Hey! They aren’t dressing this way just for tourists! It’s really how they dress!
That was the first thought upon arrival in Puno after spending ten days in and out of Cusco, where smiles seemed natural but garb was often made-for-tourist-suspect. Here the women wore bowler hats, braids, wool leggings and full skirts seeming to be cut from heavy theater curtains, obviously because that is what they wear, not to smile before your camera for a tip.
Street Food Haven
Street stalls extending from the harbor up into the city center remind a Chicagoan of Maxwell Street and similar flea markets from Paris to Istanbul. You can read that much of what you are looking at is smuggled contraband. It’s not obviously so on the ground. It’s just enormously fun to wade through the hubbub, exchanging smiles.
Tourists are common but not thick in the crowd. Nobody gawks at you as they are wont to do in remote untraveled places. But tourists aren’t the only show in town either. Most Puno people seem happy to just be and let be. Touts are few and far in between, until you get to the harbor and boat hawkers, who will crowd you and steal every last bit of oxygen if you don’t move with dispatch to make your boat tour decisions.
If you are a food adventurer, note that the food stalls here serve superb street food and with much more variety than the restaurants, which all seem to have menus of grilled chicken, more grilled chicken and even more grilled chicken.
Puno is the Lake Titicaca Launch Point
Puno likely gets on most tourists’ maps as the launch point for bordering Lake Titicaca explorations. Indeed—our three stops on Lake Titicaca were highlights of our month-long Peru tour.
And it was actually on these islands that we came to fully appreciate what Puno is to the people of Southeastern Peru. They might not feel that way, but Puno and nearby Juliaca are the big cities that country folk go to for bartering and to buy provisions that they cannot grow. It is THE big and relatively prosperous city, even though it perhaps doesn’t feel that way to someone from Lima, New York City or London. Rather, it’s still the kind of place where a wide power outage is explained as something more common that not, and sure to be fixed soon enough (which it was!).
From brief chats it also seems like the locals who live in Puno year-round have great pride in the beautiful Lake Titicaca and hilly vistas from their windows, not unlike the way Seattle denizens understandably count the entirety of the Puget Sound and Lake Washington as their curb appeal.
Everybody Loves a Parade!
Logging less than two days en toto in Puno before and after our boat tours it astounded that we ran into three parades. The first was a showcase of a college program celebrating local traditional cultures, though the short skirts of the coeds seemed a far stretch from what locals sported. From our window the next day a marching band alerted us to the second celebration, this one to mark Peru qualifying for the World Soccer Cup. (Note: You could find videos of the final game on sale in the supermarket and also on continuous rewind in a popular grilled chicken restaurant.) The last was not a parade per se but the first dress rehearsal for the pre-Easter religious festivities in February+ - Feast of the Virgin Candelaria and Carnival.
These parades and pre-parades were fun to watch not only because of the glitter and glamour, but mainly because everyone participating seems to be having so much fun.