On the shores of Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Apr 20, 2008
Trip End Aug 29, 2008

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thursday 5th June
Alison: We were up at 3.00 for our transfer to the airport to fly to Juliaca, which was a bit tough on all of us, but finally we arrived there to be met by our guide Javier, a nice chap who actually lives on the floating islands with his Uros family. Juliaca is a dusty, busy commercial hub of the high Andes plains and about an hour and a half's drive from Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. On our way to Puno we visited the Necropolis of Sillustani, circular stone towers or Chullpas, where the Collas and then the Incas buried important people. The rustic ones were built by the first civilization in the area, the Collas, and then the huge 12 metre high ones made from neatly fitting smooth stone blocks were built by the following civilization, the Incas. In all cases they were buried in the foetal position with a hole at the base facing east to let the rising sun in. There were also the remains of Inca stone semi-circles, one to record the summer equinox and the other each full moon. The solar circle had a gap so that at the summer equinox the rising sun would shine into the temple on that one day, and the lunar circle was used for agriculture, as during the week of the full moon the Incas would not work on their crops but do other work, such as gathering wood, fishing or hunting. The site itself was beautiful, looking out over a small lake on one side, and with another huge lake on the other side of the hill, but at 3950 m high, the highest we would reach on this trip, once again we felt short of breath as we climbed up the steps. 
After this we visited a local family's home to see how they lived. Apparently the tours rotate through the families so that everyone gets a fair share of visitors and the chance to sell what they have made. They were very friendly and lived an extraordinarily simple life. It rarely rains on this high Andean plateau and they need to walk their animals 3 or 4 hours each way to water them at the lake. If not doing this, they are tilling their fields by hand or spinning, or making handicrafts to sell. With no electricity, they are up at dawn and asleep soon after dinner around 7. They had out some food we could try including potatoes with a kind of grey-green mud they liked to smear on it. Rachel thought it was delicious and kept going back for more! Their home-made cheese was also really yummy and Mike knocked off a fair bit of it too...  
When we got to Puno, we checked into our hotel and headed off for lunch in a taxi to a swisher hotel with a lovely restaurant facing onto the lake. There we had a nice meal and watched the wild guinea pigs roaming in the grass in front of us, as well as beautiful birds. I wished I had a bird book! We headed back to the hotel and decided on a really early night as everyone was exhausted. I went out and bought a few biscuits and water for the kids to eat as no-one was hungry and it had been a late lunch, so we sat in bed, wrote blogs and had a really good night's sleep. 

Friday 6th June
Alison: After breakfast at the hotel, we packed our bags and were picked up at 9.00 to take a boat out to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. These islands are reached via a channel through the reed beds which luckily act to reduce the pollution reaching them from the water near Puno. Javier took us to his own island which was great. He and his father demonstrated how the islands are actually made, with a first layer of the reed bed cut away from the bottom of the lake, and then layers of fresh reeds lain on top in a criss-cross fashion so the whole thing is about half a metre thick. The island is then anchored by ropes on 4 corners to wherever they want to be. Javier's one was in a lovely position right at the edge of the various islands - very peaceful and as he said, good for meditation. They also showed us the foods they ate - with wild fowl and eggs collected from the reeds and fish they net from the lake. The birds and fish were dried in the sun so that they could trade what they didn't need for such things as flour, potatoes etc. They also had a solar panel on the roof of one of the reed huts which provided electricity for the island, to the extent that they even had a black and white TV to watch! These had been provided by the Japanese President Fujimori who had been visiting the area when some children died in a fire caused by them using candles to read and do their homework. Horrified at this, he organised for each island to get a solar panel to prevent such accidents in the future. They have and elementary school on the floating islands, but when they reach high school they go into Puno. We bought some more bits and pieces from them, and then went on one of their beautiful reed boats to the biggest island where they had a baby condor for us to see. Mike, Tom and Rachel even got a go at paddling the boat! The baby condor was 16 months old and already huge.

When we got back to Puno the streets were crowded as it was a National Day with parades and celebrations. The idea was for us to have a quick lunch at a restaurant, but it turned out to be incredibly slow service as most of the staff were at the parade! The meal, when it arrived was very nice, and Mike got to try the local delicacy cui. If you're not sure what that is, think about a cute little fluffy animal that makes a 'cui cui' sound and you've got it - yes guinea pig! It tasted very nice, a bit like chicken, but even Michael was a bit gobsmacked when it arrived with the head still on! You can imagine the kids' reaction...

We then made the mad dash to Juliaca to catch our plane, but needn't have worried as it was delayed. When we finally reached cold and foggy Lima the transfer was waiting to take us to our hotel, but we got them to take us via Maccas so the kids could have some dinner as we wanted to go straight to bed. Once back at Los Garisoles Hotel, I repacked the bags so that we could take what we needed for the Amazon into one bag and leave the rest at the hotel to be delivered to the airport when we left the country. This of course took some doing, especially as we have kept buying stuff, despite my pleas about minimal room left in the bags! Eventually, at about 10 p.m. I crashed, not looking forward to getting up at 3.00 a.m. for our next flight.

Mike: It was nice to be greeted by another warm and friendly guide Javier at the airport. After our bruising succession of early flights and starts it was a relief to know that the next few days would be fairly leisurely, with quite a bit of chill out time in between, suiting me down to the ground! The Necropolis was fascinating but more amazing was the beautiful lake that lay beyond, quite hidden from view until one literally almost stumbled on the edge of it. Not even Lake Titicaca, it left me pleased to anticipate what else lay ahead...
The real highlight though of this day for me, was visiting the home of some of the local people and sharing a glimpse into their daily lifestyle so different from our own. Compared to the rush rush Western lifestyle, with so much to do but seemingly so little perhaps being achieved (!), it was fascinating to get a feel for the incredibly hard working, resourceful and productive day that they led, with by our standards so much repetition and so little leisure time. Their self sufficiency and ability to feed and clothe and more generally provide for themselves was quite incredible, making so much from so little that they had. Every thing had multiple uses and purposes and the word 'waste' would not be part of their vocabulary. It was also really inspiring to see how close their family units were, living always as extended families of parents, brothers, sisters and in-laws, all helping to fend for each other and to pool their resources. Taking for granted their daily twohour walk with their animals for water, was only one example of just how staggeringly different their life was to our own back home.
The next day, venturing out to Javier's own family home on the floating islands, served merely to reinforce these observations... We were quite awestruck by the serenity of their location and also their ability to have constructed their homes, the island itself and the entirety from just their immediate natural resources! As in Vietnam and other places I had an overwhelming sense of their material poverty but inner strength and richness, seemingly never questioning or bemoaning their lot in life but happily going about their days work.

Finally while I think of it, too, to follow are a few (unrelated)  observations and reflections on our time in not just Peru but South America in general which we so greatly enjoyed: families of up to 24 children by the same parents were not uncommon!; selling anything anywhere, including seemingly countless people hawking their wares weaving among the traffic on the streets... (God, if only it were that easy to find salespeople so motivated and willing back home); asking for beer or cerveza in the local tongue, which constantly brought back lovely memories of our annual Christmas adventure with our group of friends where ''cervezas'' are the order of the day!; cultures so vastly different to our own yet universally shared understandings and wonderful laughter; wonderful meals in Peru with an array of local exotic foods and a bottle of wine with a bill coming in at the pricely sum of $20 to $40!   and so much more.... 
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