Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
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Trip End Jun 17, 2009


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Monday, January 28, 2008

A 7am start and retracing part of our route up into the mountains before we turned off east onto a very good road, which eventually led into a wide valley between tall hills. We were in an area of large lakes with many water bids and even flamingos. There were an increasing number of large herds of llamas and alpacas and some of them had sheep mixed in for good measure.

After over six hours and some 200 miles, we dropped down the hillside to the city of Puno, 3800 metres, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Having settled in to the basic hotel on a main street, we went shopping for food, as we were going on a homestay the next night. The narrow streets accentuated the very busy, traffic choked atmosphere, which with the car fumes and altitude level made it 'steady' going. We finished the shopping just as it was going dark, coinciding with starting to rain and all the electricity in the town failing. We got back to the hotel and I decided I just wanted to go to bed after the long ride and the altitude. We were both feeling the effects of altitude, which upsets your digestive system, makes you feel like you have no energy, gives you a constant headache and leaves you breathless after any activity, even something like just drying yourself with a towel after a shower. Norah went out for supper in the pouring rain but at least the electricity had come back on later in the evening.

Tuesday 29th

Out of the hotel at 7am and a three wheeler 'Triki' bike taxi, where you sit side by side, over the front two wheels, on a frame seat in front of the pedaller. Most road junctions seem to be on a 'might is right' basis and on a bike we were definitely at the bottom of the pecking order. At one junction a (car) taxi shot right across us causing our pedaller to abruptly turn into a side street to avoid a collision. Ah well - I suppose a little adrenalin first thing in a morning is good for one! Down the road we crossed the single track train line that runs into town. This involved running up a small, stone chipping slope, over the track and down the other side. As we reached the track our bike was torpedoed by another bike, sending us skidding sideways. Because we were close to the track our pedaller pushed us 'up and over', where, coming down, we jammed on some stones and the whole bike tipped forward, leaving us hanging on to the frame and looking down at the road surface. What was that about adrenalin? I started wondering what the statistical 'accidents per passenger metre' was on these things. I would have walked but we were only 100 metres from the destination jetty.

So now for a boat out onto 'Lake Titicaca', the highest navigable lake in the world. 100 miles long, 40 miles wide and up to 900 feet deep. It's gotta be safer than a bike taxi! We joined another group and the twenty of us set off in the 40 foot boat, which had a seated interior, as it was only just stopping raining. Well after all, it is the rainy season.

We pulled out from the many other tourist boats in the jetty and headed out into the lake, where we were soon passing the reed villages - man made islands constructed from the reed beds, with reed houses on them. These we would visit on the way back. There were coots and grebes fishing around the reeds and at this point the lake was only two metres deep. We motored out into the wider part of the lake, being able to sit out on the seated back area or on the roof of the boat. We noticed that the engine ht coil was was hanging outside the engine compartment and was wrapped in a cloth rag. Every so often a crew member would pour water over the rag to keep the coil cool. Simple applied technology!  After three hours we stopped at the island of 'Taquile', which had been developed as a tourist visiting point with good jetties leading to stalls and restaurants. As there was a steady walk up to the town square, before crossing the island and then an horrendously steep set, of over 600 steps, down the other side, we opted out and stayed on the boat to doze in the, now hot, midday sunshine.

Our companions returned and we set off for 'Amantani' island, where we were due to experience a Peruvian homestay. This was what the shopping of rice, beans, sugar, fruit and a present for a child had been for yesterday. Our 'Mamas' met us on the dock side and we were allocated to 'Olga' and her eight year old daughter 'Nellie'. We had packed light for the stay but were still carrying the shopping bags. We set off upwards and upwards towards the community houses. In parts the good stone path was nearly 45 deg steep and we had to constantly stop to get our breath back. As we got higher there was a good view of the harbour below us and at one resting point Norah issued a very breathless "Oh God". At this altitude I wouldn't have been surprised to have heard a replying "Yes ?". After nearly forty five minutes we reached Olga's house and entered through a small gate into a courtyard and were shown our room up a flight of stone steps (more climbing!). The simple but comfortable, low ceilinged, three bedded room with a table had small windows, one of which looked downhill to the harbour. The bathroom was at the bottom of the steps and had a shower with a new toilet and washbasin but no running water, just a bucket of water.

We were scheduled to go to a football match between visitors and islanders. Olga spoke Spanish, although the island was historically Peruvian Indian and she assured us that the football was only along 'a bit'. The 'along' wasn't very long before we were climbing again to reach the football area, with a tarmac pitch and large hall / changing rooms, breathless and the game, which we gathered was a one sided, very short affair. We estimated we were at about a height of 4200 metres.

We sat for an hour watching the locals practising a formation dance for the religious celebrations that take place in February, before returning 'home'. We had all been issued with the Andean pointed woolly hat, as a means of identification and we were glad of it when, as the sun set, it was going quite cold after the hot day.

Supper was soon ready and we were bid downstairs (it had now started raining) to a kitchen, where a small wood fire was used for cooking but instead of sitting with Olga, Nellie and her mother, we were seated at a table whilst they sat near the fire and no amount of invitation persuaded them to join us. We had a bowl of potato soup followed by some rice and mixed beans and a cup of coca tea. During the meal Olga's father and a young man, who wasn't introduced, came in and also sat near the fire. (We had learnt from Olga that her husband had 'left' some years ago). The room was lit only by a couple of candles which made any kind of interchange difficult. This was all the more strange as I had seen electric lighting in our room, although it did not work.

After supper I was given a Poncho, (aha, Indy becomes Clint!), whilst Norah was dressed in the coloured Peruvian skirt and shawl. We set out in the dark and rain, using only torches but thankfully downhill, to the village hall where a pipes band was playing for dancing. There were about forty of us from different tour groups, about twenty 'mothers' and a handful of village men. The music was good and I was co-erced into dancing with my adopted daughter, which I managed by standing still and twirling and spinning her around me. Sadly I did sit out on some of the more lively dances. An enjoyable evening and then back uphill in the dark, but no rain, on a mostly muddy path next to fields and a few steep drops where small streams were running after the rain.

A good night's sleep in the peace and quiet of the village, a welcome change from the noisy towns and we were not even disturbed by the heavy rain during the night.

Wednesday 30th

We awoke to the sound of heavy rain and it was an effort to get out of the beds, where many blankets had kept us warm. Grandmother brought us a bowl of hot water for washing in and later breakfast, in our room, of a couple of sweet pancakes with jam and some coca tea, so at least we got our daily 'fix'. As we ate breakfast we watched the rain pouring off the roofs against the misty backdrops of mountains and the lake below us.

Olga and Nellie collected us and in full waterproofs we started the trek downwards towards the harbour, at first on muddy paths and then on the newly laid stone path, which had detailed patterns set in it. As we passed by the fields of growing crops, with the water running off them into channels, which fed gushing streams that tumbled down the steep hillside, we could see quite a lot of new building work and many new tin roofs on the houses. I hoped that this was the benefit that tourism was bringing to the island and its people. We had bought food to bring with us, because we were told that the island was a long way from Puno and that the people didn't get chance to go shopping very often. As we reached the harbour we saw many large tents with all sorts of goods and food from fruit, veg, toys, to containers of soft drinks and beer!

We said our goodbyes and the 'Mamas' waved us off as we boarded the boats and then went back to their daily lives - whatever that was now with the advent of tourism.

I was always a little apprehensive about this homestay but enjoyed the experience. I was disappointed at not having more family contact, especially at meals and feel that the whole stay was well 'arranged' to give us an 'experience'. Maybe what we had experienced was a very well organized theme park?

Our boat set off into a long swell, that set it rolling livelily from side to side but after nearly an hour the sea breeze was calming, the rain had stopped and the clouds were slowly lightening, as we headed back to Puno. After three hours we stopped at the reed islands of 'Orus', which I had learnt about in geography at school as one of the main features of Lake Titicaca. The islands are based in the huge reed beds in the shallow part of the lake and are constructed on a base of the decomposed reeds, which eventually become compacted and buoyant. Blocks of these are cut and tied together to form a raft like base and then a metre depth of cut reeds are criss-crossed on them to form a platform. The whole thing is anchored to the bed of the lake to stop it floating away. The platform is regularly topped up as the lower reeds rot down. The history is that the original islands were constructed by the indigenous people, to escape from the Spanish invasion and avoid slavery. We looked at an array of stalls of 'home produced products' and then I went for a sail on one of the traditional woven reed boats. Interesting and enjoyable, although we were only told later that the inside of the boat was packed with 2000 plastic bottles for extra buoyancy. Oh well, there has to be some use of modern technology!

Back in Puno and a safe ride in a van back to the hotel through the noisy streets. I have never heard any drivers use their horns as much as the Puno drivers. They blast away at any opportunity and then in between, just to check that the horn is still working!

In the afternoon we took a taxi ride to the north side of the lake to visit the 'Yarari', a British built steamship that was delivered to Peru in the 1860's and carried by mules in 1300 pieces overland to Lake Titicaca, where she was used first by the Peruvian navy and then became a mailship, before being abandoned. Luckily she has not rusted much in the freshwater and is now being refurbished ready to be re-commissioned as a tourist ship. Aaaah, we don't make 'em like that anymore! An  interesting visit in which we shown round by the very enthusiastic Captain.

Supper that night was at a nearby Peruvian restaurant, where I had trout and kingfish (from the lake) spirals, served with a chili and basil sauce and rice with shrimps - Donald, give up now! There was a floorshow of an excellent pipes band, with a dance quartet, which included two very attractive young Peruvian ladies (I think my altitude sickness is getting better!).

Another noisy, very wet (and cold) night but even the Puno drivers have to go home sometime, to charge up their batteries, ready for another noisy day tomorrow, so eventually we got some sleep.
 
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