Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Festival in Puno

Each February, the city of Puno celebrates the Virgin de la Candeleria festival, one of the biggest festivals in Peru. Never ones to miss a unique Peruvian experience, we took an overnight bus this past Thursday and arrived in Puno early Friday morning. After a few hours of sleep, we explored the city. Then, in the evening, we caught the opening ceremonies of the festival, an outdoor extravaganza of music and dancing that lasted well into the next morning. (It was still going on when we woke up Saturday.)

Saturday was full of adventures. First, we took a tour of the Uros floating islands, which literally float around the bay of Lake Titicaca. The original residents fled to the lake to escape the Incas, and their descendants have carried on the simple way of life. The islands are built of mud and reeds, and the residents have to continually replace the reeds as they rot. The reeds are also used as a construction material, as fuel and as food -- we even got to taste them, and they are bland but refreshing.

Our next stop on Saturday was the ruins of Sillustani. The tombs were beautiful, as was the surrounding landscape. Afterward, we toured a traditional Quechua home, where we finally learned the difference between an alpaca and a llama. (Alpacas have downward-pointing tails, shorter ears, sloped backs and a fringe of bangs on their forehead.)

In the evening, we spent more time at the festival, watching the parade and even dancing along. Then, on Sunday, we saw the real show, when locals dance in costumes worth more than everything else they own combined. Here are a few examples:

The adventure continued on Sunday, when we took a bus back to Cusco. Unfortunately, our bus driver was completely insane. At one point, he plowed through a flock of sheep crossing the road, killing at least three, and he didn´t even bother to stop. Later, he almost ran head-on into another bus -- but we´re so used to that by now that it didn´t really bother us.

We arrived home in Pisac late on Sunday evening, exhausted but safe and satisfied. Unfortunately, four of the six of us had to visit the clinic on Monday -- I have both parasites and a bacterial infection, but both are quite common here and easily cured.

After our Puno adventure, we´re curbing our travel plans for the next few weekends. Recent floods have devastated many Sacred Valley communities, and Projects Abroad has organized food distribution, children´s activities and other programs. Fortunately, we´ll still be able to squeeze in time for all-you-can-eat pancakes at the Blue Llama this weekend.

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