Juliaca and Puno are the two main towns up near Lake Titicaca. Juliaca is the larger at 200,000 people and contains the airport; Puno is the smaller at 100,000 people and has the tourist harbor for the Lake.
The outskirts of both towns (and thus the ride in from the airport) look like the establishing shot for the generic overcrowded capital in a war-torn third world country. Buildings are half finished, or half torn down, or just sitting in ruins. Every side street of the main paved road is a desolate swath of dirt sided by one and two story cement block tenements. Somehow the war-torn look would be more reassuring if there had actually been a war, but it's just extreme poverty in play.
The relation of buildings to poverty has always fascinated me. Every third world country I've been to has appeared to be in the middle of a building boom. A huge number of buildings are half built and a smattering of them have crews hard at work finishing them. But then one notices that the rest of the half built buildings are in a state of decay, as if someone started with a budget and grand plans but had to give up halfway through. Even the tenanted buildings tend to look half finished, usually in the form of a partially completed upper story. It's hard to look at all of this and not see each unfinished building as someone's dream unfulfilled.
Both towns do have central tourist areas that are well patrolled and, as in Cuzco, once again surprisingly free of beggars. I didn't spend any time in Juliaca, but Puno was surprisingly bizarre.
First of all, every restaurant advertised itself as Italian. In Cuzco and Agua Calientes every restaurant *served* Italian as indeed they served everything. It's very possible that every restaurant menu in Peru is printed by the same company, which merely swaps out restaurant names in each printing. But in other cities the restaurants claimed a niche: Traditional Peruvian food, Mexican, French, American. In Puno it was Italian everywhere.
Puno is also well known as the consumer electronics marketplace of Peru. If ever it fell off the back of a truck it ended up there. Obscure brands, main brands, counterfeits, stolen, stolen counterfeits. If you're a careful shopper you can find the deal of the lifetime there.
Perhaps related — and this is where things get really strange — is the number of print shops. There are hundreds of them. They're thicker than the restaurants and electronics shops combined. If you want passport photos taken or photocopies made, Puno is the place and I have no idea why. In particular I have no idea why all these shops are paying the extra rent to be in the tourist district. It took me forever to find a simple market that sold bottled water and basic goods, but I couldn't but trip over a place that would sell me masking tape at a reasonable price.
Much to my surprise the city also has a University. Security is tight around it so I didn't get a chance to go in and explore the campus, but one of my taxi drivers (the best of them actually) was wrapping up his senior year and starting to look for a good grad school. He had a freshly arrived application/promotional packet in the cab and shared it with me: as will likely come as no surprise to the the well travelled it was for University Of South Australia at Adelaide, where my sister has worked for the last 20 years. There really are only 1000 people and 100 places in the world, it just feels like more because they change names occasionally.
The problem with trying to get pictures of insane traffic scenes is that you're too busy hanging on for your life. Twenty seconds before this and twenty seconds after this were total bedlam.
The picture before this one was the main road. On the outer edges of town this is what the side streets look like.
The road between Juliaca and Puno is flanked by this sort of wetlands. Some of it was drained and farmed, but I can't say it looked terribly fertile.
This cluster of expensive looking modern buildings appeared in the middle of nowhere in between the two cities. There is nothing remotely this nice in either of them.
A side road on the outskirts of Puno. I wish the fellow in the suit had come out clearer; He was very dapper.
My first view of Puno.
The main city. That's the lake poking in on the left.
Although the outsides of the buildings appear worn down, the insides reflect the true wealth this region is home to.
Yeah, right. Actually it's the lobby of my five star hotel on a private island just out of town. The price per night is, without exaggerating, roughly the half the annual income of a Puno native. If you're looking for me I'll be outside giving away all of my worldly goods.
This is part of the downtown tourist district. There were a lot more indigenous shop owners, etc. than there were in Cuzco.
A pit stop for Pomeranians.
I love these guys for two reasons. One is that I was behind them at airport security and watched them try to get the drum through the X-ray machine. The other is that these were the absolute last Andean street musicians I had to listen to.