Where the streets have no name

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Despite the unique circumstances encountered, we enjoyed our time in Cusco. It is a beautiful city, full of interesting architecture, kind people and fascinating history. We stayed in the San Blas neighbourhood, historically a region where artists plied their talent and we spent many hours wandering it's quaint narrow streets.

Much of our remaining time in Cusco was spent ambling through backstreets and artisan markets, and we were also able to take in a city tour, which included several Incan sites on the outskirts of Cusco. The most notable of these is a site called Saqsayhuaman (slowly read it out loud to yourself …ahuh) or as Alex prefers "Sexy Mama". Saqsayhuaman is an impressive fortress with large beautiful stones, and a curvy yet slender shape (true). One of the most interesting and memorable parts is a huge arrangement of five perfectly sculpted and interlocking stones in the shape of a puma paw. Unfortunately, the Spanish conquistadors used Saqsayhuaman as a quarry, taking many of the stones to Cusco to create their own buildings. Later, we had the opportunity to watch a show highlighting some Peruvian and Cusquenian dancing and music which was particularly appropriate for the kids, since part of the grade 3 curriculum includes the study of Peruvian cultures, traditions and celebrations.

Not satisfied with revenge on Derek, Alex was Montezumas next target and so our final day in Cusco was a quiet one. As usual kids bounce back faster than adults and after a few hours sleep he was back on his feet. After finding an English style pub and watching Manchester United (of course) beating Manchester City in the semi-final of the league cup, we took a chance and departed Cusco on an overnight bus to Puno, leaving at 10pm and arriving at about 4:30am. The kids seemed to do well with this option (kids can sleep anywhere); unfortunately the same could not be said for Derek and Sarah. However, we arrived safely and our room was available at the hostel, so we crashed for a few hours before setting off to explore Puno.

Puno is a small town on the shores of Lake Titicaca (we’re not making these names up), the world’s highest navigable lake, famed for it’s inhabited floating islands. After passing through a local market, we arrived at the lake shore and were soon sitting on a boat waiting to depart to Uros, the closest of the floating island networks (there are no streets in this neighbourhood, only waterways). What we were expecting to be just a boat transfer to the islands turned out to be more of a tour, albeit in Spanish, but we were able to understand enough to make it informative and enjoyable.

Upon arrival at the first floating island we disembarked and were greeted by the communities head honcho (that’s a Spanish word, isn’t it?). He spent twenty minutes explaining how the islands are made and giving us a taste of what life is like there. What it boils down to is that these people are entirely reliant upon this ecosystem. They eat, sleep on, live in, get transported by and now make tourist nick-knacks out of these reeds. Fresh reeds are a source of food and we were shown how to peel back the green outer layers to eat the white interior. Lauren and Sarah were both brave enough to try it – it tastes kind of like a tropical celery. They also eat fish from the lake and birds that they shoot.

 It is a shame that the lake is so polluted, and they are working on this, but in an ironic and resourceful twist, they actually use discarded pop bottles as a building material for their iconic reed boats (2000 per boat!). So, not to miss an opportunity, we paid Mr Head Honcho to take us across to another floating island in a fancy dual-hulled reed boat that he affectionately labelled his Mercedes Benz. Now, not all references to technology are in name only; Many of the huts on the islands come adorned with solar panels, and it’s common to catch the locals on their cell-phones (probably twittering about the tourists they managed to squeeze a few Soles from). On the second island that we visited we had a lunch of fried trout, potatoes and rice. The trout were from a trout pond on the island and the potatoes were grown on the island. Next to the trout pond was another pond, only this one had a miniature floating island in it and on this island lived four guinea-pigs in their own reed huts; cute, but presumably these would meet the same end as their fishy neighbours?

Whether part tourist show or not, the day provided us with a fun opportunity to glimpse a way of life that we could otherwise only imagine).

We headed back to the mainland, booked our bus tickets for the following day and spent a pleasant afternoon and evening exploring the centre of Puno. Highlight of the evening was the discovery of a new cocktail; algarrobina. We have been enjoying the Pisco Sours that Peru is famed for, but this might even be better. Pisco Sour is made from egg whites, lemon juice, sugar and Pisco, a white grape brandy originating from Pisco (a coastal Peruvian town several hours south of Lima). Algarrobina is also made from Pisco, but it is mixed with milk, egg, sugar, cinnamon and algarrobina syrup (made from the bark of the Algarrobo tree).

After the rough overnight experience, we opted to take a daytime bus from Puno to Arequipa. We had good seats at the very front of the bus on the second level; at least from the perspective of the view and leg room, but was a bit stuffy in the sunshine. The view of the countryside was stunning but at times nerve racking due to the precipices we were being hovered over, never mind the opportunity to witness the creation of fresh road-kill along the way L).

We've arrived in Arequipa, but haven’t figured out the game plan is yet….check back soon to find out what we decided to do...
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