Big Bang Christmas
Trip Start Nov 05, 2010
137Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
What I did
We made it after 18 hours by bus along winding and bumpy roads to Puno, a beautiful little town situated by one of the biggest Alpine lakes in the world, Lake Titicaca. The lake is much bigger than it looks - it is 160 km in length and up to 60 km in width. However, it is surrounded by mountains therefore it is always easy to see land from the boat at any direction. The lake temperature is around 12C at this time of the year. Still, some people (the Italians on our boat) went for a swim. Craaaaazzzzzzzzy!
Lights, camera, action
We were in for a BIG, loud and colorful surprise. Just when we thought we would be having a quiet, little Christmas celebration, we were mistaken. Peruvians like to celebrate Christmas with a big bang! Literally, seconds past midnight we heard what sounded like bombs crashing in the city, were actually fireworks. Thousands of them. Red, green, yellow, white in different shapes and sizes. What a beautiful display to commerate the celebration of JC.
After about an hour of watching the fireworks, we were ready for bed. Turns out the celebration did not end there. The owner of our hostel Ricardo and his family started blasting Christmas music and kareoking all through the night. We were too tired to join in the festivities but it brought a big smile to our face how big xmas was here. It´s not just about presents, but spending time with family and friends. Later on we found out in South America, launching fireworks and sparklers are the norm, not just for Dec 25 and New years but for the birth of a new born, fiestas, graduations -any major celebration, you name it. FIREWORKS.
Home is where the reeds are
We wanted to get the full lake Titi experience which included staying overnight at a local home stay on one of the islands. It was a three island, two day tour that turned out to cost only 35$US per person. We were warned by our guide book to be beware of cheap tours as they sometimes took advantage of the villagers.
The first floating island we set foot on was called ´´Titimarka´´. It was made of straw, reeds and anchored to the bottom of the lake. There were four families living on the island, a total of 14 men, women and children. Surprisingly, there was electricity that fed the cable TV service originated from solar panels. The jefe (female chief) of the island spoke to us in the indigeneous language Quecha to greet us and her words were translated by our guide in English and Spanish. A few moments later we were invited to walk into a straw hut. It seemed that the woman Rosa was geniunely welcoming us for the first minute as we were sitting on a prison style bunk bed. She told us about her two kids and her husband that was out fishing. A moment later the shpeel begun:
"Please buy some crafts, all hand made, we have no money, it is wet here, kids are suffering from reheumatism…"
As we had no intention to buy any kitsh we just offered her a 5 Sol coin and walked out. She lost interest in us completely after that. Sasha ventured out to climb the watchtower to get a better view of the island. Guess what he saw: a garbage dump behind the houses. Dasha admired the hand made goodies, but was very careful not to put too much in attention into the products. She learned her lesson from the aggressive merchants in the Middle-East. Showing too much attention meant you were interested in buying-which-we-were-not.
Just sit right back and you´ll hear a tale
It was a long boat ride to Amantani island where we were to stay for the night. There were no hotels on the island and tourists were invited to stay with local families. The choice of host families was done on a rotational basic and carefully controlled by local authorities. Our host Pretencia, met us at the port and walked us to her house. Pretencia had 2 rooms available, one for us and another room for a mother and son traveling from Mexico.
When we arrived to her home, it was large enough to be a European Inn. Forget about the straw houses and basic accom we heard about earlier, Pretencia´s place was easily a 2 star dwelling. It was surprisingly well maintained.The rooms reminded us of Laos style bungalows: they had a bed and a night table, nothing else. Just a mosquito net was missing. There was no running water and if we wanted a shower we needed to use a bucket. Ahhhh....not another cold shower. Since it was cold and rainy we decided to pass.
Soul food para todos
The meals were incredibly good, and totally vegetarian. We were served a very rich soup of home grown quinoa with vegetables. For dinner we were given mixed vegetables with rice. All organic, all fresh, our kind of grub. We had troubles in other parts of South America with finding non animal protein. This time there was no shortage of protein in our meal – all from quinoa growing outside our host's house. We asked Pretencia if she was a vegetarian as well. She explained that obtaining meat was a long process. If she wanted meat, she had to take a long boat ride to Puno to buy it at the supermarket and if she wanted fish she would have to get to the other side of the island to the market. So veggies was the easiest choice. Great for us!
Eat and run
The only complaint Sasha had about the tour is that he had to climb a mountain right after lunch. Dasha stayed behind to take a bit of rest as she did not get much sleep the night before. Sasha met some new people as he climbed his way. He spoke to a group of French Canadians, an Italian missionary of the Franciscan brotherhood working in Lima and a Mexican young man living in Argentina. The peak was cold and windy, but had really good views of the lake.
Later that night we had an opportunity to attend a local party. We were debating should we stay or go as it was raining. Pretencia fitted us local outfits so we were tempted to walk up the mud path for five minutes. The traditional clothing included a colourful skirt, an embroidered blouse, a traditional belt and a scarf for Dasha. Sasha only got a poncho and a woolen hat. We joined the mixed Peruvian and gringo crowd but only for half an hour. That was enough time to get a few dances in and pay for a bottle of water. It was time for a peaceful rest as rain drops kept pouring on our heads.
After a breakfast of pancakes we left our host family. A hike across a third island called Taquila was on the agenda for the second day. It was a bit strenuous but we mustered all our energy to get to the other side of the island. We ran into a Chinese girl named Teresa who stayed at the same hotel as us. As we climbed to the top together, we were happy to relax and admire the view. The locals were really nice and did not try to sell us anything.
Nothing major happened on our long trip back. The tour even included a shuttle service back to the hotel. We chose to be dropped off at a supermarket instead. Actually, more like a Superstore, Loblaws style. It was time to stock up as we had a long bus ride ahead of us the following day.
Lake Titicaca was a glistening, turquiose, pure body of water. Absolutely remarkable!
We hope you all had a wonderful holidays/winter solstice/xmas/kwanzaa/feliz navidad.
Wishing you happiness, love, joy, laughter now and in the new year!