It was my second day in Puno and soroche (altitude sickness) was killing me. I think it got me because I was jet lagged, tired and stressed. But I was determined to enjoy the trip and so I got up early and headed downstairs to have breakfast.
Andean foods in the hotel restaurant entrance (not Paleo!)
The hotel breakfast buffet was pretty standard. There were cereals, yoghurt, breads, butter, jam, olives, cheese, hams, some fruit, juices, and hot beverages.
Cereals & yoghurt
Olives, butter, jam
Cheese, hams, fruit
Tea, chocolate, coffee, juice
Tea, coca leaves
The first thing I got was a mate de coca to try to settle down the headache, and a glass of papaya juice, to soothe my stomach from dinner the night before. I also got some fruit.
Fruit, papaya juice, mate de coca
I asked if they had some sort of hot food; they had eggs (your choice of scrambled or fried). I ordered two servings of scrambled eggs, which were overcooked and bland. I ate them with black and green olives, which were a bit too bitter for my taste, and a dollop of butter on top.
Scrambled eggs, olives, butter
A minibus picked me up for my day tour. This time we went to Titicaca lake, the highest sailable lake in the world.
We visited the Uros islands, home of a native population that relies heavily on totora, a grass that grows on the lake. Pretty much everything is made of totora: the islands, boats, houses, etc. Dried totora is used for fire, and fresh totora can be eaten, used to prevent tooth decay and to lower fever.
But totora is not all Uros eat. They catch fish (carachi, trout, catfish, etc.), hunt birds, eat some of the eggs in nesting season (they leave enough untouched to keep things sustainable), and trade trout for tubers (potatoes, chuño or dried potato, olluco, etc.) in town. They also consume edible clay, which is supposed to help with stomach ulcers.
Tubers, edible clay
Our next stop was the Taquile island, also in the Titicaca lake. The population there has a different background from the Uros, they even speak a different language. Their main activity is agriculture, especially of potatoes. After a short but demanding walk (uphill and at nearly 4000 metres above sea level) we arrived at the main square, where a couple of shops offer handmade textiles. If you’re hungry, forget about the traditional choclo con queso (corn with cheese) or papa con huacatay (potato with a herb/chilli sauce). These days there’s only junk. It was very sad to see the native people of the island drinking litres and litres of soda. Needless to say, their teeth are not perfect anymore.
We had lunch at one of the restaurants in the island. The setup was extremely simple, but really nicely decorated.
Lunch was a set menu of quinoa soup with potatoes and vegetables and a choice of grilled trout with chips, rice and vegetables or vegetarian omelette with chips and rice. The whole meal costed S/. 20, around $7.30.
Bread and rocoto (a very spicy chilli) salsa started the meal.
Once again I skipped the bread but not all the grains, I did have the soup and the rice. I trusted in the knowledge of the natives to properly prepare the quinoa and found it didn’t cause me any digestion issues. Both the soup and the trout were simple and delicious.
Quinoa, potato & vegetable soup
Grilled trout with chips, rice & vegetables
Lunch ended with a cup of muña and coca leaf tea. Muña is a herb with a minty flavour that is widely used in the highlands as seasoning and digestive infusion.
Muña & coca leaf tea
Shortly after lunch we walked to the port (this time downhill) and jumped on the boat back to Puno. It had been a great day out, and by the time they dropped me at my hotel I was hungry again. I took a shower and left the hotel to check out some shops and restaurants.
My chosen dinner spot was Tradiciones del Lago. I liked the fact that they state all the ingredients in the menu, which helped me steer clear of stuff I normally avoid.
I thought a soup would be ideal but all of them were very heavy on the grains and I had had my share at lunch. There were a few things on the menu that caught my eye, and I consciously chose two dishes with non-matching flavour profiles just because I wanted to try them both: Brocheta de lomo fino de alpaca, alpaca sirloin skewers in red wine apple sauce, and Guarnición andina, a side of Andean tubers (oca and olluco) in passionfruit and muña sauce.
First came the mandatory bread. Again, I skipped it and kept the butter for my main.
The chunks of alpaca in the skewers were alternated with onion and capsicum. I do prefer alpaca meat when it’s cooked low and slow, but it wasn’t bad at all. The red wine & apple sauce tasted great; I’ll try to replicate it at home.
Brocheta de lomo fino de alpaca (S/. 27, around $10)
The starchy side was huge. The tubers were perfectly cooked but the sauce was a bit too sweet for my taste. As expected, the two fruity sauces caused chaos in my mouth, but both dishes were very good on their own.
Guarnición andina (S/. 7, around $2.50)
Casona Plaza Hotel
(5151) 36 5614
Tradiciones del Lago
Jirón Lima 418