Lake Titicaca & Ancient Tombs

Trip Start Apr 21, 2010
Trip End Jun 29, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hotel Intika

Flag of Peru  , Puno,
Saturday, June 12, 2010

After spending a couple days in Cusco, we realized that acclimatizing to the new elevation was not going to be a quick process. We decided that proceeding with our planned trek through the Andes was not wise. Unfortunately we were getting a little stir crazy sitting around waiting to feel ready so we decided to take a bus to Puno.

Puno is at an elevation of 3850m which is 500m above Cusco. This is great as it does not put a damper on our bodies in making the necessary red blood cells that are so desperately needed to breath easier at these elevations (medically not technically right).  

Puno is also right on Lake Titicaca, which makes it the perfect spot to explore the region. Lake Titicaca is famous for being one of the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. It sits at 3810m and is partially in Peru and Bolivia.
We arrived late after a long 8 hour bus ride from Cusco. We used "Power" bus company which is a budget company. No frills and costs 15 soles each one way. The previous night, we briefly looked at what hostels were available. We decided to go with a name we recognized, Pirwa Hostels. We spent a night in Cusco´s Purwa and it was decent so we figured it couldn´t hurt. Yikes! Were we wrong! I should have followed my gut instinct when one of the workers asked the other if the room had even been cleaned yet. Well it wasn´t. The cleaners had made the beds up again but hadn´t changed the sheets (lots of someone else hair and dirty feet jam everywhere!) The bathroom´s garbage was still full with old used toilet paper (you know the kind you are not allowed to flush down the toilet). Generally not cool, but it was late and we were exhausted. We got our sheets changed and resigned to spending the night.

The next morning we excitedly packed our stuff and ventured for a new base. Karma must have swung the other way because the very first place we looked around the corner turned out to be magical! Hotel Intiqua! Normal rates run around $90 a night but it was very slow in town and they offered it to us for $35. Huge king size bed, sparkling clean bathroom with HOT water!!! To top it off it came with a breakfast buffet which included 3 different fresh squeezed juiced, 3 different yogurts, 5 cereal varieties, a selection of cheese, meats, and breads. Also pancakes and eggs made to your liking! Oh did I mention satellite TV in the rooms!! We were in pure luxury!!! I cannot recommend a better place on our entire trip!

On to the activities. We decided to sign up for the guided tours offered by the hotel as they were very well priced. The first day we joined at 25 soles each tour to Sillustani. The touristico bus picked us up from our hotel around 2pm and we picked up a few others and headed out of Puno. After 40km we reached the small village which was in the middle of a celebration. Everyone from town and surrounding area were gathered in a field playing music and dancing. It was a great site to see! The festival was in honor of a saint. But this was not the reason why we were here. We were here to visit ancient tombs. Our guide walked us through various burial tombs that were used for very important pre-Inca and Incan people. Our guide did a great job of explaining the differences between the tombs and some of the culture and traditions associated with the area. While walking I began to realize once again how altitude can really make it difficult to breath. We were now at 3900m. We also were able to take in breath taking views of Lake Umayo. See the pictures because I can´t find the words!

On the way back from Sillustani, we stopped at some locals rural house. We were able to see how day to day life was out in the Ándian country. Very interesting! What I liked the most was the little house made out of stone for their guinea pigs. I had forgotten that guinea pig in Peru is very much a main food source as cow is for us Albertans. They had about 15 or so guinea pigs living in the stone house.

The next day we joined the tour that would take us to the Uros floating islands and Taquile Island, which has a traditional Quechua speaking community living there.

Part of Lake Titicaca is composed of tons of reeds. The locals have learned to do pretty much everything possible with these reeds. They eat them and make houses, boats, and even whole islands outs of them. After a half hour boat ride through channels within the reeds we arrived to the floating island community of Uros. Each tour group is welcomed graciously by one of the islands. We hoped off the boat and explored the little island. Each island has a group of families living there. Our island had 6 families. We gathered in a semi circle and we were presented with some information about how the islands are created and a little about their culture. Very interesting! The islands only last about 20 years before they have to start from scratch and make a new island. The islands literally float on the water, which is actually a necessity. Because the water level rises and falls through the seasons, the islands go up and down with it instead of being flooded. The floating island was also good to combat against intruders as they could literally paddle their island away from danger. I was very impressed to see just how well humans can adapt to their surroundings, even when they have nothing but lake reeds to work with.

After spending and hour or so on the floating island we proceeded with the painfully slow boat ride to the island of Taquille (about 2hrs). As mentioned earlier Taquille has a community of Quechua speaking people living there. Their community is very traditional and life is lived very much the same way as it has been for the past hundred years (asides from the tourist invasion). An interesting cultural idiom is that they display publicly if they are married or single. They wear a long cone shaped hat made of cloth. If the hat is completely red then they are married. If the top half is white, then they are single. An old practice no longer used was if the single person wore his white hat to the right it meant he was single but not interested in looking for a partner. If it hung to the left then he was interested in partner. Also, a man is a man if he can knit. So when a women is interested in a man, she will take him down to the lake and fill his hat (which he knit) with water. If the hat emptied slowly then he is a good knitter and was a good partner. If it emptied fast, then she would dismiss him and tell to go practice knitting more. Truly different from anything I´ve heard of!

After exploring the island for a while and having a traditional lunch, we hoped back on the boat to end the tour with a 2.5hr boat ride back to Puno.

Very cool, culturally informative day!

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