Peru, part 4
We were up at five this morning and I feel well enough to go on the Lake Titicaca tour. We have become so used to our early mornings that we wake up before our alarm goes off! The tour bus picks us up at 6:30 and when we climb in Ina and Boris greet us with cheery hellos and big smiles! It is only a short drive to the lakeshore where the tour boats await the onslaught of sightseers. Our guide seems to be very personable, as have all of our guides to this point.
Our boat joins a long line of tourist boats whose destinations are the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. As we approach the unique reed islands, the boats split up and distribute us evenly among the islands. That’s good, as I had no idea how all these people were going to fit on the tiny island of Uros where we are going. There are several Aimaras, the island residents, who are waiting to help tie our boat to the dock.
Before we disembark, our guide cautions us to stay in front of the reed houses as there are places behind the houses where the reeds are thin and you could fall through. What astonishes me is that they make everything from the totora reed, houses, watchtower, the boats and the island itself. Okay, they have motor boats but they also have incredible reed boats that are a work of art in my opinion. The women wear colorful traditional garb and as is the case of all the places we have been in Peru, they have their wares laid out in hopes of selling some to their visitors.
Our guide and a man from the island give a demonstration on how they tie the reeds together to build this manmade island. It’s too complicated to explain but trust me the human ingenuity and the considerable work to build an island of reeds is amazing. One of the most interesting things they divulge to us is that Uros Island was much larger just a few years ago. The residents couldn’t agree on some issues so they just cut the island in half, pulled the anchors, floated apart and went their own way. Hmmm, that is one way to settle your differences!
After the demonstrations and lessons are over, we peruse the items for sale to find that almost everyone has the exact same things. I silently question whether the blankets, wall hangings etc. are handmade on the island. A woman, who asks me my name, invites Paul and me into her small house. When we exit her home, she begins calling my name, “Nancy look at my work”, “Nancy you buy something from me”. Paul is never part of this mantra. Of course, I do look at her wall hangings and she does have one with lots of birds on it that catches my attention. Paul points out that we have no place for it in our house and talking softly tells me the work is not very good. Paul is much better at seeing quality work than I am.
We wander off with the woman plaintively calling my name and my feeling a
bit guilty for not purchasing anything. They know an easy target when they see one. We watch an old woman who is weaving what looks like straw into plaits and for the life of me, I can’t understand how she is doing this. The woman looks like she is just rolling several stems back and forth between her palms but somehow they become interwoven. At one of the outdoor shops, I find miniature reed boats that the island residents probably do make. A preteen girl is in charge and when I ask the cost of the toy, she shoots me a very high price. How tough can it be to barter with a little girl? When I counter her offer, she scornfully turns me down and doesn’t bother bartering! Oh yeah!
I move on down the line of merchandise and find a reed boat that I like better anyway. When I ask the cost, a young girl quotes a price of 30 soles while Mom who is standing right beside her, says 35 soles. I try to bundle another item with the small boat and offer them 20 soles but they turn my offer down. I finally offer 20 soles just for the boat and the woman quickly accepts. Rats, it was too much to offer, as they never tried to barter up. I knew I should have let Paul do this. He loves playing the game and usually gets the price he wants to pay, if not he just leaves. Oh well, I like the boat enough that I ask if they have another one, they do, so I pay too much for two of these miniatures 🙂.
Several members of our group, including Paul and I, pay ten soles each to ride in a reed boat a short distance to the next floating island. Two oarsmen operate the reed boat and row us to the neighboring island. There is a young girl on board, 5
or 6, dressed in a colorful native costume and she is just cute as a button! A few minutes into our voyage, the youngster bursts into song. She sings Twinkle, twinkle little star in English. When the soloist finishes singing, one of the oarsmen (her dad?) tells her to sing the ditty in French, German then Japanese and she dutifully does so. The vocalist also sings the tune in Quechua, their native language. As we draw near the island, our private entertainer removes her hat, extends it towards her captive audience, in hopes of tips. I know, it is a bit exploitative, but she seemed quite happy with her role and we certainly enjoyed the show.
Once our group is back on the boat, we settle in for the two and a half hour ride to Taquile Island. Paul and I join Ina and Boris on the open upper deck. There are no chairs but you sure have a better view of things. A canal cut through the vast field of totora reeds allows the boats passage to the open lake. Imagine our surprise, as we motor through the channel, at seeing a few pigs on a tiny reed island. I have to use the word disbelief when we float by a slightly bigger reed island where someone is raising a few head of cattle. We’ve seen some odd things in our travels but this has to rate near the top of the list.
When we arrive at the island, we along with several other tour groups begin trudging up the steep incline to reach the village at the top of Taquile Island. Most people are walking in slow motion and gasping for air including me. However, Paul and I pass several folks who have to stop and rest so we are doing better than many of them. Our guide steps off the pathway to pick some leaves from a plant. He hands us all a few leaves and instructs us to crush them, hold them to our nose and inhale deeply. Whoa, talk about instant clearing of your nasal passages and lungs. The plant is muños and it sure beats coca leaves for helping to clear your head and enables you to breathe easier.
The path leads to the town square but there are few of the natives around. Here there is a building full of items handcrafted by the natives. The men also make crafts and we see a few men who are knitting as they walk. You might as well be productive on your way to wherever. The Taquilians don’t negotiate on price and the price tags on the hats; scarves etc. are more than we want to pay.
Our guide gathers our group and we follow him to the restaurant where we are having lunch. We have a choice of an omelet with rice and potatoes, starch anyone, or trout. Paul has no choice and orders the omelet, as do I. The egg dish tastes wonderful but as has been the case since we left Arequipa, I have no appetite so leave most of the food on my plate. Since I am trying to follow orders and drink three liters of water, I’m sure this is blunting my hunger too. After lunch, we must walk down more than 500 steps to get to our relocated boat. The downhill walk to the dock is difficult but interesting as we see more of the natives’ houses and the farming area on this side of the island.
As the boat turns back to Puno, we sail next to the scenic island for some time. Gazing at the island from the upper deck, we see a panorama of pastoral scenes. People are working in the fields, grazing livestock are scattered over the terraced land. Higher up the mountain a multi-colored church stands next to a bright cemetery dominated by the color blue. Once we leave the island behind, there is only the expanse of Lake Titicaca around us so we go below to sit in our comfortable seats. There are a few people sprawled in the small open area at the back of the boat and they are clearly miserable. One woman is even lying down. I don’t know if they are suffering from altitude or motion sickness but I pity them. We arrive in Puno at five and several of us are ushered to a waiting van that drops us off at our respective hotels.
Paul and I return to the medical clinic shortly after our arrival at the hotel. Our route takes us through a celebration that includes a band, fireworks and crowds of people. This makes for a noisy but interesting walk. I wait the required 15 minutes before seeing the nurse who is pleased to tell me my blood pressure is down substantially. Great news and I won’t have to bother the doctor in Chivay. As we walk the now quiet streets back towards the hotel, we stop to eat at a tiny café where the specialty is pizza cooked in a kiln oven over open flames. A young woman works in the pizza place alone although she has her toddler with her. The child is sitting in its stroller while mom bustles around preparing and cooking our pizza. We have noticed throughout our travel in Peru that young women often have their babies and toddlers with them in the work place. We find the uniquely cooked pizza very tasty but I still have no appetite and only eat one piece of the Peruvian pie.
I have not talked much about the city of Puno. In Peru, it is dark at 6 p.m. since we are on the equator. Our arrivals both nights in Puno were at dusk and we left Puno both mornings very early. The little bit we were walking in the city was after dark and on the way to the medical center. Some things we will remember most about the city are that the altitude is over 12,000 feet. The streets are incredibly narrow leaving little room for error as cars meet and the traffic is very heavy.
We have another early morning, as we must catch the seven a.m. Inka express bus. The Inka express is a double-decker tour bus that includes a guide and a woman who passes out drinks and treats along the way. We will be riding for ten hours across the antiplano (high plains) to Cusco making several stops along the way. As we approach the large bus who should we see occupying the front seats of the second deck but Ina and Boris. They beckon us to join them in the two vacant seats next to them. We all exclaim about our good fortune to have the front seats with their huge windows giving us the best view in the bus. Someone taps Boris on the shoulder and points to the seat number on their ticket. How silly of us, of course you would have assigned seats on the bus. Four red-faced people get up so the people who really have these wonderful seats can sit down. Paul and my assigned seats are just two rows behind the front seats, so close and yet so far away. Looking out of our bus window at arriving passengers, we see Melissa and Doug. Our Arequipa group will be traveling to Cusco together.
Our first stop is Pukara where we visit a small museum full of pre-Inca pottery among other items. We don’t get to tour the ruins, as there isn’t enough time. Our next stop is Raqchi, which is my favorite stop of the day. Raqchi is an Inca ruin where one wall of the once magnificent temple still stands. The stonework of this temple is incredible and gives us our first look at the beautiful work of the Incans. Granaries, rock walls and stone houses surround the temple wall. If you aren’t awestruck by the history and workmanship of Raqchi, something is wrong with you. Paul and I wander through the ruins and wait until the last-minute to board the bus.
We stop to eat lunch at a restaurant where we go through the usual buffet. There are many Peruvian dishes to sample; my only complaint is some of the food is just lukewarm. The landscape we are traveling through is dry and stark although deep in the valleys along the river the land is green and looks to be productive. We make a photo stop at the highest point of our trip, La Raya. At 14,000 feet plus I decide to stay in my seat and looking behind me, I wave to Doug who has opted to do the same. No sense pushing our luck.
Our last stop is the town of Andahuayillas to see the church. The famous church is referred to as the Andean Sistine Chapel because of the renowned frescos it contains. Despite the restoration work in progress on parts of the ceiling and the altar, the church’s grandeur is mind-boggling. The frescos in gold leaf frames line the church walls. In fact, there is gold leaf everywhere in this 17th century church plus beautiful mosaic work on the ceiling. How interesting to find this beautiful church in this tiny Peruvian town.
We pull into the Cusco bus terminal at 5:15 more than a little road weary! A young woman, Maria, along with the van driver is waiting for us. I love this part of our tours, as we don’t have to deal with finding a taxi. We find Cusco’s streets are just as narrow as the ones in Puno with lots of traffic too. We arrive at Hotel Maytaq and Maria takes us to the desk and waits as we check-in. We are running low on the soles we brought with us from the U.S. so she has agreed to take Paul to an atm machine to get some more Peruvian money. I retire to our clean and comfortable room to enjoy a much-needed shower. We have a lot of repacking to do, as tomorrow we are to begin the trek to Choquequirao. I hope I am up to this strenuous journey.