My work trip to Perú was going to take me to a three different regions of the country: the better known Cusco and Lake Titicaca regions and the lesser known Ancash region. But while the Lake Titicaca region is well known due to the lake, the hinterland behind the lake is fascinatingly beautiful and less explored by the average visitor.
This is the Puno province which sits at about 12,420 ft (3,860 m) above sea level. Remember, Denver in the U.S. about 5,280 ft. Puno is also higher than the highest point in many U.S. states! Puno completely borders the lake on the Peruvian side, and shares a land border with Bolivia and the jungle zone of Perú (Madre de Dios, a totally different climate zone). I was not quite sure what to expect from the trip and the area but the natural beauty and the amazing people of the highlands of Perú definitely took my breath away. The area of Azángaro in the province was especially beautiful.
Puno and Juliaca are the key towns in the Puno province with the latter town having the main airport and being known by locals to be a place where one is easily robbed (why they emphasized it so many times to me is beyond me as I was going nowhere near Juliaca…) Puno (with about 100,000 inhabitants) is by the lake (Juliaca is inland) so it is the gateway to Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side. I visited most of the province except the 2 northern and 1 southern regions (that I know of! a lot of my travel was on country roads). (Read about my visit to the islands in Lake Titicaca here: http://ilivetotravel.me/2012/06/25/floating-islands-going-to-heavens-doors-and-a-challenge-in-gender-id-in-lake-titicaca/ )
On my way there
I made my way to Puno from Cusco where I had just concluded field visits as well as squeezing a day and a half of local tourism. My method of transport was a bus ride that took about 6-7 hours – a welcome change from airplane rides but most importantly because I would be able to admire the landscape along the way. The road was very well built, the terrain fairly flat (though rising over the distance), and pretty much a straight road so not a lot of wild curves to make me dizzy.
The local office had arrange a pickup at the bus station for me and I went straight to the office to meet some of the local folks, hear about their work, and the visits they had planned for me. I had been itching to get to the hotel as I was tired and the altitude had increased from Cusco so I was feeling the lack of oxygen. I had also asked ahead of time for help in planning some tourism activity for the weekend since I was getting there on a Friday evening and there were no field visits planned for the weekend. We finalized those plans at the office and I was ready to get to the hotel.
A Miniature Af-fair
However, one of the locals offered to take me out that evening to see a special event celebrated annually in Puno: the miniature fair (Feria de las Alasitas). I was quite curious and decided it would be probably something to see so why not. I dropped my stuff at the hotel and met her to go check this fair out.
Puno is nestled between hills and Lake Titicaca so there are a lot of steep streets except right by the waterside sort of where the fair was going to take place. The town looked quite charming at night, especially near the hotel on a very lively street with a lot of eateries.
We approached the fair and I couldn’t quite believe the amount and diversity of miniatures of all kinds. Any object you have in real life is sold in miniature. The idea, belief, or tradition is that whatever you buy there in miniature will come true for you real life (and real size). Examples:
– Want to get married? Buy a miniature groom (if you are a woman), bride (if you are a guy), or wedding cake
– Want to come into some wealth? Buy miniature dollars, euros, Peruvian soles (if you want to have money)
– Want some good possessions? Buy a car, laptop/PC, canned goods, etc.
– Want a better roof over you? Buy a house, apartment building, etc.
There actually is ritual sprinkling of the miniatures and prayers that are part of the tradition. People sometimes assemble baskets with a variety of these items and take them home. Besides getting their miniatures, they seem to enjoy walking around the different booths, picking out the items, and socializing.
The fair was mostly locals only and I greatly enjoyed the atmosphere as everyone seemed to be out and about enjoying the night, the fair, and each other. One of the funnest local festivals I have been to.
I also enjoyed walking around town at night – Puno was very lively and given its location had a good number of tourists. It is definitely a great base from which to hit the lake and to hit the hinterlands of the Puno region!