On February 7, Eliot and I left Cusco for Puno, a town on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. David flew back to Vancouver and Tilo stayed on in Cusco.
The 400 km bus ride takes about 8 hours and reaches an altitude of about 4800 meters as it passes through small Andean towns before dropping down to Juliaca and then Puno at the elevation of 3,800 meters.
Unlike Cusco, Puno does not have grand stone buildings or Inca walls. Although the Inca origin myth refers to the lake Titicaca, the town itself was not a major Inca site. Puno is pleasant though with its lakeside views, main square with a large but severe cathedral and pedestrian mall.
Eliot wanted to be in Puno for the Virgen de la Candelabra festival – a week long carnival with performances by over 50,000 dancers and 15,000 musicians. This is more than 1/3 of the town’s population of 150,000 ( imagine a Vancouver event with 1,000,000 participants). He insisted we could not miss this.
We arrived in the middle of the rain storm and took a moto-taxi to get to our hotel the Tierra Viva Puno Plaza. We headed out to the pedestrian mall and found that the cold and the wet did not seem to deter the endless stream of dancers and marching bands. There was tons of energy, bystanders were pouring drinks for the dancers, Puno guys were standing agape staring at the girls enthralled by their get ups and mini skirts. Eliot and I were pulled into the middle to dance.
Despite the mini-skirts, some women still crossed themselves when they went by the church.
The bands stopped at around midnight but the party continued all night, with groups of guitar players standing around see clip of Puno late at night . The next day started off sunny and we watched the endless parade. A local explained to us the certain common themes to the dance troupes.
1)Women/Men dressed in traditional Andean clothing
2) Men dressed up as Spaniards with exaggerated beards, ruffles and some had skirts.
3) Demons and devils meant to represent the demons that the indigenous people saw in the mines that the Spanish forced them to work in.
4) Peruvian Hotness -young and youngish guys and gals who just wanted to look good Andino style which to my mind was Solid Gold meets Michael Jackson with a bit of Mad Max and Liberace thrown in. Men in plether jackets with shoulder pads, high boots with christmas balls, gloves, gold lightening rods and other ornamentation. In many ways the costumes resembled the way the moto taxis were decorated. The women all had very high mini skirts, shiny gold and silver underwear, hair pulled back, tight tops and cha cha heels. It was fantastic, there was tons of energy and the Puno guys standing next to me on the sidelines were going wild at the girls.
It rained again the second night. After the main parade ended a number of smaller groups in more traditional garb came out followed by everyone wearing whatever costume they had. People were passing drinks to strangers. Some guy in a mask grabbed me and gave me a kiss though the mask. There were apes, and American aboriginals and big nosed Spaniards it looked like a scene from a Paolo Sorrentino film except it was just pure fun. Check out the Carnival Night Scene clip to give you a sense of the scene.
We got hungry and went out for some Chifa (Peruvian Chinese fusion). The menu had items including ” This was true fusion before it became fashionable as Andinos lined up for their chinese food. The woman cooking the rice was the owner and for 10 soles you got a plate of chicken with vegetables and fried rice.