I can describe my hostel in one word: Rattrap. Or is that two? Regardless, I'm sitting on the bed now, room 405, absorbing, scattering, reflecting, and planning the next day. And I'm in Puno--did I mention that? On the shore of the world's highest navigable lake, Lago Titicaca. Somewhere near me is Lake Poopo, which I might visit just for the humor (make that juvenile humor) value.
It's raining right now in Puno, and lightning flashes illuminate my window intermittently, a la Hollywood classics Psycho, Jurrassic Park, Dumbo, et. al. I spent a while looking down at the street, watching people running for cover from the downpour, or just calmly strolling, as if they weren't getting soaked to within an inch of their lives.
This morning, my train left Cusco exactly at 8 AM. I had waited in line for two hours to make sure I'd get a ticket. I boarded what seemed to be an inordinately fancy setting for a $17 ticket, tossed my luggage onto the rack overhead, and sat down with my tupperware. Said tupperware was filled with a soup I had cooked the night before. I mistakenly made enough for about 22 people, and after eating the first 11 peoples' worth, I decided, to the amusement of the senora of my hospedaje, who lent me the tupperware, to bring the rest of the soup with me on this trip, so that I could spend more of my money on seeing cool things, and less on eating the ubiquious potatoes and corn that comprise standard vegetarian fare here in the meat capital of the world.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here, steppin' out of the tent before I've got my boots on, slidin' down the hill without lookin' to see where the cactus are. This is my last week in Peru. I'm taking a trip down to the Southern tip of Peru, to Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, Puno, the city at its tip, and the many, many sites of amazing ridiculous things that lie thereabouts. In my pack is a sleeping bag, waterproof camping hammock(the future of untralight backpacking!), a wheel of unperishable andean cheese, a bag of el gorpo, change of clothes, headlamp, enough memory cards to choke a VI-III, and the aformentioned tupperware. I should mention that I'm inordinately preoccupied with the tupperware. Most of my worries are focused on the tupperware involuntarily burping and covering all my worldly possessions in my delicious soup. For this reason, I've kept the tupperware out of my backpack, and I've been carrying it under my arm like a star quarterback heading for the endzone. All in all, I was pretty much prepared for anything, as long as it involved soup.
The train started to fill up. For a while, I hoped I would have my row to myself, but alas, a group of three people alternating between spanish and french piled in around me. Out of deference to my fellow travelers, I put my tupperware on the overhead luggage rack, so that they would have a clear table, free of obstructions that might inhibit conversation. As our train pulled out, I noticed for the first time that the people sitting around me were two parents and a daughter about my age, who happened to be a knockout. Actually, I noticed the daughter about a microsecond after she got on the train, but I'm trying to quell my youthful impulses. Anyway, the row across from us was empty, and so the parents moved over to that side, but the daughter said she'd like to stay (5 years of french class finally paid off, letting me understand their exchange here).
I couldn't think of anything to say to the girl, so I looked out the window. The train is actually a very picturesque ride, going far away from any roads, heading through rural villages and farmland that would otherwise be days' walk from any city. Tres cool. But back to my budding, sordid romance.
Well, this trend of me not being able to think of anything to say continued for a while. I could really only think of things to say in English, so I spent the next two hours writing stories in my notebook in various tenses of French, in an attempt to remind myself of this language I hadn't spoken for three years. For the first half of the ten hour trip, there was nothing but silence, punctuated occasionally by the scratch of my pen as I described the adventures of made-up characters in the Imparfait, condicional, subjuntive, et la future. It may seem ridiculous, but hey, it's a long trip. Finally, I felt that I remembered enough french to have a decent conversation, so when the train stopped halfway at the 4,300 m pass of La Raya (I could feel the muscles in my legs burn just sitting, as they resorted to anaerobic respiration). Anyway, I wrote "D'ou vienes-tu?" on a fresh page in my notebook, made sure that it was displayed prominently with a pen handily left nearby, and the train to buy bread. When I got back, I found that la fille had not deigned to answer, either by virtue of my poor handwriting or an utter lack of interest (Handwriting!, my ego cries). I figured that, either way, any girl not nosy enough to peek at another person's notebook, so vulnerably displayed, was probably not that interesting. However, as the train started off with a jolt, I noticed my tupperware(positioned over the girl's head) start to slide off the luggage rack, and I jumped up to steady it, averting a sure disaster (and a good conversation starter, most likely--"What the hell was that?" "Oh, just my soup. Would you like some? You can scoop it off the floor with this piece of bread I bought"). Anyway, we rode the next five hours in silence, too.
Not that conversation was needed on this ride. The train pulled us through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I've ever seen (I keep saying that, but the mountains keep getting more beautiful). We passed immense snow-capped peaks, countless llamas grazing in countless fields along the tracks (I've now seen all 4 South American camelids!), and I enjoyed my lack of fear (for once) as angry dogs ran, snapping and barking after the train, infuriated at this intruder in their territory. No rabies for me today!
The train pulled in in the midst of the pretty twying light around 6pm. I popped off and walked to the exit, where I was immediately accosted by thousands of screaming people, thrusting pamphlets for hostels and travel agencies in my face. I pointed and shouted something incomprehensible, and dashed off in the momentary confusion.
I headed to the part of town where my guide book told me I could find cheap hospedajes. I picked one out of the listing randomly and started looking for it. As I walked through the streets, a kind samaritan approached me, asking what I was looking for. "Hospedaje Rosaria," I replied. "Don't go there," he said in labored spanish(Aymara is the dominant language here) "come to my hostel instead. Only 10 soles a night."
I shrugged and followed him through a narrow doorway into a nearby building. I couldn't help but notice the three perplexed people standing around frantically trying to stem the flow of water from a gaping hole in the wall, not to mention the apparent dam break in the ceiling, resulting in a scenic, if damaging waterfall that I nimbly dodged. The hostel owner seemed unsurprised by the catastrophes taking place in his building, so when he asked how long I'd like a room for, I went with my instincts and replied, "Two nights." Casting a glance back over my shoulder at the miniature lake forming in the hallway, I asked,