Puno and Titicaca: Smells just about right

Backpacking & Trekking, City Travel, Hostels, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Peru — By on August 28, 2006 at 11:03 pm

by Amanda Pressner
LG Executive Editor

Jen, Holly and I had stayed longer in Cuzco, Peru than almost any other gringo we’d met–nearly three weeks–and I was starting to feel like we’d simply relocated to a new town. It was time to journey on. We decided to brave the sub-zero winter temperatures and move even higher through the Andes to Lake Titicaca, a vast, high-mountain basin with a name that makes even grown-up girls such as ourselves smirk unapologetically. Warned by backpackers moving in the opposite direction to pass through the lakeside town of Puno as quickly as possible (“it’s a slum” was the most oft-heard quote), we arranged to stay just a single night in order to visit the lake’s famous floating islands.

After a jarring eight-hour train ride, we were unceremoniously dumped at the station and left to fight our way though the hagglers, taxi drivers and touts all wrestling with one another to gain our attention and cash.

Lady! I have room for you, very good-cheap price!
You want go to Islas Floatantes? I take you there! You come with me!

Hands grabbed as the mob closed in behind but we pushed our way through. Emerging breathless and significantly more surly on the other side, we managed to find our way in the rapidly falling darkness to the only hostel to garner a “thumbs up” from our Let’s Go guidebook. The profile boasted “sweeping views of the lake from the rooftop terrace,” “huge windows in every room” and “dapper Don Victor himself strolling the grounds.”

We realized within a few minutes of arrival that the pimple-faced, pre-adolescent writers covering this section of Peru had clearly taken poetic license with their coverage (or quite possibly, had never seen the place at all). Not only did the freezing, florescent-lit room look like a prison cell, smell like a rotten egg and have translucent window cubes overlooking the hallway, the “sweeping views” could only been seen from a filthy, unfinished roof where Don Victor’s pants hung from a frayed clothes line. To make matters more disconcerting, it appeared that we were the only travelers staying the night.

Exhausted and feeling dirty from our long ride and the subsequent walk through town, we turned on the shower only to realize where the sulfurous smell originated from. Not improving matters: the odiforous water ran cold and leaked all over the floor thanks to a woefully inadequate shower curtain.

Poo-no, indeed. The town certainly lived up to its crapola-sounding name.

Descending the stairs once again to grab a meal that, hopefully, wouldn’t give us an intestinal infection, we did run into Don Victor. If you squinted, I guess he could be described as dapper. But the grounds? Other than the tiny, laminate tile reception area, there was nothing resembling a “ground” to be seen.

As Dapper Don unlocked the 17 bolts securing the front door, yanked up the steel gate and and shooed us off into the night, the three of us tumbled down the street wide-eyed and edgy.

We just hoped that those lovely sounding Islas Floatantes would be worth wading all the Titicaca it was taking us to get there.

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  • Roger says:

    It amazes me how you manage to stay so good looking while traveling 🙂

    It’s a really good blog you have. I’ll be going to Peru myself in a couple of month so I’m picking up some good ideas from you.

    But first I will start in Brazil in just a few days. I saw that Brazil was your next stop, so check out my blog if you need some good advice on what to do in Brazil.

    Happy traveling!

  • aizza says:

    Hi guys,

    I noticed that you guys are travelling with the Let’s Go travel guides.

    As with most guides it’s good to use them caution especially with their pricing and descriptions etc. That brand in particular is updated by calling the listed accommodation rather than through visiting the place. Just something to keep in mind.