In Search of the Lost City

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
Trip End May 31, 2004

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Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, September 27, 2003

".... the nearer your destination, the more you´re slip slidin away ..." Paul Simon

I was planning on arriving at Machu Picchu almost 2 months ago (in fact I thought I would be home by now). I seem to be distracted and something keeps pulling me towards other places. Machu Picchu is my main reason for landing on this continent. My Holy Grail, the inspiration which set my imagination ablaze. When I will get there, now I do not know. Someone once said to me "it´s the journey that´s important, not the destination".
Until I get there I will have to make do with other people´s accounts and Hiram Bingham´s awe inspiring story of when he discovered the citadel in the clouds. Because now I find myself teaching English in Arequipa.

Backtracking to La Paz, Bolivia. Abandoned by Fabien, I set off solo out of the bowl, to start the ascent from 3600m to 4000m. And as I climbed out I came across 2 cyclists taking a break. Claude and his girlfriend (my memory for names seems to be getting worse) from Switzerland were on a cycling holiday in Bolivia. It turns out Claude had already completed a 7 year round-the-world cycle tour a few years ago. Which immediately made my cycle trip look like some warm up exercise. Undaunted I carried on towards Bolivia´s main Archaelogical site: Tiahuanaco. This was an advanced culture which preceeded and probably helped develop the Inca. I wasn´t left with much of an impression, but that was probably to do with the millions of ants (tourists) crawling over the ruins. I find the longer I travel the more I disassociate myself from tourists. Besides I am a traveller (completely different), I experience the country at a deeper level.

So the next day I checked out of the 4 star hotel and looked ahead to the rather large mass of water which is Lake Titicaca. At an altitude of 4000m, this is one of the highest navigable lakes in the world. Cycling along the yellow shores, cows grazing amongst the reeds and in the distance the blue and pink triangular sails of fishing boats contrast against the snowy peaks. I arrived in Desaguadero, a chaotic border town, tomorrow I would be in Peru. As soon as I entered Peru I noticed slight differences between the people. Here they are less reserved and are more inclined to shout "Gringo" and laugh at you. I followed the perimeter of the lake occasionally accompanied by old men on bikes. They speak to me, but the Spanish here seems to be full of slang, so I just agree and say "Si" a lot. I see a small village nestled between two hills and decided to spend the night there overlooking the lake. The next morning I climb the rest of the hill to watch the sun turn Titicaca into a mirror as I screamed out at the top of my lungs "HOLAAAAA!". I listen as my wake-up call bounces over the lake and back.

Crossing briefly back into Bolivia to have a look at Copacabana and the famous Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun). This island is where Inca mythology began. The Sun was born here, and the first Inca Manco Capac was conceived with his sister-wife Mama Huaca. As soon as I put foot on the island I realise two days will not be enough time here. There is something mystical about this tranquil island. With its rustic life, ruins and azure bays which remind me of the Mediterranean, I spend more time here than I planned. During my stay here Sebastian and I decided to find out whether the underwater ruins really existed. Early one morning a group of us hired a fisherman to take us to the alleged ruins. After 1 hour of rowing we arrive. Half an hour of searching and we see some ruins (or were they just rocks). We gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Finally after leaving the sunny island I headed towards Puno where the famous floating islands awaited. Just another day in the saddle, cycling along when suddenly there was a loud popping sound and my front wheel swerves suddenly. My first blow out. I think the garage attendant might have slightly over-inflated my tyre! I pull over to the side of the road just outside a village and proceed to repair the damage. Crouched down I work away and notice a few school children have gathered near me to watch. I greet them but only receive silent stares. A few minutes later I look up and I am literally surrounded by a circle of children. This is followed by the older members who join the younger spectators. So I carry on hosting this new show quietly amused by my mute audience. Finally one of the men starts talking to me and helps me to fix the wheel. While this is happening more and more people gather to have a look until there must be around 50-60 people. It was like a one man circus show had arrived in town. The stranger then allowed the locals to ride the bike for a few minutes before taking off into the sunset ...

Finally I arrive in Puno and visited the remarkable floating reed islands. These people decided hundreds of years ago to make islands from totora reeds and live on them. The Uros people used to be a separate race with their own language. They decided to live in this water world as to avoid potential conquerors. Unfortunately the Incas were a race which possessed cunning. And so the inevitable happened. These islands are made of layers (which are frequently replaced) of reeds - usually metres thick.

And after the islands I left my bike in Puno and decided to make a quick 3 day visit to the White City ..... also known as Arequipa. Called so because a lot of the churches and buildings are constructed from white volcanic rock. While down here I did the Colca Canyon trek and finally saw the elusive condor. However I have now been in Arequipa for 1 month as I seem to have landed a job teaching English. Five hours a day in fact. I now have a new found respect for teachers and what they have to put up with....we will see how long I last ....
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