Peru : September 18 - October 8 : Puno

6. October


Inka Express from Cusco to Puno


Though our bodies were still tired, it was time to hit the road today, in order to make it to Bolivia. We had been able to delay our departure from South America, but we had 72 hours to get to the American Airlines office in La Paz to get new tickets printed before all our flights would be canceled. And we realized that we had barely 3 weeks left before our time in South America ended and we still had a whole country to explore.


In order to squeeze in a bit more information, we booked our bus to Puno/Lake Titicaca with Inka Express, a tourist bus that included a few more valuable sights along the way. We were picked up at our hotel and shuttled to the departure sight. Spoiled with 4 days of Freddie, we were a bit dismayed with our guide, but you can't have the best all the time.


Our trip south included:


{taken from the itinerary on the InkaExpress website - I love the internet}


Andahuaylillas: The "Andean" Sistine Chapel with its magnificent frescoes, is one example of the mestizo baroque architecture typical of the Cusco School which was prominent in the 17th century.

Outside in the square, the usual suspects selling Peruvian hand-crafts waited for the buses to arrive. Out of the corner of my eye, one store caught my attention. Painted in peeling blue letters on the whitewashed walls was "cottage industry Waldorf dolls" in English, Spanish and German. I slowly walked toward the door and found a shop full of hand made Waldorf dalls in various sizes, shapes and nationalities. A chatting group of three women satin the corner, meticulously sewing on eyes, stuffing heads and knitting shawls and sweaters. I was in a wonder world - I thought of all those new babies that we would return home to. I wanted to buy a whole arm full, but I walked away with only one. A German/Peruvian couple had set up this shop, giving the local women an opportunity at decent wages and proper working conditions. This unexpected visit was the delight of my day.


Raqchi: (or the temple of the God Wiracocha) is 121 kilometers from Cusco. This Inca temple stands 100 meters in length, 26 meters in width and 14 meters in height. Divided in two naves, each of these still retains the base of eleven giant columns. The base of the walls consists of Imperial Inca stonework with a top section of adobe. Adjacent to the temple, we saw many storehouses, used for various purposes: military and religious.


La Raya: The highest pass on the route between Cusco and Puno, La Raya is 4335 meters above sea level. We had a final opportunity to observe the animals that are symbolic of the Andes: llamas, alpacas and vicunas (yes, there is a difference between these three). This region is situated between two cultures, Quechua and Aymara, as well as a composite of two terrains: the dry and arid altiplano and the more verdant Quechua valleys and rivers.


Pukara: This is the most important and oldest ceremonial site this side of Tiahuanaco. Characterized by a series of staired platforms, the ruins also reveal some litosculptures and tombstones, all witnesses of a pre-Inca civilization, possibly one at the origin of the Andean culture of the Altiplano.


As we approached Puno, our guide explained that Lake Titicaca is equally divided between Peru and Bolivia - the "Titi" side belonging to Peru and the "Caca" side belonging to Bolivia. Bad joke, but I suppose making bad jokes about ones neighboring countries is normal no matter where you go. We arrived at the bus station and caught a Peruvian style tuk-tuk to the hotel we had chosen for the night. We settled in and left on foot to find an early dinner and a travel agency that would sell us our bus ticket to Bolivia's Copacabana. Our afternoon bus meant we had just enough time to visit the islands in the morning.


[Click on any picture to view full screen slideshow]

7. October

The floating island of Lake Titicaca

The organized tours of the floating islands were long and seemed overpriced. We packed our bags and instead took a ride to the pier where a yong boy directed us to the appropriate ticket window. Uros, floating islands - that was the place. We boarded the long boat and waited patiently for it to fill with other visitors curious to visit the people who live on these islands. The wait was longish, but the bustling harbor and the locals gave us something to look at. We were the only non-Latin passengers, but that gave an air of authenticity to our experience.

The boat started towards the islands. The grasses and reeds were the first introduction to this place and piece by piece the spot in the middle of the lake started to come alive. The first signs of these pre-Incan Uros people was a pair fishing in the reeds and another group transporting a boat full of freshly harvested reeds. There are about 3,000 descendants of the Uros remaining, and while most hgave moved the mainland, several hundred remain on the islands, maintaining their way of life.

There are about 50 islands, the smallest ones being about 30 meters wide. The small islands might house one or two families (with 2 children each), while the bigger ones can hold up to 10 families. There is a school, a clinic, a Christian church - all the things needed for life in the lake. Our first island stop gave us the opportunity to learn how the islands are built:

Taken from Wikipedia:
The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake. The dense roots that the plants develop support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly. This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot a lot faster. The islands last about 30 years. Much of the Uros' diet and medicine also revolve around these reeds. When a reed is pulled, the white bottom is often eaten for iodine. This white part of the reed is called the chullo. Like the Andean people of Peru rely on the Coca Leaf for relief from a harsh climate and hunger, the Uros people rely on the totora reeds in the same way. When in pain, the reed is wrapped around the place in pain to absorb it. They also make a reed flower tea.

We learned about the importance of family and community. If one member is not interested in partaking in communal life, the clan votes to put off his/her part of the island and sets them adrift until they are willing to change their attitude. A darling girl of about 6 shared with me how she gets to school everyday (she actually rows herself there) and gave me a tour of the small space she shares with her mom, dad and little brother. When you stood still, you could feel the slight movement of the islands and th give of the earth below your feet. All in all, it was a delightful morning.

We returned back to the mainland, had just enough time to visit the English ship that was being restored on the banks, before heading to the bus station to catch our bus. The ride, a bit uneventful, let us experience another border crossing. Unload in one country, get the stamp, walk across and get another stamp and wait for the bus on the other side. Pretty easy. I used my new Bolivian coins to call our chosen hotel and within the hour we were sitting a restaurant in Copacabana, enjoying what should have been music but was more a sad attempt at the guitar.


[This is a playlist with several videos, click on the film strip button (next to the play button) to see all]

The One for Frederick: Ever tried it this way?

Check out the rigging on this sail boot going down wind! Simple, but it seems to work.