Thursday, August 16, 2007

Peru; Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon

Lake Titicaca
After Cusco we got on a very nice bus with a funny British couple in front of us. The tour was very nice and enjoyable. It was a much nicer way to drive 7 hours. We stopped at several Inca ruins and a church and had a wonderful paid for lunch. We drove through Hulicaca which is a hole in the earth that should not exist and spent the night in a wonderful hotel in Puno. It was cold so we opted for eating in the hotel, which was reasonable and did not require facing the cold. It was kind of a funny ordeal because we got all bundled up, made it downstairs and realized we didn't have to leave if we didn't want to, so we ran back up stairs to take off our under layers!
Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world and even a higher altitude than Cusco. The days were warm, but the evenings cold, colder than Cusco. We had our own individual guide, which was kind of weird, I would have rather gone in a group. But he was really informative and spoke English well. He also sometimes had a spittle on the middle of his lip that bothered me, (just thought I would throw that little funny detail in there.) Before we made our 3 and a half our journey to the island from Puno, we stopped on a floating reed island. I am still baffled as to why they exist when there seem to be plenty of land islands completely uninhabited. Why would someone go to all the trouble to make an island out of reeds when there are already perfectly good islands?? Either way, it was amazing to stand on this island constructed of strung together reeds, pulled from the lake. Stepping onto the island, I could feel the reeds squishing underneath my shoes, and jumped just a little to see if I would bounce. The reeds were cushy, but firmly held. After constructing islands out of their main food source, the reeds, they also built houses on top of their floating land mass. I just couldn't believe how these people lived on this flammable moonwalk like islands. Kyle and I sat down to listen to the details of how these islands were constructed, and we were baffled. As I mentioned before, we were the only ones in the tour, and so when our question and answer session was over, the islander set up shop. But we were the only two people to whom the 7 islanders were trying to sell their hand-crafted goods. We had already spent so much money, we hadn't planned on buying anything else, but we decided that we should buy at least one thing to support this unique community. I am afraid we cannot release the information of what we bought because it will be a gift, but it was beautiful.
The actual island that we stayed on however, was not a reed island but a land island and was stunning. The food was fresh from the sea, too bad altitude sickness grabbed control of my stomach! The day we arrived was the beginning of a 10 day dancing festival dedicated to their patron saint. The men and women, dressed in colorful costumes complete with feather hats, jumped around, consumed beer, and chanted. Some of them walked around barefoot, and they all desperately needed to see a dentist. While sitting and watching the spectacle, a little girl under the age of two waddled over to me and decided to try and make a bracelet out of the plastic string she had been mouthing. After tying it around my wrist for a while, and coughing on me, she gave up and left.
The only time I experienced the full miserable effects of altitude sickness was the evening we spent in Lake Titicaca. Lets just say, I don't want to relive that evening. I had taken the medicine for the last couple of days but didn't take it for the evening. I thought I would be acclimated to the altitude after 4 days, but in the middle of the night with the air basically frozen, I crawled out from under my four wool blankets and attempted to put my pants on unsuccessfully, because I had to run outside to throw up over the balcony before I could even cloth myself. Our room was just a room with two single beds and a candle. Toilets were provided, but in rooms the size of boxes outside the bedroom complete with large windows so anyone could look in. They were downstairs and around the corner, an impossible destination for my left over food. Because there was neither electricity or running water, the toilets were not emptied till the morning and were worse than port-a-potties. In the morning instead of being woken by the crowing of a rooster, the baby calf outside our window, started mooing. I got a really cute picture of him, but Kyle didn't find him so cute as an unwanted alarm clock.
Colca Canyon

We made our way back to Puno and the next day headed to Arequipa. I am quite disappointed that we didnt actually see Arequipa, the city. Our bus arrived late in the evening providing enough time for us to dine at an Italian restaurant with a blind accordion player to serenade us. Early the next morning after breakfasting in what seemed like France, once again, we left on our guided tour of Colca Canyon. The group we were with was really interesting. There were four Italians, 3 Belgians, a Bronx high school teacher who was very talkative and funny, and a couple that lived in Princeton New Jersey. Before that couple entered the van, Kyle after discovering the countries we were all from, proclaimed that to complete the coverage of four corners we needed someone from Australia. When the couple entered the car, we immediately asked where they were from and discovered that they lived in New Jersey, however, the husband had grown up in Australia. The four corners of the world had been covered in this small van, we were ecstatic. Obviously, it doesn't take much for us to be entertained.

Our guide began our journey providing excellent information in both Spanish and English however half way to our destination our guides knee that had been injured not to long before the trip, starting acting up. It swelled, causing him so much pain, he couldn't speak, and we had to speed to Colca Canyon as fast as legally possible so that he could find a doctor. Having an allergy to almost all pain medication, we were unable to provide anything but sympathy. However the confusion about what the tour provided and in what order began once we had arrived in Colca Canyon and had left our English speaking guide. Our Spanish driver who was obviously not a guide, but a very good driver,had understood our plans for the rest of day to be very different than what the rest of us had understood. After much negotiation, we ate lunch and headed for a short rest to our individual hotels. We rested, and walked around the area of our seemingly hidden hotel, tucked away in the mountains. The thermal baths were our next stop, and were warm, but very crowded with Peruvians. One of the baths was outside, in the freezing mountain air, but the water made it bearable. Dinner included folklore dancing. I was especially taken with the dance that told the story of two lovers eating an apple and dying, but were revived after they were beaten with a whip by their mourning lover.
The morning began with a drive to see the Andean condors. When we arrived, two Condors had given a great spectacle, but flew off before our arrival. After waiting for forty-five minutes, I feared that we would miss the flight of the spectacular condor, but my fear was not realized. The Andean condors, which are actually vultures, are birds with wing spans as long 10 feet, and are graceful, magnificent creatures. They began their flights low, but soon glided on the air without flapping their wings, and allowed the wind to lift them to outstanding heights. They flew over and around us, and even posed on a rock near us, as if condoning the taking of pictures.

Peru was a magnificent journey and I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to explore it.

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