Sunday, February 16, 2014

I am in Love: Posada Santa Barbara

Warning: This is probably my longest blog so far...but you may be enchanted.

I am in love. Cue romantic Italian music, moss-covered stone walls, candle-lit dinners, and a quaint lodge in a small quiet village run by the friendliest couple you have ever met. Sound like a fantasy? Well, I just described Posada Santa Barbara, a small inn located in the pueblo of Chucuito, Peru, just south of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. And I am in love with this place!

There are not too many places to stay in this village and two of them were way out of my price range. Posada Santa Barbara sounded a bit too good to be true, but since I am on a budget, I could not be picky.

Once I arrived by combi (a mini-bus carrying up to 20 people to a specific location)—a 20 minute ride in little vans that leave Puno about every 20 minutes—I had a little trouble locating the inn. In such a small town, GoogleMaps has yet to label all the streets. When I entered the address, GoogleMaps could not find it, and the  HostelBookers map placed it on a street north of the Plaza del Armas. It turned out that there is a street named Santa Barbara north of the plaza, but the posada is located south of the plaza. (See my accurate map below—just in case you get to go there.) Of course the village is so small, that a few inquiries on the street got me turned in the right direction (“go under the arch by the cathedral, turn left, and walk a couple blocks”) and soon I was looking at the inviting entrance, including arching trees overhead and a quiet pathway that led to the inn.

My mouth was open in an unbelieving “Oh!” When I walked into the empty restaurant, I whispered to no one, “How beautiful!”
My first impression of the posada.

Okay guys, if you are not interested in a chick-flick, you can turn the
channel right now. Otherwise, read on...


Samantha, one of the hosts, appeared with the most radiant smile and cheerful face—a godsend to any dusty traveler in need of rest. She led me down another pathway to my room in another building that overlooks  the compounds of houses below, the Chucuito peninsula, and Lake Titicaca. The lodge is constructed entirely of stone and the stonework is amazing including arched windows with deep sills, a window-seat,  and a sculpted sink. There is a bed right next to the downstairs windows and two more in the loft, all piled with comforters,  heavy wool blankets, and bedspreads hand-embroidered with Incan images. (The days are comfortable here, but once the sun goes down, the temperatures drop to about 30°F at this altitude.) Everything is impeccably clean.


Samantha, Juan, and their gato, Argo.
After a rest in my cozy bed, I decided to explore the village a bit and get some lunch. As I huffed my way back up the path (remember that altitude of 12,500 feet?), I ran into Juan, Samantha’s boyfriend, and my other host. Juan speaks enough English to make me feel comfortable asking detailed questions. He also made me feel at home and told me about the food in the restaurant and asked if I wanted dinner that evening. You get the feeling here that nothing is too good for the guests. Juan’s mother is Italian and his father is Peruvian and  Samantha is Italian, so the atmosphere always has the warmth found in the most traditional Mediterranean and South American establishments.

When I entered the restaurant I was overcome with emotion. I was the only one in the lodge eating that night and Juan had prepared a table just for me with white table cloth, tea service, a candle, and romantic Peruvian music in the background. “What would you like to eat tonight,” Juan asked, “pasta? soup?” Gosh, everything was complete, but where was my Latin lover? The restaurant reminded me of an Italian cafĂ© complete with pizza oven. (Unfortunately,  I was never able to try the pizza, since it takes 5 hours to fire the oven and that would certainly be a waste for one person.) On both nights that I stayed, I ate pasta—pesto pasta one night and tomato pasta the next. (Everyone who knows me, can attest that sometimes I have a problem deciding between my favorite starches—potatoes or pasta.)  It  was a lovely dinner—one I will not forget for a long time. I cannot wait to bring Rebecca here—lover of everything Italian—especially the food.


Now you may not believe this, but while I was waiting for my dinner, Juan and Samantha called me outside to see a magnificent full moon rising over the lake. Sounds a bit too quintessential to be true?


The next morning, I explored the grounds. Arches are everywhere—trimmed into hedges and wrought in stone. Juan explained that arches are traditional structures in Chucuito and when you walk around the village, you see it is true. There was an arched mirador (overlook) near my room and another public one  above the inn at the end of the street.  Although the gardens are a bit unkempt, flowers bloom everywhere—snapdragons, California poppies, daisies. Oh, and did I mention the arched hedges?

Juan will arrange a variety of excursions for you, including horseback riding; visits to Amantani and Taquile Islands and the beach at Acora; and tours of the village and Chucuito Peninsula and the nearby Inca Huyu (fertility temple) and other ruins. Just tell him what you are interested in and he can probably accommodate you.

In lieu of a Latin lover, 
I had Argo, the resident gato
curl up in my lap.
Water is solar heated—the cheapest way to heat water in this country—and hot water is available 24/7. (If it is cloudy or early in the morning, just tell Juan and he will cheerfully switch on the electric heater.) If you want heat in the room, it is available for an extra cost, but the piles of blankets are sufficient—even for me who tends to get cold at night.

Now, Posada Santa Barbara would not be considered a luxury inn; BUT, charming and rustic are the perfect words to describe it and the service is bar-none and always with a smile. ( I have experienced enough so-called luxury accommodations and found that the staff acts like they could do a much better job if all the pesky clients would just go away.) Juan and Samantha obviously love the inn, and have a personal stake in the posada.


The door to my room was protected by a solarium.

View from my bed:
I went to sleep one night watching one of the most spectacular light shows Mother Nature ever put on. 
The storm over the lake lasted over two hours!


Juan’s father, Hector, a stonemason (no, an artist with stone and iron) built Posada Santa Barbara about 10 years ago, with the help of local laborers. It was open for a few years, but then closed for a couple more before Juan and Samantha came from Italy to bring it back to life. They are still in the process of doing so, and the progress is apparent. Juan told me it would be very triste (sad) to see this beautiful architecture fall into disuse—and indeed it would. He and Samantha are working very hard to make sure it does not—cleaning, cooking, building clientele, resurrecting the landscape, endlessly maintaining, and taking care of visitors—always with a smile and time to talk to guests. “No problem” is their middle name. Their friend Andrea has come from Italy to help. It is emotionally overwhelming for me to see these young people taking the reins from the previous generation. I wish them buen suerte!

While I started on my coca tea, 
Juan prepared my scrambled eggs.
I would be remiss in my review if I did not mention a few drawbacks, but few they are. The pathways are stone and dirt and certainly not wheelchair accessible, so be prepared to walk carefully around the grounds. Of course you have to walk slowly at this altitude. Breakfast is not included, which is a bit unusual for Peruvian hotels, but it is available for 10–12 soles (about $3–4). The rooms are priced low enough that it is not a huge stretch to pay for breakfast. Juan made me a delectable smoothie of apple juice and bananas both mornings,  and it was lovely to wake up while sipping tea in the breakfast room where vines grow up the solarium wall. I mentioned that the grounds are a bit unkempt, but I did not come to Peru to stay in a 5-star hotels with perfectly manicured grounds. The Wi-Fi was temporarily not working when I was there, but Juan assures me that is to be remedied soon. The two-lane highway to Bolivia runs just below the inn and sometimes the traffic is noisy but it generally calms down during the night.

The Posada is located in Chucuito, Peru. If you want a place to stay near Puno, but out of the noise and hubbub of the city, Chucuito is the place. The ride back to town takes only 20 minutes by combi and costs S/1.5 (about 50 cents American).

This has been a bit of a scouting trip. I am retuning to Chucuito for the month of March and I look forward to enjoying Juan and Samantha’s hospitality again, knowing I wont be disappointed.

Stay tuned for more about the village of Chucuito and the knitters there...

Location of Posada Santa Barbara: “go under
the arch by the cathedral, turn left, and walk a couple blocks”


4 comments:

  1. cool that looks like a very homely place

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  2. so beautiful. i just wanna hop on over there right now!

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  3. You could write travel books, Cathy.
    Emily M

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  4. Fabulous!!! I'm so happy for you, Cathy. Thank you for sharing your amazing experience with us. I love the photos.
    Heather

    ReplyDelete