Twenty-four hours on planes, and 19 hours by bus; I had gone from snowy Calgary, Canada on the first of February to the warm and beautiful sunshine of Puno, Peru by the fourth. This little town is set in the southeast corner of Peru, and was rumored to be the spot for Carnival, so I high-tailed it from Lima, a 16-hour bus trip, to check it out.
Perched in the mountains on the shore of the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, Puno was said to be the birthplace of the original rulers of the Inca Empire. It also had its day as a port facility to Bolivia (which shares the lake with Peru) in the 1800s.
I was awakened by loud drums and horns, people yelling and an atmosphere that buzzed with excitement. Today was the start of â€śLa Virgen de la Candeleria,â€ť a festival specific to Puno alone. From my hostel room window, and as far as I could see down the streets in every direction, there were huge groups of people dancing and playing music. They were clad in bright costumes, and all were playing their hearts out. Carnival had begun.
Throughout the day there were parades of people, one group after another, all playing the traditional celebratory music of their home regions. The sun was shining and the weather pitched a perfect summer day. People were drinking and laughing and dancing in the streets and it wasnâ€™t even late afternoon yet. All about the city there were street vendors selling large bottles of beer.
The music raged well into the night. All the young people raced about the streets with aerosol cans of white foam, spraying anyone not already covered. A friend and I were drawn into the foaming game, so while we drank our beers from the balconies overlooking the streets, weâ€™d pick out our targets; kids, men, women, dancers! Then weâ€™d race down out of nowhere and cover the helpless victims in white froth!!
It was electric. Regardless of my poor Spanish, people just wanted to share a drink and some good times.
Never mind, this was only the first night of what was a solid week of amazing times. Great music. Great times. Great people. Puno had been rumored to have the biggest Carnival celebrations in Peru, but I would venture to say that these celebrations were some of the biggest this side of Rio.