San Jose, California, to Puno, Peru
Days 1 to 2
Saturday, July 18 to Sunday, July 19, 2015
Steve and I were very excited to start our 22nd trip with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris! For our ride to the airport, we decided to use Wingz an Uber-like airport taxi service. It sure beat our usual method of a shared van ride since we didn’t have to pick up anyone else on our way. Plus we were happy we were only going to the nearby San Jose airport instead of all the way to San Francisco. We arrived at the airport with plenty of spare time for our 1:30 PM flight to Dallas to catch our overnight flight to Lima, Peru. Our flights went off without a hitch and we arrived in the capital city of Lima, Peru at 5:30 AM.
A pre-arranged airport greeter met us as we cleared customs in Lima and escorted us to our next flight to Juliaca. The Lima airport is very crowded and busy, so we were glad to have a greeter to show us the ropes even though this seemed like a luxury. The greeter explained a few things then showed us our gate and left us to wait on our own. We had a few hours to kill before our flight so we bought some Starbucks coffee and a bit of breakfast. At the gate we found out that we were bumped up to business class–a very nice touch especially since we were very tired. Our Peruvian guide later told us that they usually do this for tourists since we pay more for airfare. The plane was medium-sized and filled mostly with local people so we sat back and napped during the 1-1/2 hour flight. We landed at the very small airport of Juliaca where our two guides were waiting to meet us. Saturnino will be with us for the next few days and Juan had time to join us for the first day and then will rejoin us when we meet up with the main group. Juan owns the company in Peru that made all the arrangements for this tour for Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris.
We exited the airport and hopped on a waiting van then drove two hours to the town of Puno a city of 150,000 people that lies on the shores of Lake Titicaca. This lake is popularly known as the highest altitude navigable lake in the world – and it sure was big. The air is very thin here at 12,500 feet and Steve and I could already feel it, especially exasperated by our tiredness. All four of us registered at the Royal Inn Hotel located right on the town square. Juan knew how tired we were after traveling for 24 hours, so he suggested that we rest in our rooms for a few hours then meet back in the lobby at 4:30 PM. Steve and I quickly repacked our suitcases – we divide our clothes and gear, mixing half of each in our two bags just in case one gets lost. Then we plopped in bed and took a much-needed nap.
At 4:30 PM we met back in the lobby and then flagged down a taxi for the 15-minute ride to the Puno dock on Lake Titicaca – the thin air kept us breathing hard, so we were glad for the ride. We walked on the promenade and Saturnino identified unfamiliar birds in the lake and surroundings, using his scope for us to get good looks. We saw a beautiful Many-colored Rush Tyrant – a small bird that reminds me of our Common Yellowthroat but colored yellow, white, purple, and orange. There were also many Andean Gulls, Andean Coots, Titicaca Grebe (flightless and found nowhere else!), and White-tufted Grebe.
Many local people were also walking along the promenade since it was Sunday and they curiously watched the “weird tourists watching birds with a telescope escorted by Peruvians.” They probably thought we were rich! Along the dock there was an alley of small shops under awnings, but they were all closed today since it was Sunday. After about an hour of birdwatching, we took a taxi back to the hotel to drop our gear off then met in the lobby for dinner. We walked a couple blocks down the narrow streets bordered by narrow high-curbed sidewalks to an open mall – more like a street closed to traffic lined with shops and restaurants. Juan, Saturnino, Steve and I ate at an Italian restaurant and ordered two pizzas to share and I got a bowl of quinoa soup.
Quinoa and potatoes are native to Peru and are both very popular in this part of the country. Some say that there are over three thousand varieties of potatoes here all differing in taste, texture, color and size – many more than we see in the USA. They think potatoes were domesticated about ten thousand years ago in the high Andes. Quinoa has seen a recent worldwide explosion in popularity benefitting farmers at the expense of the local people who rely on it as a staple in their diet. This healthy grain originated here in the Lake Titicaca area of Peru and we could see fallow (it is wintertime here) fields for quinoa all over.
After dinner we made our way back to the hotel where Juan said good-bye to us – he will meet up with us again in Cusco with the rest of the group. Steve and I went straight to bed after relaxing hot showers.