Trip Start Aug 01, 2003
Trip End Jan 27, 2004

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, December 26, 2003

Punta Sal, Huanchaco, Lima, Iquitos/The Amazon, Lima, Paracas, Nazca Lines, Arequipa, Cusco, Inca Trail, Macchu Pichu, Cusco

A very easy and quick border crossing took us into Peru and one of our first long drives. A solid 14 hours along a dessert coastline. Stunning to look at first but then after about 4 hours of the same landscape.... Still we followed the ocean all the way along and I honestly didn't expect that. Peru. Desert. I thought it was all going to be lush and green mountains. Well, that was naive of me because of course Peru has a coastline and the Pacific crashes along it's coast. Pretty amazing arid landscape though. A bit like something out of a star trek episode where they arrive in the middle of nowhere and wonders who lives in this land, are they human or other. Very much like that. Stark.

PUNTA SAL: We arrived at a beach, Punta Sal, where we set up our tents in the sand. Again, we were spoilt by the beautiful ocean being a few paces away from the doors of our tents. It was stunning. We cooked up some camp food and sat around the fire eating and drinking. We were all quite tired so an early night called us. I have my own tent now so I sat in the doorway watching the moon, the waves on the shores. Truly magical. Waking up the next day was beautiful too. Hopped straight out of my tent and into the ocean for an early morning swim. Spent the day flying kites, swimming, reading.

My cook team was next on duty so we went into the local village and tried to shop at the market. Very limited produce but we thoroughly enjoyed choosing from the vividly colored selection of tomatoes, herbs, chills, peppers and fruit to try and conjure up a gourmet dinner for 20 people! Not an easy task but we managed it.

On our last day there Andrew and I took a walk along the shore just before sunset and to our joy were followed by a whale breaching along side us. He was certainly playing as he was jumping in and out of the water for about 10 minutes and heading in the same direction as us. We walked silently watching the whale in awe along the deserted beach, everything looked hazy up ahead and the sky was beginning to go pink. Every now and again you could hear one of us shout "can you believe this". We were so lucky.

HUANCHACO: Another long drive. I think only 12 hours this time. Again along desert coastline. Amazing deep blue ocean and light sandy cliffs dropping off to the right of us and then steep sand dune mountains climbing up to the left. But everything was the same colour. Sandy. No vegetation. The odd square house made from mud and clay bricks but even then very little colour. Even the dress of the people was bland.

Checked into a hotel and had a nice clean shower. The hotel also had a pool which was great. All very civilised and still very warm as we were at sea level again. There were camping facilities which some of the group took advantage of and a cooking area where my cook team and I cooked up our meal for the group. I'm off duty now for a few weeks so with so many people we don't actually getting stuck with it very often but it is a great challenge cooking outdoors with very little facilities and produce for 20 people.

Our reason for staying here was to visit our first Inca ruins. Quite different from the Mayan ruins in Mexico. Chan Chan was our first tour. A collection of 9 citadels that used to be home to the kings during the time of the Incas. Each king had his own citadel, surrounded by a high wall, housing a complete town with a market place, ceremonial squares, homes for the king and areas for the working people. Once that king died he was buried in his citadel and then when a new king was crowned he would have his own new citadel built.

These are very basic constructions made of sand and clay, some of it has been quite damaged by rain during a bad storm not so long ago. But you can still make out some of the intricate and decorative Inca patterns that the walls are made from. Again, the only colour present was sand colour but the mouldings more than made up for the lack of colour.

We hopped back onto the truck and drove out to two Moche pyramids out in the sand mountains. I believe that they were the House of the Sun and the House of the Moon. Quite spectacular but because they have built layer upon layer it is difficult to identify them as pyramids. Having been spoilt by seeing the Egyptian ones it's difficult not to compare the two. But these still had coloured decoration inside which has been protected by the sun and really showed the Inca use of colour to its full. A lot of earthy colours with some muddy blues and greens added. And the sand surrounding the pyramids had a red tinge as far as the eye could see. These are millions and millions of pieces of pottery that has slowly been unearthed and has disintegrated as it has been discarded by the Incas over the years.

LIMA: Out of the middle of nowhere and into a major city. Here we had a day to stock up on odds and ends that we needed for the jungle and to take in some of the city culture. A lot like any sophisticated city with plazas where you can sit and drink coffee, watch the world go by. This whole trip has been full of extremes. One minute you are in the desert with no facilities and the next you're sitting in a cosmopolitan cafe drinking cappuccinos!

LIMA to IQUITOS: Up at 5am!!! To catch a 7am flight from Lima to Iquitos. This took us back up to North Peru and into Amazon land.

IQUITOS to THE AMAZON: After our flight we jumped onto a tiny little boat and sped for 3 hours up The Amazon river. It's enormous. The widest river I have been on, in fact it looked a little bit like the Nile in Egypt. So I'm sitting there thinking how lucky I am to have travelled on two of the most famous rivers in the world and suddenly I need a pee. And there is nothing on the banks of the Amazon and there are 8 other people on the boat all bored and wanting to arrive at our destination and three Peruvian guides.

I wait for a while with my legs crossed and it gets more and more painful and just as the tears arrive I lunge forward and shout above the engine (the whole boat can hear me) "IS THERE ANY CHANCE OF STOPPING TO GO TO THE TOILET". How bloody embarrassing! However, the guys are really sweet and say of course but they point out I'll have to go in a bush. No problem... I've peed in worst places and had more embarrassing toilet emergencies in the past four months than I can't even talk about in public. There is no dignity here. So they pull over to the banks and I scramble up to shouts of "watch out for the scorpions and snakes". Yes, thank you. Very funny. I get back to the boat to a round of applause and am told that when we get to the next bar the drinks are on me. I sink into my seat full of relief and smiles.

Eventually, we arrive at the Muyuna Lodge. A great Eco friendly lodge on stilts (the Amazon rises by 10ms during the rainy season!) with a main room for eating and communing and little cabins on stilted walk ways. Really basic but very sweat. Each cabin has three beds, a toilet, shower and basin (although the water comes from the river and is brown) and a hammock on the deck. Really nice.

We were looked after so well. Three traditional Peruvian meals a day (we were there for 3 nights and 2 days) and we were the only ones staying there. We were taken out on guided walks... into the jungle during the day to spot monkeys, we were talked through trees and plants and their medicinal qualities and how the shaman still use them to this day. We spotted birds, giant ants going about their business, leaf cutter ants marching in lines across the flooring carrying huge chunks of bright green leaf. So many species of flora and fauna that even now I am going to have to look them all up when I get home to really digest what I saw.

We went out on a night walk. Zipped up head to toe in the sweltering jungle heat to keep the mozzies out. The jungle is a different place at night. Full of strange smells, fireflies lighting up the trees, the noises are amplified, insects, birds, crickets, frogs.... We crept along single file with our little torches and scanned the trees for things to see. I was at the back as I wasn't as scared as the others so now and again I would turn around and have the jungle laid out before me and I would try to imagine how it would feel to be there on my own!

We came across a huge Peruvian pink toed tarantula that was so frightening to look at. Not poisonous but not happy when prodded with a stick. And then my favourite which was a giant bullfrog. The size of a very large cat! Just sitting there pretending he hadn't seen us in the hope that we wouldn't see him but we were shining our torches and eventually he jumped off. He was a really funny thing. Absolutely huge!

The next day we took a boat ride back on to the Amazon and went looking for dolphins. Which we found. In the river??? Grey dolphins that travel backwards and forwards between the river and ocean. And pink dolphins that just live in the river. The played around the boat for a while and some of the group went swimming. I was up for it but was feeling pretty grim that day having been bitten senseless in the jungle the day before so I didn't get to swim in the brown, murky Amazon.

Then back down the river to Iquitos and back on the plane to Lima for another day in the city. Again, going from one extreme to the other. It's very surreal.

PARACAS: More travelling back in the truck southward bound again. We stopped off at Paracas and took a two hour guided speed boat tour out to what can be described as 'mini Galapagos islands'. Called the Islas Ballestas, this collection of small islands is home to sea lion colonies as well as grey booby birds, turns, penguins and cormorants.

The sea lion colonies were incredible. Hundreds lined up along little beaches, the bosses absolutely huge, we even saw some rivals fighting and the noise they made was astounding. It was like being at a football matching and hearing everyone chanting. The smell of ammonia from theirs and the birds waste was prominent but there is a local industry being made of this. We saw men working on steep slopes scraping up all of the bird poop, putting it into sacks and then winch it down into little boats to go back to the mainland. Apparently this is used to put into fertilizer and is a huge business. Guess it also keeps the islands clean.

Had lunch on the dockside on the way back. Great fish. And had fun being surrounded by loads of children wanting sweets and photos taken. Great fun.

Then we headed off to probably the most incredible spot I have, and ever will, camped in. The edge of the world I call it. We drive across the desert for miles, no roads, no people, no cars, just bumpy desert. Then suddenly arrived at a cliffs edge where the deep blue ocean was crashing below. This was where we camped. We slept out. Sat around the fire, drank rum, cooked up a great meal and slept under the stars on our roll mats and in our sleeping bags looking at the stars, smelling and hearing the sea. Best nights sleep I'd had in ages. Andrew cooked up a fantastic tortilla the next morning and we headed off. All covered in sand and a big grubby but happy people.

Ooh, we did see someone! Out of nowhere came a lone figure on a motorcycle and he rode up to us. Andrew and I welcomed him with smiles and discovered that his name was Walter, he was German, riding a Japanese Honda (not a BMW) and he had seen our truck a few times on the way down from Quito. But even more of a surprise than that was that he is doing the exact same route as us! He started off in Alaska in June, went through Canada and the States, Central America and now he is doing South America and will end up in Ushaia, Argentina on the 23rd of January (two days before us!). I ask you! What are the chances! So we shall see more of Walter no doubt.

NASCA LINES: Another 12 hour drive (I'm repeating myself now) and we arrive in Nasca. We jump, three at a time, into a small biplane up over the Nasca Lines. First thing that struck me was that they look smaller from the air than I imagined but they are pretty incredible. As well as the obvious drawings; the monkey, astronaut, hummingbird etc, there are strange triangles and long straight lines that seem to be communicating something. A grid like form of strange, possibly astrological, writings and drawings. All done by moving the dark colour stones from the surface to reveal the lighter colour below. The second thing was the bumpiness of the flight. I don't get air sickness but I was close. It was awful. In fact three people in our group were sick in the plane. Glad I wasn't with them.

Chilled about by the pool in the evening, had a camp meal and then set of to Arequipa the next day.

AREQUIPA: A very nice colonial town, very Spanish, with a plaza again. Great wood burned pizza and father Christmas roaming the streets. More shopping, well a bit of market shopping and some toiletries. The only jobs we have on this trip.Not much to report other than an early start and ANOTHER 12 hour drive the next day up into the mountains to Cusco.

CUSCO: And this is where I am now. Suffering majorly from altitude sickness (headache, nausea, nosebleed and shortness of breath) but I am beginning to feel normal again now. Tomorrow we set of on the Inca Trail to Maccu Picchu. A 4 day, 44kms walk high up into the mountains to one of the most stunning sights in the world. It's going to be tough!

My massage is already booked for my return to Cusco on the 16th!

That's it for now. Anyone got any news from home? Heard Ozzy Osborne is in hospital with fractured bones. What was he doing on a quad bike anyway!

Peace & Love
T xxx

CUSCO: Altitude sickness, fairly cold and autumnal, very high up in the Andes and preparing for the Inca Trail. A day here to recover from the travelling, adjust to the altitude and get our kit ready for the trail. Not much you can take as the porters carry sleeping bags and mats but everything has to be carried on our backs. So this was an even bigger challenge than preparing to put 6 months of life into a backpack. We have our small day sacks and if you want to take something you must be prepared to carry it. So in with some wet wipes, a spare pair of undies, trousers and a t-shirt, toothbrush and a water bottle.

We purchased these nifty little carriers that are made from Peruvian decorated material with a strap attached that carries a 2litre water bottle. Really neat and it means you don`t have to carry the bottle and you have easy access to it when adorned in a rain jacket and poncho. Problem is they are dyed naturally so when it rained mine left dashing red marks all over my trousers. Oh, if only you could have seen me! Not attractive but in situations like this comfort is the most important factor.

I bought a pair of trousers from a market in Guatemala which are red with yellow stripes. Make me look like a real hippie traveller. And these, along with my green plastic poncho, made me look absolutely ridiculous. But then we all looked ridiculous. And I had a stick, made by the locals from bamboo with a patterned material cover placed over the top of the stick to prevent splinters, except this ran in the rain as well and disintegrated but it didn`t leave my hand for four days. I couldn`t have hauled my ass along that trail without it.

Our first day was easy. We met with our three guides and they drove us around some ruins for the day. In what is called the Sacred Valley. Our introduction to Inca ruins. Here our guide, Cesar, explained the stone building process and took us to three sites where he showed us how the Incas different stone formations throughout their ruins. We also had a go on an Inca slide. No, really. A slick rock face which has been smoothed over the years from hundreds and hundreds of Incas sliding down. It looked like one of those bumpy slides that you see at water parks. Undulated. And was brilliant fun. Sliding on the rock actually worked!

That night we arrived at a little town at the foot of the trail called Ollantaytambo where we checked in to our hostel had a quick meal and an early night. Besides, we were having trouble walking around and breathing at the same time because of the altitude and I was feeling progressively worse by this time. Our first day walking loomed before us like an ominous storm cloud. All of us wondering how, after a good few months with no exercise, were we ever going to walk 44kms in four days! Uphill, in fact up rocks and stones!

INCA TRAIL TO MACHU PICCHU: The day arrived, a 5am wake-up call by a surprise birthday alarm clock from Jo Jo, still dark,a very very cold shower and a Happy Birthday to me! A quick breakfast around the corner of stale bread, Nescafe and condensed milk and papaya juice (what is with that funny after taste?). Onto a bus and then a forty minute drive to the entrance to the trail. Where Cesar had prepared a birthday speech and the guys had bought me a beautiful turquoise bracelet and all signed a card. A great start to a unique birthday.

We looked longingly at the passengers about to board the train that would take them in comfort all the way to Machu Picchu and reminded ourselves of the awesome challenge we were about to undertake and that "yes, it WILL be an achievement once completed". You could hear the mantra whispered from people`s lips. We cross the railway line and all line up underneath the wooden Machu Picchu sign for a group photo. Dressed up in waterproof gear, sticks in hands and backpacks feeling a little heavier than they should have been. Weather was a bit drab but no immediate threat of rain.

And then we discovered that we were to get a stamp in our passports to make our voyage on the trail official. So I have a Machu Picchu stamp, in my passport, with my birthday date on it! How brilliant is that?

We walked over the wobbly bridge and stood on the other side while our 22 porters charged past us. These guys are incredible. Little fellas, with skinny legs, wearing nothing but shorts, t-shirts and cheap sandals made from old tyres with up to 20 kilos of weight strapped to their backs. They carried 10 sleeping tents, a cook tent and a dining tent, 20 fold away stools, crockery and cutlery for 20 people, barrels of water, enough food for 3 course meals for 20 people for 4 days, pots and pan and heavens knows what else. And they ran... all the way there. They were always ahead of us to set up camp and then they slept in our dining tent until they rose early the next morning. It was a huge operation but really well organised. And they put us all to shame as we huffed and puffed and walked like snails. They just shot past.

There is one good reason why they are able to do this. A little secret. Well not really as we were all at it after a while. But the secret? Coca leaves! Yup, the stuff they make cocaine from... well, if you take the leaves, lay some on top of each other and put a small lump of black gooey stuff called catalyst (a disgusting paste made from burnt banana skins and some other ingredient that I don`t even want to ask about) in the middle and wrap this up tightly and then put it between your back teeth and chew for a while until you have generated a lot of saliva and then suck the liquid out and swallow. Well, apparently if you do this for about 15 minutes it gets you so fired up that you forget about your tiredness and pain and allows you to walk on like a super hero.

Hmm.... I nearly gagged the first time. And I wasn`t feeling great anyway, what with altitude sickness, the trots, stomach cramps, a headache and a bleeding nose... But it worked for some people. I tried but I think I was too ill to stomach it and didn`t really reap the benefits.

After a seven hour slow vertical walk, as the altitude makes you lungs feel like they are being squeezed and your legs turn to lead, we arrived at first camp. The tents were all ready, dinner was on the go but it was freezing. Weren`t allowed to light fires so Cesar made us all hot chocolates with whisky in and we wrapped up in our thermals, wooly hats and gloves and sat down to dinner. Warming soup and potatoes with everything.

And then, would you believe, 4,000ms up the porters had baked me a birthday cake. How they did it with no oven I will never know but it was a tasty banana cakes with a face made out of banana slices and caramel made from condensed milk all over it. My candle was a rolled up piece of cardboard and as it was brought it to the tent everyone sang happy birthday. It was one of the best birthday surprises I`ve ever had. Went to sleep 32 and suddenly feeling 64!!! We were knackered!

The next day was even more tough. We had aching muscles, pulled muscles, runny noses but had a good nights sleep. Cesar told us that this day would be easier! He lied but by now it was too late to turn around and I don`t think anyone could have let themselves down and done that. We all pulled together. Some walked faster than others but in our groups of 3 or 4 (you find a pace and stick with those people) we kept giving each other morale support. But I was quite ill by now and was walking bent over double most of the time. It poured with rain for the last 3 days which made it more mentally challenging as well as physically. It`s difficult to walk with wet trousers and a plastic poncho on but the only way was up.

I slipped further and further towards the back and after a while, because we couldn`t breathe well from the altitude, we were climbing for a very slow 20 paces and then stopping for a few minutes to breathe. We were panting so much you would think we had just sprinted a mile. I have never experienced anything so debilitating as walking at altitude. I would suggest anyone taking this kind of hike on should train for it. No honestly, we went from sitting on a truck for 5 months to taking on this mammoth walk. How we did it none of us know but basically it was a long slow process.

We reached dead woman's pass and then it was a lot of down hill. But not on a path! On very steep steps that made your knees jar every time you put your foot down, and it was foggy and raining and after a while I was on my own for ages. In fact we all were, and we were all grunting at every step in agony and fighting our own individual battles with the Andes.

You think a lot when you are this isolated but there is nothing to beat the feeling when you look up from the rocks and through the hood of your poncho, rain dripping from the visor and down your nose, and you see that you are in a cloud forest and it looks like something from Lord of the Rings. It`s mystical and wet and there are winding paths that disappear ahead of you and you think you`re at the top and then the path winds round another corner and this goes on for hours.

Another 5 or 6 hours. And we had 3 days of this and it just got harder. But it was beautiful and you really do think what life must have been like for the Incas when they made this huge pilgrimage over and over. And then a bloody porter with a huge pack on his back runs past and you think "bastard"!

On the final day we rose at 4:30am and started to walk towards the Sungate, just before Machu Picchu. Spirits were low as the prospect of seeing the sun rise over Machu Picchu was slipping away fast as the mist, fog and rain set in. We got to the Sun Gate and there was no view! We walked on to Machu Picchu, arriving at 7am, and no Machu Pichu! So we all huddled out of the rain in a stone hut the size of a bus shelter with a llama that just happened to be there. Us tourists standing around in ponchos, eating mars bars and the llama just standing in the corner ignoring us. We waited and waited but the mist did not lift. We had walked four days, with blistered feet and lungs unable to breathe and finally got there and we couldn`t see Machu Picchu.

Cesar kept the spirits high and suggested we walk down to the cafe and have bacon and egg sandwiches. Fantastic, just what we needed and hot milky coffee. And then the miracle happened and the mist and rain burnt off and the sun shone and we shed our wet ponchos and jumpers and walked up to Machu Picchu. It was a hot scorcher of a morning and we got sunburnt! There`s irony for you.

Cesar walked us around for two hours. He sat us down in the grass and talked about the Incas (he is mixed Inca and Spanish and is passionate about his roots), we felt privileged to have him as our guide as we got more than most other groups did I think. We wandered around trying to take arty photos through archways and silly stuff like that. But mostly we just listened to Cesar and imagined.... It couldn`t have been more perfect.

Slowly we eased ourselves back into civilisation. A coach ride down to the town, hit an internet cafe for the first time in four days, had a lunch and a couple of bottles of wine. In fact we got quite drunk as there was belated birthday celebrating to do and celebrating our achievement. We bloody well did it... and survived. Ask me if I would do it again. Absolutely not but I`m glad I have done it. This was honestly the biggest challenge I have ever faced in my life. But I`m not cut out for hiking. If I was then I probably would have been born a goat or something.

Back to Cusco for that massage. That was funny in itself. Firstly it was my first massage given to me by a man. Fantastic and I would highly recommend it!!! Secondly there were four of us, myself, Betty, Helen and John and they lined us all up in one room and performed multiple massages! We giggled for a while about it but then forgot there was anyone else in the room. Quite funny at the end when the masseurs left the room and we were all lying there wondering who would be the first to stretch out, wake up and get off the beds. Ok, it was me! I got up first `cos I got the giggles! I love moments like that.

PUNO: After a day back in the truck we arrived at Puno, a busy little town on the edge of Lake Titicaca. As I write this I realise that the number of places we have been to is beginning to become ridiculous. It`s non-stop but then it is a trip of a lifetime and The Americas, top to bottom, are pretty huge countries!

After a storm disturbed night`s sleep we set off with another guide onto a small boat and across Lake Titcaca to the Reed Islands. Floating islands basically made from reeds. The families living on these islands collect reed from all around and throw it on top of the reeds already lying on the floor. The underneath slowly rots away and they slowly top it up. Living islands! It`s as simple as that. And when you walked on them you sort of bounce across the floor and sometimes water seeps through around your feet and it doesn`t feel very safe but they have built houses on them and have lived there for a very long time so it must be alright. I`m not so sure.

One of the islands, they`re very small, had a pond in the middle. They just didn`t put reeds into this part of the floor. And to keep them from floating around too much they stick stakes into the ground. Unbelievably simple and amazing that they still exist.

Next stop was an island in the middle of the lake which I found just beautiful. Why? It could have been a Greek island. Blue water, stone jetties, little stone walls all around the island, and people in local costume. This is one of the few islands where the women are in charge. And they all walk around the island, up and down steps and paths, knitting. Even the men, But I mean, really tight weaves that you would think could only be created using a machine.

The tradition is, and they still practice this, that a man will offer himself to a woman for marriage. As part of the proposal he has to weave a hat. She then takes him down to the lakes edge and asks him to scoop the hat in the water and fill it up. If it doesn`t leak for a while then she accepts him for marriage. If it leaks fairly quickly she tells him that he is not ready for marriage yet and that he must go away and practice his weaving some more. Brilliant!

And you can also tell the married men from the single men. The married men wear hats that are completely red. The single guys have hats that are half red and half white. Absolutely brilliant! Tickled me pink that did.

I walked all around the island, looking out across the water, dodging stray sheep and cattle on the path, saying Hola to ladies in big skirts with husbands walking in front of them, head down, weaving as he walks. Had a very solitary walk and enjoyed every minute. Imagining myself in Greece once more.

On the boat again to another island, this time to stay the night with a family. Now we are talking basic here and we arrive at the dock and are introduced to our families. We split up into twos and threes. Our lady is Norma. She must only be in her late twenties but she looks much older. She has a pretty face, dark skin, long dark hair and such a wide smile with perfect white teeth. She is in traditional Peruvian dress. A white long sleeve shirt with embroidered flowers over the front, a striped cumber band pulled in tight to her waist and the big red skirt which explodes out from her waist with layers and layers underneath, it comes to her knees, her legs are bare and she was the same sandals made from tyres that the porters on the trail wear. She wears a heavy black alpaca shawl over her head upon which flowers are embroidered along the bottom. She is so little but looks absolutely neat and perfect. Like a little parcel all wrapped up tight.

She walks, in fact almost runs on her little legs, to her house and Jo, Helen and I skip to catch her up, giggling at the what lies ahead. She takes us to her house and up to a surprisingly western looking room. Obviously a child`s room with three beds in. Jo has a Mickey mouse bedspread and Helen and I have hideous flowery ones. There is a table with three chairs, salt & pepper pots, a candle as there is no electricity and a visitors book. She leaves us and says we can rest and dinner will be at 7pm. Then we get dressed in traditional Peruvian dress to go up to the local hall to do some Peruvian dancing!

Jo plays football with Norma`s seven year old daughter outside in the yard and Helen and I fall asleep for two hours. We`re still exhausted from the trail and the non-stop sight seeing. Then seven comes and we are called down to dinner. Dinner is served in a mud hut which doubles as a kitchen and a dining room. No mod cons in here. A candle on the table and the grandfather sitting there welcoming us. Norma`s grandmother is sitting on the floor in the corner by a fire laiden with pots, a toothless grin on her face, and there are two other children a girl and a boy who we`re not sure belongs to. Infect there is no sign, or mention, of Norma`s husband. We gossip and speculate that perhaps she might not have one!!!

A delicious soup is served and the grandfather talks to us non-stop about their lives. Between us we appear to know enough Spanish to be able to understand most of what he is talking about. We stumble when he starts talking in Quecua (an Inca dialect) but he speaks good Spanish too and between him and Jo we manage to understand a good deal of what's being said. We learn about how he tried to leave the island and work in Puno but it was too hard for him to make a living. We learn why potatoes are served with everything because there is not much else you can grown at this altitude. But still no mention of Norma´s husband.

Grandmother serves us fritters and potatoes and then picks some mint from the garden and pops it into cups of hot water which we sip. We can`t quite make sense of what we are experiencing and can`t help but feel like intruders but the family make us so welcome.

Then it is time to dress for the dance. In the same clothes that Norma was wearing. Well, you can imagine and some of you might even see the photos. We looked clumsy and didn`t feel like the delicate little norma. And our skirts kept falling down. We walked with torches and our embroidered shawls draped over our heads uphill to the dance. Across streams and up dusty rock paths, trotting along being Norma. The others all arrive at the same time and we laugh at each other and compare dinner stories. It would appear we were one of the few that got to eat dinner with the family, the others had to eat in their rooms. Once again we have landed on our feet.

Dancing was hilarious. Two Peruvian bands at either end that appear to be having a stand off. Lots of other little Norma`s flinging us skirted tourists around trying to show us how to do the dances. In the end we all joined hands and ran around in circles. Much fun, but again quite breathless dancing at altitude. Didn`t take long before we were stumbling home exhausted and we all had one of the best nights sleep. Up again at 7:30am to catch the boat back to the mainland. A farewell breakfast cooked by Norma of fritters and chips!!! And a refreshing mint tea. My everlasting memory of the island? Norma`s constant, welcoming, enthusiastic smile. She doesn`t have much in life but she seems genuinely happy.
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