Days 11-16: Cusco to Lake Titicaca
Trip Start Oct 15, 2013
25Trip End Ongoing
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Returning to Cusco after finishing the Inca trail we took it much easier for a couple days than we did over the first ten. We focused on relaxing and recovering, spending most of our time exploring the city of Cusco. This meant less of a rush to get out of the hostel in the morning, a lot of good meals, and dropping by the pubs and cafés in the afternoons for a drink.
The first thing you notice walking around Cusco is that it isn't a place for people who don't like dogs. There are thousands of strays roaming free around the city. They are all calm and keep to themselves but can be a little annoying, and leave the streets pretty dirty. We spent our first down day visiting the museums, which unfortunately were mostly disappointing. They weren't very well maintained and although there were some cool artifacts they didn't feel like anyone put much effort into them
The rest of our time in the big city we wandered around and explored for most of our days, checking out the different districts and markets. We also walked up to the ruins at Saksaywaman on Sunday which felt a lot like a park, with local families out for walks and having picnics. We both liked Cusco a lot but we had been in the city long enough and we were ready to move on to smaller towns and see some new things.
Our bus to Puno where we stayed while we saw lake Titicaca was scheduled to leave at 7:00am but as we packed and got ready the night before, Rachael received an email that our departure was pushed up to 6:00am. Apparently there have been protests and strikes in the city of Juliaca along the way over taxes, which have been blocking the roads. For the last couple days buses haven't been able to go to Puno at all. We were going to try to go around the city which would tack on an extra four hours of drive time. The more we read about the protests, the more nervous we became
When we arrived to catch the bus the next morning we were told that the protests were off for the day as negotiations had opened up, we would follow the original route.
The trip to Puno was great. The bus was very comfortable with drinks and snacks, and a stop at a buffet lunch. We stopped for several guided tours of ruins and churches along the way including a church in the town of Andahusylillas which is considered the Sistine chapel of the Andes. It is a small church built in the 17th century that looks pretty modest from the outside, but inside all the walls and ceilings are covered in beautiful frescos and the wall behind the altar is one giant sculpture in 24 carat gold. It was incredible. Other stops included both Inca and pre-Incan ruins and a museum where we got to see an Incan mummy. Near the end of the drive we passed through Juliaca where the strikes had been taking place. It is a pretty rough looking city with huge pot holes, half paved roads, garbage dumped in piles along the streets and unfinished buildings. The guide said the locals tend to not finish building their homes to avoid having to pay taxes on them. Without knowing both sides of the story we may have gotten some insight into the strike.
Our bus arrived in Puno right on time and we were picked up by a lady from out hostel who helped us book our boat tour of Lake Titicaca for the next morning
We had heard a lot from travel books and people in Cusco about Puno being a very cold and rainy place, but we must have lucked out because it was sunny and warm when we woke up. The first stop on our tour was at the floating islands of Uros. These are a series of 73 man-made islands that hold a tribe of people who have been living this way for hundreds of years. The islands are made with reeds and roots that grow in the lake and are anchored into place. Each island is home to about 10 families (40 or 50 people) who all live and work together. They live and cook on the island but in order to use the bathroom they have to paddle for 10 minutes in their reed boats. It's hard to wrap your head around the way they live, but they all seemed to be pretty happy.
Next we stopped on the island of Taquile which is about 2 hours off of Puno. This island wasn't man-made but it is still home to an isolated community that has lived there for hundreds of years. The only power they have comes from solar panels and they live totally off the land; farming, fishing, and making their own clothing. They recycle everything, using old bottles buried in the ground to make pathways and worn out sandals to make hinges for doors. They even make their own soap and detergents from plants grown on the island. They must be doing something right because the average life expectancy is 90-100 years old. Apparently they don't need a police department because they all live by three basic principles: don't lie, don't steal, and don't be lazy. They don't have any crime. We finished up on Taquile Island with a lunch of trout caught about 100 yards from where we ate with an incredible view of the lake. After lunch the villagers put on a show with local dances and customs and then we boarded our boat for the 2 hour ride back to Puno.