It's all about the size of your stereo...
Trip Start Sep 28, 2006
99Trip End May 04, 2007
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The bus left at 9 am. It was fairly empty and extremely comfortable--huge cushioned seats with tons of foot room and reclining capacity. Definitely an improvement over those awful (but cheaper) buses in Ecuador! I felt ridiculous for bringing my alpaca blanket on the bus though, as it was hot as hell up on the top level and no windows could be opened. I snagged a window seat on the left, which is supposed to have the best views of Lake Titicaca as we approach Puno. The scenery throughout the six hour ride was quite lovely, although I was suffocating from the heat, had the worst headache, and my body was aching. I thought that after having spent so much time in Quito and Cusco, I would not have any more problems with altitude sickness, but I definitely was feeling the effects of our rapid increase in elevation. I spent most of the ride snoozing, playing with my camera, and watching "50 first dates" with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. The movie was originally in English of course, then dubbed in Spanish, and with English subtitles, too tiny to read.
I shared a cab with an American couple from Texas to my hotel, Hostal Imperial, which was on my SAE discount list and ended up being a three-star hotel. Fancy! I know, I know, I should be staying in dorms, but it only cost 35 soles a night for a comfortable, private room with bath and breakfast, so not a bad deal. After showering, I went straight to Allways travel to book my 2-day, 1-night tour of the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. As you may know, Lake Titicaca borders Peru and Bolivia, and is the highest lake in the world. I will be visiting the Bolivian side later in the week. With my SAE discount, the tour only cost 54 soles so I was psyched. I then wandered around a bit and did some shopping. I have been fairly good about spending money, but I TOTALLY went crazy and somehow ended up spending 140 bucks on a hat and two shawls from a high end store--nearly four days of living expenses! Granted, they were all handmade, the highest possible quality and absolutely gorgeous, but still. I felt such shopper's remorse, I can't even tell you. The huge black shawl is Royal class baby alpaca and a really classic piece. It definitely would have gone for three times as much back in the states. And the pink and orange baby alpaca scarf was just too beautiful to pass up, and will replace my favorite pink scarf that I have with me and am wearing to death. I somehow convinced them that with my SAE card I had a 10 percent discount there, which I really thought was true at the time but then later realized was not. Whoops. So now I have to figure out a way to get them home, since the South American postal system is far from reliable...I guess I will just have to risk it and hope that the Peruvian post gets my things home safely.
I grabbed dinner in a lovely restaurant called Apu Salkantay, located on the main street, Calle Lima. Gary gave me a ring on my cell and met up with me at the restaurant. He is only doing a day trip out to the floating islands, but we will be taking the same bus to Copacabana on Thursday morning so I will see him then. I sat in the window, hoping to relax and people watch while I waited for Gary, but instead was
harassed by local women and children trying to sell me things through the window. How can
you have a peaceful dinner when little kids are constantly pressing their
faces against the glass trying to sell you finger puppets? They were
quite cute, the kids and the puppets, but if you looked at either for more than a few seconds they assumed
you were going to buy something. Gary made that mistake and before you knew it, the kid was inside, ready to make the sale. And of course by that point, it's impossible to refuse, especially when the puppet costs less than a dollar.
I woke up at 6 am on Tuesday morning, waited forever for the water to get hot, got dressed and then went down to breakfast before the travel company picked me up at 7:30 am. Breakfast was a huge disappointment--two rolls, the nastiest "juice" I have ever tasted, and that coffee syrup stuff. I need real food for breakfast--eggs, yogurt, fruit whatever--and thankfully had some cheese and a banana with me to supplement my measly meal. We were told to bring snacks to the islands, since the food we would get from our families would consist primarily of rice and potatoes, and I had a little extra to spare.
I was the first to get on our bus, and watched with disappointment as couple after couple boarded after me. A bunch of Germans, some French, Americans, Italians, Spaniards (but from the Vasco region so they do not consider themselves Spanish), Israelis, and various others--all in all, about 20 people. Thankfully, there was another girl traveling alone and we soon started chatting. Her name is Georgia, and she is from Canada. Unfortunately, she is traveling in the opposite direction (she just came from Bolivia and is heading to Cusco), but at least that meant we could swap travel tips. I was hoping to meet some travel companions, but what can you do. I later became friendly with the Israelis (a newly-wed couple and a couple of girls), who are going to Bolivia next like me, and I had a great time hanging out and speaking Spanish with the four people from Spain. I have definitely come to the conclusion that people from that region of Spain are hilarious. So, all in all, even though not everyone was social, I had a pretty good group.
We boarded our boat, which was quite small, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery for 30 minutes before we arrived at the Uros Islands.
On San Miguel island, our guide explained how the Uros make their islands by layering reeds on top of each other (well it's a bit more complicated than that), as well as the other ways in which tortora functions in their daily lives. For example, the Uros people not only use the reeds to construct their islands, houses, and boats, but they also eat them as well. Apparently the reeds are good for a number of ailments.
Our guide told us that the Uros people are far better off now than they were 25 years ago. Now that foreigners visit the islands regularly, they can afford meat and some other things to make their lives more comfortable. I am of course happy that they have benefited greatly from tourism. At the same time, however, the Uros islands are SO touristy that they have essentially become floating souvenir stalls, and as a result have lost much of their appeal. They were all selling a number of trinkets and woolen goods, none of which seemed unique or of high quality. When we were given a little free time to wander around each tiny island I was after five minutes eager to get back on the boat and move on. So, although I definitely found these communities interesting and am glad I visited them, the whole experience was somewhat depressing.
Our boat ride to Amantani island was quite long, 2 and a half hours to be exact, but the scenery was amazing.
I was very impressed with the quality of our room. I had imagined blankets on the floor rather than real beds and much filthier conditions in general.
After settling in for a bit, we headed downstairs to the kitchen for lunch. The kitchen consisted of a tiny room with one small window and filled with tons of smoke. There is no electricity on the island so Estefa cooked everything over the fire. Georgia and I sat at a little table in the corner, and I am guessing the family ate either before or after us as only Estefa was around. The food consisted of all starches, about which we had been thoroughly warned. For lunch, quinoa soup, rice, potatoes, 1 egg (an unexpected protein treat), a slice of tomato, and mate de moonia, which tastes like mint and is good for altitude sickness. For dinner, corn soup, rice, a potato dish, and tea. For breakfast, two plain pancakes, a piece of bread, and tea. My diet down here has largely consisted of starches so I was somewhat used to it. Thankfully we had a stash of Twix bars and other candy to munch on for extra sustenance (so nutritious, I know!).
Before our hike up to the highest point on the island to watch the sunset, we all congregated at the soccer stadium to hear our guide give a brief talk. They may not have electricity, meat, or many other things that most people would consider essential, but they DO have a huge soccer stadium! Our families brought us to the stadium about fifteen minutes early, presumably to purchase some local goods (mostly woven hats) as there were about ten women waiting for us with their items on display. It worked on me--I bought a bright orange hat and some candy, and as we waited for everyone to congregate in the stadium I enjoyed watching the women spin wool and weave.
As soon as everyone arrived, our guide began to speak about the Amantani people and the mountain we were about to climb. One of topics he covered, which I found particularly amusing, was how Amantani men and women fall in love. Normally, he spoke in Spanish and in English, but at this point he only spoke English so that the local women would not understand what he was saying.
It took about 25 minutes to hike up the mountain, and on the way a local kid was banging a drum and another was playing a recorder out of tune--painful for my classically trained ears. I was dying for some peace and quiet, as that was really a huge part of being on an island without cars, pollution, electricity etc., so I was a bit put off when they made a racket for most of the way up and then would not leave us alone until we gave them some money. I was impressed with the recorder player though--I definitely could never hike up a mountain and play my oboe at the same time, let alone a mountain that started at 3800 meters.
We had about an hour to kill before the sun set when we reached the top,
The sunset around 6 pm was incredible, and as you will see from the following sequence of photos, kept getting better and better.
After the sun went down, Georgia and I had to book it down the mountain as it suddenly was freezing, we only had a little flashlight, and Marie (the older of the two girls) was waiting for us in the soccer stadium to take us back for our dinner of rice, potatoes, and more rice and potatoes. Yum. Care for some carbohydrates with your carbohydrates? I gave Estefa my gifts of rice, notebooks and pens for the children, who walk an hour each way to school every day and are in need of supplies. She seemed appreciative until she tried to get me to give her my 3 AAA head lamp batteries. She didn't exactly ask me for them either. We each had our lights on, she looked at mine (which was strong compared to hers) and said in Spanish, "Tomorrow morning, give those to me." I was a bit caught off guard and stuttered something to the effect of "Sorry, but they are my only ones and I need them" since that was the truth, but then of course felt extremely guilty and selfish as she clearly needs them more than I do. Yeah, batteries are expensive but I can afford an extra set. It weighed on my mind for the rest of the night and first thing the next morning I put them into her hands. She said thank you but almost in a way indicating that she had expected it. Whatever, I am happy to help out and it gave me some peace of mind.
At 8 pm, we had an "event" that consisted of traditional dancing and music. Georgia and I tried to run off to the main hall after dinner in our own clothes, but Estefa caught us just in time and dressed us up in traditional clothing.
I managed to get some rest, despite being woken up Wednesday morning around 5 am by the sounds of a big, loud radio (hmm...) and little children squealing, among other strange, undiscernible noises.
After breakfast, we hiked back down to the harbor and said goodbye to our families before getting back on our boat and heading to Taquile island, which was far less tranquil (tons of restaurants and shops) and much more oriented towards tourists than Amantani. However, the scenery was still gorgeous and I am glad we went here. We hiked up to the center of town, which took about 45 minutes, and then had an hour or so to hang out, get food, and of course shop for more woven goods. One thing I found particularly interesting about the Taquile people was the significance of their dress.
Before getting on the boat and heading back to Puno, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbor.
I was dropped off at Hostal Imperial around 3 pm and immediately took a super long, HOT shower. I was in a different room with awesome water pressure. I mailed all my new hats, scarves, and some other random things back to California via Serpost for about 85 soles, and was a bit freaked out as I handed over my package of goods since I will be down about 200 bucks if it fails to arrive. It ended up getting home safely, so I am 4 for 4 now in sending things home and having them get their safely from Ecuador and Peru.
I was supposed to meet Gary around 6:30 pm to have dinner and get info for tomorrow's bus ride, and did email to kill some time beforehand. I very surprised to get a long email from my Dad. He rarely uses email, so this was his first email to me while I have been gone. He wrote that he really enjoyed reading about my travels, which made me happy of course, and more importantly, that he and my mom are COMING OUT TO VISIT ME IN JANUARY!!! I am BEYOND excited. We had discussed the possibility of a Patagonia trip back in September. However, they had not mentioned it for nearly two months, and since they just returned from India in November, I was under the assumption that a Patagonia tour was totally out of the question. What a happy surprise!
The pros of my parent's visit are obvious: I miss them and get to spend time with them; it will be their first time in South America (SA never was on their radar, like with many other Americans); they can bring me things I need from home (no more rationing contact lenses); I will get to take flights rather than long bus rides, I won't have to do Patagonia alone (which I have heard can be difficult, with the long bus rides and challenging treks); and lastly, having Patagonia planned out will force me to get organized and plan out my time in northern Argentina and the beginning of time in Brazil.
The cons? Well, the latter is kinda annoying in a way, as I will not have as much flexibility and freedom. Then again, it will be high season in Argentina and Brazil so I will have to do a good deal of planning regardless. Traveling with my parents will mean I won't have as many opportunities to meet other backpackers and will thus be skipping out on those types of experiences for a good chunk of Argentina. But I of course have had and will have so much time for that, so I don't really care. Also, we will most likely be participating in some sort of tour, and I am not a huge fan of group tours. However, I know my parents would rather drop dead than be a part of those awful, obnoxious American tour groups, so I trust their judgement. Lastly, I feel guilty that my parents will be paying for me as this is supposed to be MY trip and thus entirely funded with my own money, but I of course cannot afford the type of vacation that they want to have. As a compromise, I think I will give them whatever I would normally be spending each day for as long as we are together. So, all in all, the pros outweigh the cons by a long shot and I am incredibly psyched. I have no clue where we are going to go exactly and how the dates will work out, but I am sure we will have a great time together. I am so much easier to deal with now that I have a more go-with-the-flow attitude, so hopefully we will not go hyper-crazy on each other like we sometimes do at home.
Gary met me at my hotel and took me to the main plaza, where we met up with a huge, international group of people from his day tour of the islands. I am usually not a big fan of large groups, particularly when it comes to trying to pick out a restaurant together. However, we settled on one fairly quickly (was overpriced and not that fabulous, but whatever) and it was nice to meet some new people. I had a lovely time talking to a chef from Barcelona. Everyone spoke English but him, so I talked to him in Spanish the whole time so he would not feel left out (and of course to practice my Spanish). I also finally tried alpaca meat, which kind of tasted like steak. I suppose llama is next on my list...although I have been warned that you only should eat it at a reliable restaurant and must get it cooked very well done, as many llamas carry parasites.
Tomorrow at 7:30 am, I take off to Copacabana with Gary, so that means adios Peru y bienvenidos a Bolivia!
Where I stayed