We returned to Puno from our Lake Titicaca trip in the afternoon. We had a flight from Juliaca to Cusco the next morning. Juliaca is about 45 mins away from Puno and we were uncertain whether we should wake up early and go to the airport the next day, or if we should go to Juliaca that day. We unsuccessfully failed to find a cheap hotel in Puno (Conde de Lemos, where we had been staying, increased their rates substantially), so we decided to go to Juliaca.
We wanted to see if we could find a bus to Juliaca by the train station. I asked various different people, “Train?” in English. They shook their heads regretfully by the lack of comprehension. Finally I gave up trying to communicate in English and resorted to onomatopoeia by asking, “Choo! Choo!” The cashier cracked a smile and began pointing the direction we needed to go. Later I found out that the Spanish word for train is very close to English (tren vs. train), but the American accent made the intelligibility impossible. At the train station we found nothing. Thankfully Ben had the wherewithal to take a business card when we rode on Rossy Tours, the shuttle bus. With some difficulty we found their office and booked our seats for a 6:30 shuttle.
We had a number of hours to kill in Puno. We were hungry, so we wandered around trying to find a restaurant to eat. No matter where I go, no matter how far way, I never fail to find a Chinese restaurant. The sheer number of Chinese restaurants in Peru astounded me. Chifa, Chinese-Peruvian food, is popular in Peru. Much like American Chinese food that is only found in the US, Chifa’s distinctive style of cooking is found only in Peru. We decided to enjoy some authentic Peruvian Chinese food for dinner. Ben had some sort of noodle dish and I had fried rice (arroz chaufa).
We still had lots of time, so we roamed the streets of Puno and stumbled upon a little street market. It was the size of a city block and full of stall selling bread, cheese, fruit, and vegetables. My favorite part of the market was meeting the potato lady (photo above). She had a wonderful weathered wizened face. She was peeling some potatoes. I was so charmed by her that I gestured my camera and asked if I could take a photo. She beamed with pride and posed. I would rather have taken one of her peeling potatoes, but I didn’t have the heart to ask her to work when she clearly wanted to be presented in a particular way. Regardless, she was delightful.
Much to our surprise the shuttle bus left promptly at 6:30. While you can pick up the shuttle bus at the office, you can also arrange to have the shuttle bus pick you up at your hotel. For the next half hour, we were shuttled around from one part of Puno to the other. Because Puno is a small town, this meant that we criss-crossed the same area over and over again. I lost count of the number of times we passed and circled around our old hotel Conde de Lemos. Then at 7 pm, we were RIGHT BACK at the office. No one else in the shuttle seemed surprised (even the ones who started the ride with us at 6:30), but Ben and I almost lost it in frustration. I was really tired and just wanted to lie down. One final pick up at 7:15, and we were finally on our way to Juliaca. Rossy Tours very nicely dropped us off right by our hotel in Juliaca (everyone else was going to the airport). We didn’t get to the hotel til 8 pm. I was glad that we decided to spend the night at Juliaca because of how long it took to get there by shuttle. We had to take our early morning flight to Cusco the next day, or we would have been screwed for our trek.
We booked a night at the Royal Inn Juliaca because it looked nice and it was cheap. I must admit that there’s nothing wrong with the hotel itself. The staff, though they didn’t speak English, was really helpful and sweet. They did everything they could to help us print our boarding pass and figure out what we wanted. The room was comfortable and clean. There’s nothing to complain about the hotel in terms of what the hotel is able to control.
Juliaca has an awful reputation. As much as I would like to say it’s undeserved, it’s absolutely 100% deserving. Scores of travelers described Juliaca as a hellhole and advised to stay away. If only we could have. There’s nothing attractive of Juliaca. The whole town looks half built, dusty, and simultaneously half-deserted and overcrowded at the same time. The last two seem like an impossible contradiction of terms, until you’ve seen Juliaca.
Ben and I spent a very restless night at Juliaca. We were lulled to sleep by blaring horns of taxis, drunken shouts of people, clashes of trucks, and other loud din. When I finally did fall asleep, I suddenly woke up at 2 am because it was quiet. My brain had gotten used to pandemonium and when it was silent, I jolted awake wondering what was wrong. It was blessedly quiet for a half hour and then the loud uproar started again. It was THE NOISIEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE. This is no exaggeration. I grew up in a large urban city, so I’m not stranger to traffic noise and noise pollution, but never have I experienced anything on this level. It was deafening.
Our terrible night wasn’t helped by the fact that Ben and I both suffered from the worst about of altitude sickness. We came down with pounding headaches. While the medication lessened the headaches a bit, I still ended up throwing up in the middle of the night a couple of times. Ben started to feel better in the morning, but I still felt sick. While I would have liked to eaten breakfast, once again, any sort of smell was enough to make me nauseated. I sipped on some juice because I knew I couldn’t eat anything. I still threw up. By the time we arrived at the airport, I recovered enough to not feel nauseated anymore.
We were surprised that our altitude sickness was so bad on the third night up in altitude. Apparently this is not uncommon. We read later that it takes a couple days for the worst part of altitude sickness to affect you.
The airport in Juliaca is very small and it took a couple minutes to get through security. We made our flight and landed safely in Cusco, where the next part of our adventure was about to begin.