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.

La Raya to Puno

There was a shifty little shuffle at La Raya when the Cusco entertainment switched to the train going back to Cusco and the Puno brigade arrived to entertain us in the afternoon.

The train manager told me at La Raya that we had another four hours of the altiplano befor the scenery would change again. During this time we would see wild alpaca and llama.

imageOnce I had woken from my slumber I made for the bar and had another chilcano and was joined by the Australian lady from Geelong. Apparently this is not the first time travelling without husband and she is a hiker. Already been away a month and when her travelling partner returns shortly she will remain in the Amazon jungle, not returning home until the end of February.

Our conversation was somewhat interrupted by the music from Puno and we couldn’t escape. So another chilcano it was.

And so the passengers passed the remaining hours with polite conversation, looking out of the window and getting some air at the observation carriage. As we entered Puno the sun was setting, throwing a glow on the mountains the other side of Lake Titicaca. The train arrived bang on time at 6.30pm to the madness that is Puno during this festival.


My new favourite hotel chain Tierra Viva also came up trumps in terms of service. I    had sporadic internet access as we passed through towns along the way and received a message from Cusco saying that I had left a pouch with medicines in the room. I am not taking medication but always carry some standards as a precaution. Having asked them to dispose of the bag I wondered if they could  check with sister hotel in Puno if they had received my message about arranging a taxi. These conversations went on during the day as the internet was a available and finally I had confirmation that somebody would be there to meet me.  It was a good job as roads were blocked and the streets full of bands and dancers. Made it to the hotel, only to be told that the taxi was complimentary.

Cusco to La Raya

We left Wanchaq station promptly at 8am and settled into our assigned seats with menus staring us in the face. Lunch was to be served at 1pm and but now a variety of breakfasts were offered.

We slowly wended our way out of Cusco through the urban sprawl, the train’s whistle blasting continually because of traffic and pedestrians. Next came the arable landscape with smallholdings caring for a variety of livestock.

imageWith breakfast over we were usshered into the bar area for a welome chilcano before the cabaret started.!  A small group and a single dancer assailed us with some typical music from Cusco. Now, we noticeably start to climb as our destination is La Raya, the highest we will reach and the highest point at 4319 mtrs that I have reached on this journey. We are now way above the tree line in the altiplano.

imageAt la Raya we were allowed 15 minutes off the train where artesanal sellers lay in wait. Where did they come from ? I asked one of the staff. Apparently their main stalls were hidden only 100  yards away on the Cusco to Puno road and coaches stop there all the time. I didn’t feel so bad about not buying.

Back on the train, table laid and pre-ordered cocktail, waiting. Lunch was a variety of breads, green salad with some fresh orange and grapefruit. Next up was boeuf bougignon and a glass of merlot. By the time the chocolate pudding had arrived I was asleep.