Isla Esteves

There is only so much of a parade one can take. The music is monotonous, there being only two main versions of the marching music. The streets are so crowded it is difficult to move and the sun at altitude is difficult to take. Together with feeling under par it is too much to take so I repair to my hotel. What will I do with my day?

imageI discover that there is a private island sitting on Lake Titicaca reached by a single road which the train passed on its way into Puno.. On the island is a gleaming white hotel called the Libertador and there is a path for walkers around the small island.

I have to walk two blocks uphill aways from the main street to hail and cab and this time to prenegotiate the fare. The ride is ridiculous as to get around all of the blocked roads I am taken up and down the steepest and narrowest streets imaginable. Brake failure would be fatal!

The security guard on the entry road to the island would not open the barrier until he had spoken to me. Waste of time but he gets the idea that I am visiting the hotel. What an oasis.

imageI slump into an easy chair in the vast bar area. Huge glass panels on either side enable me to look back across Titicaca to Puno and on the other side towards the so called reed dwellers on the lake. Apparently a big tourist attraction as I can see the small pleasure cruisers make their way in that direction.

I am enjoying the quiet and the solitude and after a beer and a bottle of water I venture out. Turning towards what I believe to be the start of the walk I encounter a herd of free roaming llama who stare at me inquisitively with almost human expressions. I start to climb some steps, which instead of leading around the island, leads to the top with wonderful views across the lake. As I reach the top I see small rat-like creatures disappear into the undergrowth. In fact they are cuy, wild guinea pigs. Here I am surprised to find a grave and a monument to a James Orton.

I later discover that Orton was an American explorer who made three important trips to South America. On his last trip, in 1877, he sailed across Titicaca to Puno but was found dead on board. The Puno community would not allow hime to be buried in the town. Heaven forbid…he was not a catholic! However, the local newspaper proprietor Sr Esteves, who had met Orton on a previous trip and was a fan of his work allowed him to be buried on his island.

image.jpegAs I wander back the llama have followed me up and we warily pass each other once more. The 30 minute walk around the island was wonderful, full of interesting vistas, helicopter landing pads marked out with white stone, and wild life including a fox.

I return to my seat in the hotel for another beer and water and while away another hour such is the peace of the place. It is only 6pm but not having had lunch I order a bar snack which turns out to be sufficient to avoid a dinner later. In the meantime a storm passes and the sun sets.

I need to get back to the boom boom which can be heard from across the lake. The doorman gives the taxi man my address, two blocks up from my hotel, there is a sucking of teeth because of blocked roads and the price has now risen by 5 soles, just over £1. Not a problem, and back through the hilly suburbs we travel, this time in the dark.

Another excursion to the grand parade and I am done for the day.













Fiesta de la Candelaria 2

The grand parade took place on Monday and again sections of the 79 groups paraded a different route with some wider streets but also passing along the narrow main street as before. I managed to sample some of this. Watch HERE.

The altitude (higher than Cusco) was giving me problems again and by 10pm on Monday I am in my bed. I would have liked to witness the late night mayhem as the all day drinking takes its toll and the portaloos overflow! I wake for another pee at 3am and am wide awake so consider slipping out as I can still here the drums pass. Then all goes quiet and I slip to sleep.

At 9am in the morning I walk down the the main road and you would not know what had been happening five and a half hours previously. The pungent portaloos have disappeared, the streets have been washed, there are no chairs and temporay stands are partially dismantled.



Then I here the drums again coming towards me up the pedestrianised main street. It is the Virgin herself, carried aloft, and followed by a few religious devotees. Nothing compared to the thousands of the less religious the night before. Watch HERE.

What an experience!

Fiesta de la Candelaria 1

I knew this would be big but I wasn’t expecting it to be humungus. The fiesta venerates the Virgin of Candelaria and is held roughly in the first two weeks of February. The key dates are the first Thursday in February when the statue of the Virgin is marched through the streets.


The following Sunday, the day after I arrived, there is a huge music and dance competition in the main stadium. It starts at 7am and finishes at 4pm. Watch HERE

image After each group has performed they march through the streets from the stadium to the main square. This process takes until at least 1am on the Sunday. Watch HERE.

On the following Monday, my second day here, the grand parade is held. It starts at 8am and by the time all of the groups and bands have passed, I have now discovered, it is 3.30am on Tuesday! The event involves 40,000 dancers, 5,000 musicians and 25,000 ancillaries, putting it on a par with Rio and the carnaval de Oruro in Bolivia, and making it one of the three largest fiestas in South America.


My hotel is 50 metres from the parade route so for two days I hear the boom boom of the base drums. The streets are so narrow that there is little room to pass and spectators who have grabbed one of the thousands of chairs along the route shout for you to move. Temporary portaloos are set up at side streets along the route issuing a distinct aroma as you pass.

The Andean Explorer

The tail end of my journey was always focussed towards attending the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Puno. It was difficukt to plan as there is little detail to be found on the internet regarding timing which can fluctuate by a few days each year. Once I had tied down some likely dates, I had to consider how to get there. This is when I discovered the Andean Explorer. However, as it only runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays timing became critical as others had told me not to spend too many days in Puno.

So the plan was to arrive in Puno on Saturday evening, visit the stadium on Sunday where the various carnival groups compete, and watch them parade throug the streets. The event lasts two weeks and is the biggest music and dance festival in Peru and one of the biggest in South America.

The Andean Explorer is run by PeruRail and owned by the Belmond group. It was early in the morning when I arrived to check in and then board the train to get a first glimpse of what the next ten hours had in stall.


imageWith only thirty two passengers it was inevitable we would pass some time together. It was an an interesting mix. An Australian couple who were due to be a foursome but whose respective spouses pulled out so they travelled anyway. The General Manager of the Belmond Monasterio Hotel…lots of arse licking going on. A family from Guildford with daughters of 10 and 13 who had taken the kids out of school and were travelling for nine months. Two awful Essex ladies in hiking gear who did nothing but complain about the cost and hog the rear viewing platform. Finally a charming gay couple, one a photographer from NY now living in BA with his partner an Argentine diplomat.