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I could have left Lake Titicaca on November 5th feeling satisfied — nay, overjoyed — with our time there. So far, Zoe and I had stayed in a unique and beautiful lakeside hotel, and explored the colorful and rural areas surrounding it. But there was another treat awaiting us — catching the final, jubilant day of celebrations for Puno Week. The day’s main event was a procession honoring Manco Cápac — who appearantly rose from the depths of the lake to found the Inca empire — with a procession from the floating islands of Uros to the harbor of Puno, followed by your typical festival trappings like parades, dancing, fair food, and llama sacrifices.

What? Are you telling me llama sacrifices are not part of the typical fair fun in your hometown?

The Floating Islands of Uros

The Floating Islands of Uros

The Floating Islands of Uros

Like so many truly worthwhile travel activities, this one required a criminally early morning wake up. Our early arrival left time to visit the floating Uros Islands prior to the start of the procession — a must-do for any visitor to Lake Titicaca. We did things a little differently than usual, though. Rather than join one of the cheap tour groups leaving from Puno Harbor, Titilaka arranged a private boat to take us to the Uros Islands and then shadow the Manco Cápac procession, all for a mere $25US each.

It was an affordable luxury, but we were quick to learn one of the downsides — none of the islands wanted us! They were much more eager to welcome large tour groups with multiple potential handicrap-buyers, rather than just us two. Finally we did find a family willing to host us, but the buying pressure was strong.

The Floating Islands of Uros

The Floating Islands of Uros

The Floating Islands of Uros

Uncomfortable shopping pressure aside, it was an unbelievable experience. Just walking on these squishy, man-made reed islands was a trip — they really had some bounce! The islands were originally formed by the Uros people hoping to escape their aggressive neighbors and avoid paying taxes, and eventually developed into a vibrant floating community.

Skeptics say that the islands are no longer truly inhabited, and that the so-called residents arrive by boat from the mainland every morning and put on the show in order to keep the tourists happy (and buying). I have to say certain evidence did seem to point that way — there was no food or evidence of recent cooking in the “kitchen,” and the bedrooms showed no possessions whatsoever — not even a single change of clothes. That didn’t dampen my experience, as regardless of realities of today, this is at the very least a living history museum of the Uros islands of yesterday.

Plus, we got to dress up in fun outfits. Travel win!

The Floating Islands of Uros

The Floating Islands of Uros

The Floating Islands of Uros

The Floating Islands of Uros

The Floating Islands of Uros

Next up was the main event — the aqua-parade towards Puno Harbor. The methodical beating of drums was punctuated by the occasional blow of a low-register shell horn, setting the rhythm for the snail-like movements of the endless procession of reed boats. It truly sent a chill down my spine to be in the middle of it.

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

The procession was long and slow and eventually the narrow channel of the harbor forced us to pull behind, followed by the coast guard pushing us at bay as we crept closer to the harbor. But those moments when we were right in the heat of it will not leave me anytime soon — it was the explosion of sound and color and light and tradition that every traveler dreams of finding on their wanderings.

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

It wasn’t over when we reached Puno. At the harbor, the crowd welcomed reenactment actors wild applause and enthusiasm, and a party that was already in full swing. Paparrazi-like photographers swarmed around the brightly-costumed Manco Capac incarnate as he made enthusiastic speeches in Quechua. Anxious to get in on the action, we bid adios to our boat driver and hopped onto the pier and into a throbbing crowd, pulsing around a lively parade.

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

Puno Week Manco Capac Procession

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Having planned our itinerary expressly to include this celebration, I was surprised to count less than ten Westerners in the throngs of people we slowly pushed our way through. We eventually gathered around the main stadium, where we stood baking in the sun and drowning in the sweat of the people next to us. Though we couldn’t follow much of what was going on, we did understand what was up when we saw a baby llama being paraded in front of the crowd.

As soon as we saw blood we decided we’d had enough.

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

We walked around the lively fair-like grounds for a while, sampling treats like churros (delicious) and a pink-foam-like dessert (atrocious) for just a few pesos each. We were both chastised by cranky locals for brandishing our cameras, hence the lack of photographic evidence.

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Eventually, the heat got the better of us and we decided to head back to our hostel for a quick shower before checking out the parades in the city center. However, we quickly concluded that our pedi-cab driver was abusing some sort of substance, as he refused to return my map and instead gleefully drove us directly into the heart of the parade, down streets that were very clearly closed to all but pedestrians. We were mortified, but the kids we displaced were more than thrilled to ham it up for the camera in my lap.

We eventually exited the pedi-cab doubled over in laughter, and at that point decided to ride out our festive moods and enjoy as much of the parade as we could until our exhaustion got the better of us.

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru
We stopped often to watch the kidlets twirl with various degrees of enthusiasm in their colorful costumes. The dance troupes got older throughout the day, ending with the most elite adult groups, but we cut out somewhere around pre-teens for a shower and a nap back at the hostel.

When we emerged around dinner time, we found a restaurant with a view of the plaza so we could watch from a lazily seated position. Though things were meant to wrap up officially around six, it was pushing ten when we made our way to bed and the streets were still pulsing with life.

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru

Puno Day Festival, Puno, Peru
If a photo of a festival is worth a thousand words, I think each second of video must be worth about a million. Many thanks to my temporary assistant Anders for cutting together this video for me — he’s a fantastic editor (and cheap too — he only charged me one sandwich!)

Celebrating Puno Day was one of the highlights of my visit to Peru. I hope after virtually coming along with me, you can understand why!

Do you seek out festivals when you travel? What’s the best one you’ve ever attended?

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30 Comments...
  • Melissa
    December 4 2013

    The color contrast in some of these shots is gorgeous. I especially like the ones of you guys dressed up and surrounded by all that hay. I also love the meta photo of the mini-polaroid picture. As for festivals, I always seem to travel places at the wrong time of year. That needs to change.
    Melissa recently posted..Bologna in a Nutshell

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      I don’t usually seek out festivals as I can be overwhelmed by the overbooked hotels, the hectic crowds, the impossible-to-get transport, etc. This was the best of both worlds though, considering the lack of foreigners!

  • Heather
    December 4 2013

    I love the colourful costumes and flags, and I also love the reed boats! I can appreciate that the floating islands may not be used for everyday life anymore, but like you said, having a chance to see them and imagine what it must have been like is a cool thing.
    Too bad you got the stink eye for liberal use of your camera, the lady with the red sash on her hat looks none too impressed. I’d put away my camera too if I saw her glaring at me!
    Heather recently posted..Are Volunteers Underpaid? The Cost of Living in Lusaka City

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      Ha… yeah, she’s one who gave me a shout afterwards 🙂 I guess I got revenge by posting this photo?

  • Stef
    December 4 2013

    This looks like so much fun and I can totally understand that it’s one of your highlights. I always love if I am able to participate in local events. It’s such a gread opportunity to get to know the culture and the people!
    Stef recently posted..What to eat and drink in Chile

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      Yup! I’m all for “touristy” things but there is something to be said for having fun like a local would.

  • Sarah Somewhere
    December 4 2013

    Some of your most amazing photos yet! I love the colour!!! This looks wonderful and I will be bookmarking it for next year. The video was awesome, love, love, love!!! (How was that?;))
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Taking time for me and for him

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      You are amazing, Sarah 🙂 And thank you again for the email letting me know comments were turned off. You’re the best!

  • Laura
    December 4 2013

    Wow, so many colors in that parade! The poor baby llama… I was close to Lake Titicaca when staying in La Paz and wanted to visit the Uros Islands but never made it. It looks so cool even if it IS touristy. Love your outfits!
    Laura recently posted..A Year Without: November Recap

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      I’m kind of devastated I didn’t buy one of those skirts… don’t you think it could be a hit in New York?! 😉

  • Mel
    December 4 2013

    Beautifully captured as always 🙂 The colours, wow!
    Mel recently posted..Salar De Uyuni

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      Thank you Mel! And your post is suddenly making me regret I’m heading north to Ecuador rather than South to Bolivia!

  • Sam
    December 5 2013

    You are totally rocking that pink skirt and green jacket, Alex! Looks like it was a fun day.
    Sam recently posted..How We Rent Apartments While Travelling: South America Edition

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      Thanks Sam! Normally I think blondes should avoid hot pink, but when in Peru…

  • Dad
    December 5 2013

    Alex, How great that there were only 10 westerners in attendance. It seems like that would make it more of an exotic adventure. Love the colors and the catamaran boats.Loved the video. The dancers in the parade would fit right into the Mummers parade.

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      One of these days I will have to catch this Mummers parade you love so much! And yes, the fact that we weren’t elbowing tour buses full of retirees from Ohio out of the way did make it more special. There were more Westerners around when we were in the main city parade but few at the festival down by the port and even less following the boat procession. A special day.

  • Beth
    December 5 2013

    All those bright colors… and the traditional clothes! I totally seek out festivals whenever I can.
    Beth recently posted..Our Epic Seaplane Adventure

    • Alex
      December 6 2013

      I’ve tried to catch a few on this trip but few worked out for one reason or another. This pretty much made up for it, though!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    December 5 2013

    Wow, I can’t believe how beautiful lake Titicaca is. You were so lucky that you were there to witness the festival. It is an exploration of colours – so stunning! And that pink dress really suits you Alex! 🙂
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..My packing list for Everest Base Camp

  • Camels & Chocolate
    December 9 2013

    Is there anything you DIDN’T do on this trip? Jesus, woman, I need to travel with you more often. We go at the same speed 😉
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Photo Friday: Key Largo, Florida

    • Alex
      December 10 2013

      Yup, at least for the three weeks that Zoe was with me, we moved like lightening! It did cause me some near-heart attacks with work, so I’m balancing it out with a calmer pace right now. Ten days at the beach, starting today — hallelujah!

  • Ayngelina
    December 9 2013

    Amazing colours and such great photos.
    Ayngelina recently posted..I’m Afraid of Spain

    • Alex
      December 10 2013

      Thanks Ayngelina! I can’t stop watching the video… I just love how bright everything is!

  • Adam
    December 10 2013

    Wow it all looks so colorful! Looks chaotic which just how I enjoy things 🙂
    Adam recently posted..Travel Photo: London From Above at the Olympic Park’s ArcelorMittal Orbit

    • Alex
      December 10 2013

      I’m pretty picky about my chaos… but this kind is right up my alley 🙂

  • Erica
    December 16 2013

    We also got the opportunity to see a parade in Puno while we were there too. The costumes they have are GORGEOUS. I learned that they save all year long to be able to afford them!
    Erica recently posted..My Coffee Connoisseur Meal Made Me Moan at Finca Rosa Blanca, Costa Rica

    • Alex
      December 17 2013

      I’ve read that Puno is the festival capital of Peru, so I’m not surprised we both caught one while we were there! Like I said, what really surprised me was how few other tourists were around!

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