The Islands of Lake Titicaca

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Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12, 500 feet.  Half in Peru and half in Bolivia,  it stretches out  118 miles by 50 miles. Just the lake on its own is beautiful in the blazing sunshine, with stunning mountain backdrops, although we were also going to be visiting three of the islands, Uros, Amantani and Taquile.

LOS UROS

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The Uros are of pre-Incan descent, and those still living in the traditional manner inhabit floating reed islands that they have to remake themselves every 10-15 years. Boats, huts and the ground you walk on are all made from native totora reeds. Incidentally, they also gave us reeds to eat, you peel them like a banana:

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I guess this would be their equivalent of a snack

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The Uros ladies wear dazzling colours, and sang some native songs for us

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The Uros lead a simple life and seem to be a happy people. They rely heavily on fishing in Lake Titicaca for subsistence (mainly trout and kingfish). Above is a picture of what the contents of a reed island look like.

AMANTANI ISLAND

This was to be our home for the night, staying with local families across the island.

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Approaching Amantani

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Once we landed the views back over Lake Titicaca were beautiful. Amantani was 3 hours by boat from Uros. There was almost a Mediterranean feel about the place, even though the people live very differently here, most without electricity or proper sanitation as we would know it.

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This is my Peruvian mama. Her name is Hemenigilda, and here she is in her kitchen preparing a hearty lunch of quinoa soup, rice, potatoes and vegetables. Meat isn’t available here, animals are kept only for milk or their wool. She had two boys of her own and I became adopted into her family for the visit.

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After lunch we played football with the locals and others staying on the island, before climbing up to one of the main viewpoints on the island to watch the sunset. After dinner, we were given ponchos and alpaca hats and mama frogmarched us down to the local community building for some traditional dancing to a local band. It kind of felt like I was 12 again at the school disco, but there were to be lots of laughs that night.

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Dancing with my Peruvian mama!

After all the exertions of the day (multiplied several times by the effects of altitude, I can personally vouch for that), we retired to bed. The next morning it was time to say goodbye to our adopted Peruvian families.

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TAQUILE ISLAND

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As is the case with both Amantani and Taquile, the small jetty at the bottom of the Island is the start of a steep climb up into the villages themselves.  Taquile is famous for its textiles and handicrafts.

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However, here it is the men that do the knitting, not the women! We were given a demonstration whilst having lunch. Also of real interest here was an insight into how the people live, including marriage and courtship rituals. Once married, for example, the bride and groom  have to stay awake for 3 days straight or their marriage could have bad luck. They are also not allowed to laugh, joke or smile during this time.

There’s clearly a lot of shyness among the people. Boy likes girl. Boy traditionally throws small stone at girls back to let her know he likes her. Girl throws stone back if she likes him too.

For those more technologically minded, the process is adapted as follows: Boy likes girl. Boy reflects small mirror into the house of the girl to let her know he likes her. Girl reflects mirror back if she likes him too.

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View from our outside table in the restaurant back over Lake Titicaca

The High Plateau

Comfortable (honestly) 6 hour public bus ride from Cusco to Puno today. Some beautiful scenery on the way, reminded me at some points of the Himalayan plateau, although much lusher and greener. A baby brother might be apt.

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We stopped at the highest point on the Plateau – La Raya 14,147 feet. The air was definitely a bit thinner. This was exacerbated both by me running around trying to get as many pictures as possible in the 10 minute stop allowed  (it was a public bus after all)  and the additional handicap of suffering from a bacterial infection and being pumped full of antibiotics. I know….the perils of adventure travel etc. I do love countries that sell over the counter prescription drugs though. I’ve made a quick recovery (so don’t panic Ma). All is well.

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Puno and a tiny corner of Lake Titicaca

We arrived in Puno about 2.30pm. It is on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Much more of that to come later in the week as we now spend the next two days visiting the islands. To say we will be getting to know the indigenous inhabitants is a bit of an understatement so stay tuned for updates .

Machu Picchu

Leaving on the early morning train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.

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After getting off the train, we boarded the local bus up the mountain. It takes about 25 minutes, with multiple tight switchbacks en route. A single lane with no guardrails,  with a mixture of cobbles and rough gravel. One thing you ideally want to avoid is this for obvious reasons:

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Machu Picchu means ‘Old Mountain’. Created by the Incas in around 1450, it was not discovered by historians until 1911. We weren’t able to be up there for sunrise due to scheduling, but those who were up there said that the mists were so bad that you couldn’t see anything until mid-morning anyway.

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Frankly, it’s all about this picture. Spellbinding at any time of day

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This is Huayna Picchu, meaning ‘Young Mountain’.  If you click to zoom in, you will see the path to the top. This is a very steep climb, although I would have done it if there were tickets available, which there weren’t. It’s the tall peak in the main picture above. Maybe next time. Very excited about showing Evie my pictures of the “City in the Sky” when I get home, have a feeling my trainee adventure traveller will be wanting to come here one day too.

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Was it everything you think it’s going to be? Of course. This time of year is a good time, just at the end of the rainy season where everything is lush and green. Things aren’t as busy as they get from May onwards either. We went on a Sunday, which is normally a busy day to go as on Sundays the local people get free admission.

In short, if you ever get the chance, JFDI.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas

Today was spent exploring the Sacred Valley. First stop was the Inca ruins at Pisac, dating back to around 1440. It is perched on top of a steep hill overlooking the valley below.

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On the left of the camera on the last photo, the following can be seen

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Look carefully. What can you see?

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This is an Inca burial site – each hole held a body. Above ground, the land is being farmed.

We then moved onto our last stop, the highly impressive Ollantaytambo ruins. It was a tough climb, particularly in the blistering Andean afternoon sun. Looking up from the bottom we got this view:

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In 1536 the Incas fought off the Spanish invaders by going up high and flooding the plains below.

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Back at the bottom there was a small market and kids posing for photos  (for a sol or two).

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We had a homestay with a local family, in this part of the country it is a useful bit of extra revenue. So all of a sudden we were immersed into the real life of  the locals:

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I’m pleased to report I had a comfy bed anyway, which I retired to after a 30 minute “mosquito and other insect” safari at the end of the night.

Peruvian Animal Charity

 

We went to visit a local animal charity, and had a great time there.

Puma

Puma

Native Peruvian Hairless Dog

Native Peruvian Hairless Dog

What's Spanish for "Pieces of eight"?

What’s Spanish for “Pieces of eight”?

The mighty Condor. We will see these in the wild in Colca Canyon next week.

The mighty Condor. We will see these in the wild in Colca Canyon next week.

 

Macaw from the Peruvian Amazon- clearly a little off course in the Andes

Macaw from the Peruvian Amazon- clearly a little off course in the Andes

 

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Er... I forget

Er… I forget

 

To raise funding, alpaca garments are made on the premises. The processes are interesting:

Freshly shorn Alpaca wool

Freshly shorn Alpaca wool

 

Various natural products are then used to dye the wool.  These include small parasites that feed on cacti.When squished, the parasite is a deep shade of purple. Incidentally this parasite is a major component in lipsticks that you buy in the Westernworkd.

Various natural products are then used to dye the wool. These include small parasites that feed on cacti.When squished, the parasite is a deep shade of purple. Incidentally this parasite is a major component in lipsticks that you buy in the Western world. Eughhhhh!

The hand dyeing process
The hand dyeing process

Drying out,  nearly the finished article
Drying out, nearly the finished article

 

Almost the finished product.  The most expensive garments are baby alpaca as they are much softer. Baby alpaca is less than 1 year of age.

Almost the finished product. The most expensive garments are baby alpaca as they are much softer. Baby alpaca is less than 1 year of age.

 

 

 

Cusco

Early morning flight over the Andes from Lima on Peruvian Airlines on an elderly 737. Was slightly concerned given that the airline was grounded a year or two back but all went well. Luckily the weather wasn’t too bad, I think the approach would be pretty hairy in poor weather, which I’m told happens a lot. Eek.

Very touristy here, but none the worse for it really. It’s a really interesting place, set around the Plaza de Armas  with a Cathedral and Church basically set right across from each other. I’ll get more time here on Monday so plan to see a bit more then.

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The San Blas area is  full of artisans and it has nice views across the valleys.

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Lots of traditional weaving going on in the streets:

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I will admit it,  Llamas and Alpacas are pretty cute. I wouldn’t want to try and snog one though, get the impression they’d be pretty slobbery.

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Excitement is almost at fever pitch in town tonight as its Peru vs Chile in a World Cup qualifier. At the Town Hall and library in Lima yesterday we learnt about how the Chileans burnt many sacred texts during their conflict. As I’m probably going out to a locals bar to watch it later there’s clearly only one team for me today. (UPDATE: “WE” WON 1-0)

Lunch today was a traditional duck dish from Northern Peru, fermented in corn beer and black beans. Delicious, and almost curry-like consistency and spicing.

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Altitude sickness is of course a pretty big issue here, particularly when you come from sea level straight up to the High Andes without acclimatising on the way. There are two things that can assist the body with the process, prescription drugs and the strangely moreish Coca Tea. Apparently quite legal in Peru, but I’ve been told that it stays in your system for some time and you would likely fail a random drugs test (not that I’m that keen a cyclist anyway). I always wondered where the phrase ‘for medicinal purposes’ came from.

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Tomorrow we tour the Sacred Valley, culminating in a homestay with a local family. I’m guessing they won’t have wi-fi. Sunday is The Big Machu Picchu Day, so I’m very much looking forward to that.

Q. Why did the Llama cross the road?

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A. Cos it had no feckin choice.

UPDATE Religious ceremonies are massive across Peruvian towns and cities, and no more so in Holy Week. The entire city of Cusco came to a halt when we were there on Easter Monday for the annual Taitacha Temblores (The Black Lord of Earthquakes) parade.

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In 1650, the impact of a devastating earthquake was reportedly held at bay by an oil painting of Jesus. The black-skinned Taitacha Temblores was a melange of Jesus and the pre-Christian God of Earthquakes. Everyone was queuing up to throw crimson flowers at the statue. The parade started just after 2pm and was scheduled to finish around 7pm back in the main square. It’s said that most of the city’s 350,000 population would either directly take part or watch the procession through the streets, and it did seem as if that was the case.

Lima

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Police officer directing rush hour traffic. Sponsored by Inca Kola, the local fizzy pop which, I have to say I’m taking a bit of a liking to. Kind of like a cross between Mountain Dew and Irn Bru if anyone’s wondering.

After a very lengthy journey (to the tune of 33 hours and 3 flights), I arrive in South America, my sixth continent. The drive into Lima from the airport wasn’t scenic, showing it to be very concreted and over-industrialised. A third of the entire population of Peru call this home. After hearing the stories about taxis being carjacked I took all reasonable precautions (all belongings in boot, windows up in the back, doors locked). There were some pretty unsavoury enclaves en route.The first thing that really grabbed my attention though was the wonderful food smells coming from every street corner. This, coupled with the sight of the vast majority of locals looking ahem… well fed (and with what i had read about Peruvian cuisine) meant that good food times were ahead.

After checking into the hotel,  I went straight for the jugular finding a place serving one of the many national dishes, anticuchos.

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Or, translated into English, beef heart skewers. I enjoyed their umm… steaky insidey bits taste. The giant corn cob was impressive too, with a bit of a potatoey taste to the kernels.

The next thing was a tour of the old colonial buildings and plazas (squares). When time permits when I get home I will put some fuller descriptions and dates, but for now here are the pics:

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I sat in on part of a Mass. Almost all Peruvians are Catholic, so being a good Catholic boy myself (!) I didn’t look at all out of place (apart from being taller and paler than everyone else, of course). The priest could belt out a great tune, and set to traditional music the whole thing was quite endearing.

My new friend Pedro “knew a bloke” in the Town Hall and we got an impromptu tour of the building and the mayoral chambers. It was at this point I thought a job change could be on the cards:

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It’s not so much how I look, more what I could bring to the role I guess. Highlight of the day was the balcony overlook:

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By this time I was getting hungry again, so I considered my dinner options:

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I ended up with neither.