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Three Weeks in Peru

Author: Mike6725
Email: fenn6725@cox.net
Date of Trip: February 2006

Puno and Lake Titicaca

As we departed the bus terminal a tour guide latched on to us. He arranged a taxi to our hotel and then sat us down to pitch some local tours. We decided he was just as good and more convenient than going to a travel agency. We arranged a two-day tour to the floating Uros islands, Isla Taquile, with an overnight stay with a family on Isla Amantani. He later arranged for us a tour to some local ruins, seats for the parade on Monday, and our transportation to Cusco on the Inca Express on Tuesday.

We had intended to sample cuy (guinea pig) during our stay, until we learned how it is prepared. They skin the little critter then put it on the grill whole (head and feet included), then put a heavy rock on it to flatten it as it cooks. It is probably delicious. We haven't checked for ourselves.

Friday morning we joined 20 other tourists and boarded a boat for our island tour. Just offshore from Puno is a very large bay filled with reeds. The Uros Indians construct large floating islands from these reeds, adding fresh reeds to the surface every so often as the underneath reeds rot away.

They subsist mainly on fish and birds. We spent an hour or so with them, taking refuge in their little museum of native fish and birds during a short rain shower. We don't see how they manage to stay healthy in such damp surroundings. The surface of the island is squishy and feels a little like walking on a water bed. Fire is a real hazard for them, as they use wood to cook with. They make a little cash from tourism with which to buy staples (rice). We did see that at least one house on each island had a photovoltaic cell on the roof for lighting. Low-voltage florescent lights are very popular here.

The rain stopped for awhile so we took a ride on one of their reed boats. The figurehead represents the Andean Puma. We saw one boat with a double hull and two Puma figureheads. I guess you could call that a Catamaran. We embarked again in our fairly small cruiser and continued our journey to Isla Amantani, where we were to spend the night. Lake Titicaca is quite large and the water was pretty rough. We took some 45 degree rolls for a couple of hours. Nobody got seasick but a lot of the passengers became very, very quiet.

We were met as we arrived by members of the host families with whom we were to stay. The ladies were all wearing their traditional dress, which they would change into whenever we would leave their house. Our hosts were Felix and Secundina. As we walked to their house, we were glad we had limited our luggage to a small day pack with a change of underwear and toiletries. Everything on the island seems to be uphill. It was pretty damp also. Peru has two seasons, rainy and dry. We are here during the rainy season, but it usually rains at night.

Isla Amantani is a fairly large island with a population of about 4,000. It is run as a single community, pretty highly coordinated. It is pretty much an agrarian economy, with each family raising most of its own food. Interestingly, the island is divided into four sectors. Each sector raises the same crop for one year, potatoes, barley, corn or livestock. Then the crop is changed for the next year. This way the crops are continually rotated.

Felix and Secundina live in a fairly typical island home. It is made of plastered adobe, with two stories as well as some semi-attached rooms. These people are generally fairly short. The doorway to our room was shoulder height. The kitchen was an eye-opener. No refrigeration, a small wood stove, dirt floor and thatch roof. We ate one meal in the kitchen and it was pretty smoky. Their diet is mostly starch. Most meals start with a soup of potatoes, a local grain, and a few vegetables (quite tasty). They then have a main dish of potatoes, rice and an omelet. This would really get old after awhile. Their electricity used to be provided by a community generator, but it got to expensive to buy fuel. Now they have solar cells and low voltage lights.

After we all had lunch and got settled in we walked to the top of the island, at 4,200 meters, to see one of the pre-Inca temples. It was about a mile to the top and we stopped a few times to get our breath. We have become pretty well acclimated to the altitude, but it doesn't take much exertion to make you short of breath. Recovery time is quick though. Our daily 3-mile walks at home have really paid off on this trip!

After dinner they loaned us some traditional clothing and we trudged uphill (again!) to the community center for a fiesta. A local group of musicians played traditional dance music and they dragged us out on the floor to once again test our ability to breath after exercise.

We were not exactly the life of the party, but we lasted a couple of hours. Finally we went back downhill to our lodgings and crashed.

I was up at five the next morning (trying to remember the way to the outhouse) and I saw Felix out in the field with a flashlight digging potatoes. As I passed the kitchen hut I saw Secundina starting the morning fire. These are hard working people.

After a breakfast of pancakes we again boarded our boat for the trip to Isla Taquile. This was a one-hour, very rough trip and a few plastic bags were filled. Pam and I kept our eyes on the horizon and had no problem.

Where the island of Amantani has a population of 4,000, Isla Taquile has only about 3,000. They have been in the tourism business for about 30 years, compared to five years for Isla Amantani, and the difference shows. There are several restaurants on the island, some gift shops, and plenty of photo opportunities as the people are in traditional dress all of the time. We met these kids escorting their cows along the path. We debarked on one side of the island, climbed to the top, and had lunch in a nice restaurant. The menu was traditional, soup, fish or an omelet, French fries and rice.

One of the traditions that has survived is the men's knit hats. Bachelors wear all red hats and married men wear red and white. I'm not sure who this is intended to benefit, the men or the women. Women have pom poms on their shawls, and the colors indicate their marital status as well. All the men on the island knit their own hats, as well as much of their other clothing. We saw men sitting around knitting all over the island.

We also saw women weaving. They must make all of the cloth as we saw no men involved in this activity.

Like Amantani, Taquile is a beautiful island. It is completely terraced (with terraces dating from pre-Incan times) and very green at this time of the year.

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