Leaving the Sacred Valley
After two full days of hiking the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Day 5 of our whirlwind tour of Peru offered a much needed respite in the form of a leisurely travel day. Mr. Travelbypoints graciously dialed forward his alarm clock to 8am (granting us 4 extra hours of sleep compared to the previous day), ordered us room service breakfast and scheduled a later than planned afternoon hotel pick up. I took that as a sign that our intrepid tour leader was testing out his own style of Bikram Yoga for Travelers, ie., kill your troops for several consecutive grueling days and then shock them with a day of savasana or rest. Then rinse and repeat.
But I never make it a habit to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Mom and I spent the morning touring the grounds of the beautiful Tambo Del Inka Resort while Mr. Travelbypoints took the opportunity to catch up on some phone calls and square away some of the last minute details of the upcoming segments of our trip (at this point, accommodations and airport pick-up in Easter Island had yet to be booked). By the time we returned to our room to grab an extra camera battery an hour later, everything was packed up and ready to go, thanks to our ever efficient tour leader.
Promptly at 11am, Sabino’s minivan pulled to a stop in front of the hotel and minutes later we were en route to the Cusco airport. The lush, rolling scenery along the way mirrored that of the day of our arrival, but somehow the feelings tugging at us as we retraced our path back to the airport felt inherently different. In a little over 48 hours, the Sacred Valley of Peru had managed to captivate and uplift our spirits in a way that made leaving it tug a bit at our heartstrings.
In less than an hour, we reached the airport and said our fond farewells to Sabino, our trusty tour guide and now friend. He was our first introduction to the beautiful hospitality of Peru and greatly impressed us with his gentleness, sincerity and professionalism. As we looked forward to our next destination, Lake Titicaca, we hoped that our good travel karma would continue.
Welcome to Juliaca, the Dustbowl of South America
As it turns out, travel karma can be fickle.
From colorful, picturesque Cusco, we landed smack in the middle of dusty, chaotic Juliaca. Upon arrival at the small airport, we were met by a non-English speaking driver whom we identified by the placard he held bearing Mr. Travelbypoint‘s name. Quickly, he ushered us past the crowds of local drivers hawking rides to Puno (the town on the shores of Lake Titcaca) and with nary a glance back or offer to help us with our bags, he led us right through a dust storm en route to the car.
Choking a bit on the dust and reeling from the humidity of the city, we managed to make it to the car inconveniently parked quite a distance from the main lot. We could not scramble into the vehicle quickly enough.
The town of Juliaca, sometimes irreverently referred to as the “armpit” of Peru by folks sarcastically alluding to the association of Lake Titicaca as the navel of the world, is cramped, dirty and industrial. We had been advised to stay as little time in Juliaca as possible and instead make haste to Puno upon arrival. Recalling the chaos at the airport, we were thankful that we had the forethought to book transportation ahead of time. While not the most chivalrous member of the male species, our driver was at least prompt and reliable. The hour-long drive from Juliaca to Puno was uneventful, and the farther we traveled from the city, the dreary landscape slowly morphed into a scenic rural vista with pockets of lakefront and cows out to pasture. I closed my eyes for a brief moment and quickly fell asleep. Our leisurely travel day had become more hectic than we anticipated.
By the time we arrived at our hotel, the three of us were ready to grab a quick dinner and call it a day. Although we had little issues with altitude in Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, the air in Puno was noticeably thinner and the weather was considerably colder. We decided to err on the side of caution and get plenty of rest in order to prepare for our scheduled excursions the next day.
Mom in particular looked especially tired and was the first to hit the shower, despite our protestations that it was not advisable to shower the first night in high altitude. She balked at the idea of sleeping without washing off the grime of the Juliaca dust storm. By 8pm, the three of us were in bed, ready to sleep away our forgettable first day at Lake Titicaca and rest up for our visit to the lake the following morning.
Travel karma, we discovered, always works best when paired with low expectations. After a less than ideal first impression of Juliaca/Puno, we reset our expectations and prepared to start the next day with a fresh, open mind.
Next up: Lake Titicaca and Sillustani
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