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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peru Vacation Day 8: From Puno To Cusco By Bus

You can find the quick update of this day of our Peru vacation here. As mentioned in that update, the bus trip back to Cusco was an addition to our original itinerary. Since we took the train down to Puno, and missed all the sights the bus stops at, we wanted to make sure we got a chance to see them some other time. So, we decided to take the bus back up to Cusco rather than flying. We paid $70 to add the bus trip to our tour.

We were taken from our hotel in Puno to the bus station at about 7 in the morning. The bus left Puno at 7:35 AM. There were only about 10 people in the bus that normally seats about 40 people, so it was very uncrowded. It was a large, luxury bus with aircraft-style reclining seats arranged 2x2, and large picture windows. The bus had small overhead racks for hand luggage, but most larger luggage, had to be loaded below the passenger compartment in the cargo storage area. The bus also had a doorway in the middle which was never used, and a small restroom that the conductor/guide warned us was only for emergency use and liquid wastes!

The bus's speedometer and odometer did not work, so distances are based on kilometer markers along the route (the route had a marker every kilometer). The bus also had air vents and reading lights that did not work. Ventilation and cooling were provided by open windows and openable vents on the roof of the bus. The bus had a manual transmission with 1 reverse speed and 6 forward speeds. There was also a small knob under the steering wheel which seemed to control the level of engine braking. The driver used this to control the bus's speed around curves, etc., rather than using the brakes.

The route we took was labeled 3S, and seemed to be a toll route at least part of the way. The road was at least 2 lanes wide at all places, with clear yellow-line markings for the center, and had a paved shoulder. Our bus was faster than most other vehicles on the road, so sometimes we were stuck behind slower vehicles in no-overtaking zones for short stretches of time. Around urban areas, I saw a lot of trash by the side of the road. Small roadside shrines (probably marking victims of road accidents) were also very common all along the route.

Puno to Cusco orientation mapOrientation map showing the locations of our stops along the way from Puno (in the South) to Cusco (in the North). Pukara is located approximately where the mouse cursor is positioned on the map. B is La Raya, C is Sicuani, D is San Pablo, E is Raqchi, F is Andahuaylillas, and G is Cusco itself. Notice that the route is along the 3S highway.

The bus had 6 stops on this trip. They were Pukara (108 km from Puno, elevation of 3860 meters), La Raya (93 km from Pukara, elevation of 4338 meters, which is the highest point on this trip), Sicuani (37 km from La Raya, elevation of 3550 meters), San Pablo (15 km from Sicuani, elevation of 3460 meters), Raqchi (6 km from San Pablo, elevation of 3460 meters), and Andahuaylillas (89 km from Raqchi, elevation of 3198 meters). Cusco, the final destination of the bus, is 41 km from Andahuaylillas.

Even though the bus is definitely far cheaper than the train for the trip between Cusco and Puno, the train is by far the superior alternative. The view from the open air observation deck of the train was beyond compare, especially in relation to the view from behind the tinted picture windows on the bus. Being able to catch the views all around rather than just in one direction is definitely an advantage too. If one is interested in taking photographs during the trip, the train is the only alternative worth considering. We had the best of both worlds by taking the train one way and the bus the other way so that we could enjoy the scenery, but also not miss out on visits to Raqchi and Andahuaylillas, which are possible only by bus.

Here are some photographs from this trip for your enjoyment!

Puno to Cusco bus interiorA photo of the interior of the bus showing the 2x2 seating, large windows and the huge windshield.

Puno to Cusco bus exteriorA look at our bus from the outside. This photograph was taken at La Raya. Notice the oversized side mirrors and the middle door on the side of the bus, just before the rear wheel. This door was never used. The bus's restroom is located beside that door, on the inside. Notice that the bus stop is crowded with several other buses. Lots of buses run between Cusco and Puno on a daily basis. Some of them are double-decked too like the red one in the background.

Puno from bus's tinted windowsA picture of Puno from inside the bus. Notice the unrealistic tinting of the photo caused by the tinted windows of the bus, and the reflections caused by the thick double-pane of glass on the window.

Roadside shrine along 3S in PeruA roadside shrine we passed on 3S. These are quite numerous along all the roads throughout Peru, except inside urban areas. We also passed a couple of roadside cemeteries, but they were rarer and harder to photograph.

Pukara sculpturesSome ancient sculptures at Pukara. In the background is the colonial-era church that is the centerpiece of the main square of Pukara. These carvings are located in the courtyard of a museum that houses other pieces and exhibits in rooms where photography is not allowed.

Pukara main square and churchPukara church as seen from the main square of Pukara. All around the main square are many vendor stalls selling all kinds of handicrafts.

Mountains near La RayaSnow-covered mountains on approach to La Raya.

Vilcanota Knot seen from La RayaA vendor stall forms the foreground for a view of the Vilcanota knot from La Raya. The bus stop is a few feet higher than the train station.

La Raya signSign at La Raya, advertising the height of the point as 4338 meters above sea level.

Buffet at SicuaniWe had lunch at Sicuani. A view of the buffet at the restaurant where we had lunch. Behind me was a courtyard where a live music band entertained eaters.

Llamas and alpaca at San PabloLlamas and alpaca at San Pablo. Our bus stopped here just to allow passengers to get up close and personal with these animals (and some guinea pigs).

Llama closeupA closeup of a llama, with its friendly face and large eyes framed by long eyelashes. These animals were very docile and allowed tourists to pet them, and stood quite still for photographs!

Guinea PigsThese guinea pigs are grown for food in Peru. Guinea pigs are quite skittish and did not allow tourists to handle them. But they did not make any attempt to run away either, even though they were in an open room with ample opportunity to run away if they wanted to!

Baby llama
Baby llama drinking from feeding bottleA couple of views of a baby llama that captured all the attention of the tourists, for obvious reasons! We took turns feeding the llama milk with a feeding bottle. A close-up of the baby llama's face shows droplets of milk around its mouth from the feeding session!

AlpacaA view of the alpaca. This animal was also quite friendly, but not as photogenic as the white llamas. With a little practice you can distinguish between llamas and alpacas, but I wasn't able to differentiate between them, so I relied on our guide to tell me which was which!

RaqchiRaqchi is an Inca archaeological site known for the Temple of Wiracocha, an enormous rectangular two-story roofed structure that measures 92 metres long by 25.5 metres wide by 18 to 20 metres high along the center line. Prior to its destruction by the Spaniards, the temple had what is believed to be the largest single roof in the Incan Empire, having its peak at the central wall, then stretching over the columns and some 25 metres beyond on each side. We also some several circular granaries at Raqchi. Raqchi has a thriving marketplace and is very famous for ceramics and pottery (in fact, Raqchi means ceramics in Qechua).

Andahuaylillas main squareThe main square of Andahuaylillas. The approach to this place was along a narrow cobble-stoned alley. Andahuaylillas is practically a suburb of Cusco, so traffic became quite heavy as we neared Andahuaylillas, and remained that way until we reached Cusco itself.

Andahuaylillas churchThe famed Andahuaylillas church. It is considered the most beautiful church in Peru, and the Sistine Chapel of Latin America because of its roof paintings. The church was under renovation when we visited it. There were no photographs allowed inside. The gold-leaf coverings of all the sculptures was quite impressive, but the Sistine Chapel claim was, I felt, a little overblown. The ceiling was simply covered in a repeating pattern rather than real paintings. It was colorful and ornate, but not a valid comparison to the real Sistine Chapel. No photographs are allowed inside the church.

While we were in Andahuaylillas, the world cup finals was taking place in South Africa. Some people were crowded around a television set inside the office just inside the church. I watched for a few minutes, and about 2 minutes after I left to walk around the square and take some photos, Spain scored the winning goal against the Netherlands! The whole square exploded in whoops and cheers as tourists poured out of the church to spread the news.

We reached Cusco around 5 PM on this day. If you take out the stops, the bus journey is about 6 hours long, making it about 4 hours faster than the train. This being the last day of our vacation on the ground, the evening was spent packing up and making sure everything was all set for our departure from Peru the next day.

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