Day 12 — Off to the Altiplano

Tuesday — April 14

After an early breakfast, we went down to the lobby to meet Joaquin for our transfer to the airport. Imagine our surprise when we found Vidal waiting for us as well. It turns out that the farmers’ strike was extended into today, so he was unable to take the overnight bus to Puno last night as planned. On the way to the airport, he outlined the new plan, gave us the name of the guide who would be meeting us at the Juliaca airport, made sure we had his cell phone number to reach him in an emergency, and promised us that he would make every effort to get a bus out tonight. We tried to assure him that it was OK and that we understood. After all, the strike was not something he had any control over. It was clear, however, that he was unhappy about not being able to keep his commitment to see things through as planned.

It was bedlam when we arrived at the Cusco airport. Added to the usual crowd of passengers were people trying to purchase last minute airline tickets to destinations they had intended to travel to by bus. When we first started planning this trip, we’d considered taking the bus because we wanted to see some of the countryside between Cusco and Puno. In the end, however, we simply ran out of time and didn’t have the luxury of a day to make the bus trip. What a good thing that turned out to be!

Boarding passes already in hand, we joined the bag drop-off queue. The line was long, but it moved steadily. In the meantime, at our behest, Vidal went to see if there were any seats available on the Juliaca flight. It was a futile attempt. So we bid adios to a heavy-hearted Vidal, shelled out $23 for the excess weight fee on our bags (remember all that shopping), paid our departure tax, and went through security without any mishap. Our wait at the gate was short and soon we were aboard LAN 123. There was no room to spread out on this sold-out flight, but it didn’t matter. The 30-minute flight was over in the blink of an eye. Before we knew it, we were landing at Aeropuerto Internacional Inca Manco Capac in Juliaca.

The Andes Mountains peek through the clouds as we head to Juliaca.

Welcome to Aeropuerto Internacional Inca Manco Capac.

Debarking the plane, the altitude hit us like a brick wall and left us gasping for air. There was no doubt that we were on the “altiplano” (high plain)! (Note the altitude information in the inset in the picture above — equates to about 12,550 feet.) We immediately slowed our pace and in no time we were breathing normally. Our bags took a few minutes to show up on the carousel, but all three pieces were accounted for, so all was well in our travel world.

As Vidal had promised, Percy was waiting for us outside the terminal. As soon as he and Leo (the driver) had the bags loaded into a well-maintained late-model van, we were on the road to Puno, 30-miles (50 km) away — and another 115 feet (35 meters) higher in elevation. It was a pleasant drive on a paved highway with beautiful scenery to keep us entertained. The clarity of the air and the intensity of the colors (especially the blue of the sky) was amazing — another indication of the high altitude.

Around 10:00a, we pulled up to the Casa Andina Private Collection located outside the hubbub of Puno town. After seeing us safely checked in, Percy left us to get settled in, promising to return at noon for our planned outing to a few places around Lake Titicaca.

Our second-floor room in the main building was just as I had hoped it would be — bright and clean; beds made up with crisp linens and cozy comforters; wonderfully soft alpaca throws laid out to ward off the nighttime chill; central-heating system waiting to be turned on if we needed it. And the highlight feature — a view of Lake Titicaca.

Our second floor room at Casa Andina Private Collection.

A fabulous view of Lake Titicaca greets us from the balcony of our room.
(the orange tiles are the roof of the other building on the property; better views from our higher vantage point in the main building)

After getting settled into our room, we decided to grab a quick lunch in the hotel’s dining room. At just past 11:00a, we had the dining room and the serving staff to ourselves. Not very hungry, I was content with a smoked ham sandwich, although I did have a bite or two of Mui’s Saqta de Gallina (traditional chicken stew topped with strips of Andean cheese), which was very tasty indeed.

With a view like this, even cardboard would taste good.

Tummies sated for the time being, we collected our cameras and went to meet Percy for our afternoon outing.

Next Up: Day 12 — Ahayamarka & Aramu Muru

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