varied greatly with that of the predominantly Incan North. Stopping at a local museum we saw ceremonial statutes depicting child sacrifice and animal worship ironically near one of the most famous Peruvian churches with gold flecked reliefs of great artistic talent. We braked in a remote village where a wedding celebration was in full swing upon several adjoining rooftops and were struck at the simplicity of a woman keeping close watch on her child as he playfully chased a balloon down an alleyway, a scene that could have played out anywhere around the world.