We’re getting close. I can almost smell Machu Picchu . It’s about an hour to an hour and a half climb from where we’ll be staying to the Incan city and as W wants to climb WaynaPicchu too, all that effort could well put me over the top; literally. But getting there for us is not a straight line.
We left the Colco Canyon with the idea of getting higher. And we did. The bus trip to Puno took us well into the evening. Puno is on Lake Titicaca and has an elevation of approximately 12,500 feet. Of all the mountains in North America there are only about 200 higher then where we are staying.
Puno is cold. At this altitude; over two miles above sea level, everything seems cold to us. We check into the hotel and turn on the smallish radiator. Since leaving Lima, every hotel has had this small, electric radiant heater. And heater is a misnomer. The radiator is best described as a “Not freezing” device, because at best it seems to take the ice off the windows and keep us alive. Alive, not warm. The Peruvians that live in this area are tough. From what the guides tell us they mostly use blankets to stay warm and one individual on Titicaca said “His wife keeps him warm”. 🙂 For the most part those living on the Altoplano have no indoor heat, only blankets.
The following am we rise early, eat breakfast and meet our guide at 8 ish. Our first stop is a community of people that make and live on floating islands. The island is unique in that it is built out of the root system of floating reeds. The island’s life expectancy is 20 years after which they build a new one. The old one is retired to farming. Yep, farming on a floating island. The homes are simple and last up to 10 years. We’ve heard different accounts for the life of home and maybe the life is effected by the care given. From there we crossed to another floating island on a Reed boat with the women manning the oars. Our guide described how now the reed boats are actually plastic bottles bundled together then wrapped and hidden by the reeds. Obviously the plastic bottles provide the flotation. The boats were their first floating home/islands. The occupants built reed boats with crude structures on them to escape the rule of the Incas. They preferred their unfettered freedom and living in a lake where the Incas couldn’t get to them afforded them that luxury. Now Billy (the Chief of the island we visited) describes their life as quiet with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat daily. All the children go to school and when they reach High School the family often moves ashore or the students live with a relative. Only 2 out of 10 return to the floating island life.We actually wondered how many residents really live there or is this now mostly for show. When we returned from our trip to Isla Taquile W/ thought she saw one of the women in town in standard city clothes. Billy indicated that there are about 2,000 current full time residents of the floating islands. Either way, the visit was a fascinating look into a life that will most likely be swallowed up by modern conveniences. Already for every 3 homes on the island they had one solar panel. The last President of Peru granted them solar panels as fires on the islands are dangerous. The panels afford them some light in the evening and can power their radios, recharge their cell phones (yeah that will end up being a deal breaker too). They still use fires as they need to cook but they no longer need worry about falling asleep as a fire consumes their homes. Our island representative indicated that he was planning on getting a computer as he was at the University studying to be a guide.
From there we toke the boat to Isla Taquile where we hiked and ate some expensive semi local fare. Trout. The trout was introduced into Peru as a way to aid the tourist industry. And like the vast majority of man’s attempt to modify nature, part of the plan failed miserably. The trout ate most of the local fish
so the residents have mostly trout left as a food fish. This island is 32 km off of Puno and in deep, deep water. Thus the trout don’t hang out there causing the islanders the need to import fish for us tourists. However; not having fish all that often didn’t mean they lack any of knowledge in preparation. Delicioso! And after stuffing our faces with fish we find out the the island is mostly vegetarian! I say mostly because for them vegetarianism is a way of life and not a world saving idea. The island’s resident guide said that on special occasions they eat meat and sometimes fish. But, of the most part they are vegetarians. With that said they indicated that like Billy, their life is simple, healthy and complete. They don’t seem to have a lot of preconceived gender notions as they have a section dedicated to weaving by men. The fabrics they make are said to be the best in Peru; however there is not one place we’ve been yet where what they made is not the best in what ever country we’re in. One odd item they add to their weaving is Human Hair. Yep, in past times the chiefs had long hair to show their position but now the long hair is no more and the hair is woven into the fabric as a means of adding power to the material. Needless to say we didn’t purchase any.
The traipse across the island put us close to 13,000 feet above sea level and as the day ended we were quite tired. The slow boat back to shore didn’t help me rest any as like most places I’ve been; tourist seats are built for smaller people like W/.
This part of our adventure was a quick turn around. The following day we boarded the bus and headed off to Cusco; the second largest city in Peru and nestled in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
All day we rode on the bus, 9 hours stopping for lunch and to visit a few more Cathedrals, and two more ruins. We pulled into Cusco about 6 ish, were picked up at the bus terminal by Mercedes then driven to our hotel near the Plaza de Armas, which every city we’ve been to brags about. There we sat for another hour while she explained to us, mostly in Spanish, what the next phase of our journey would be like. Finally we settle in for the evening just venturing out long enough to find an ATM and enrich ourselves.
Day 2 in Cusco had us scheduled for a “City” tour. But I’m not saying much about the city as mostly we visited religious structures and Inca ruins. I am finally tired of Catholic cathedrals and let W/ know I …am… not visiting another. In Cusco every Catholic Cathedral is built on an Inca royalty site or an Inca holy site. The Catholics were a mean spirited people. I say were because the Catholics I personally know would find as much abhorrence in what the Church has done and as I, today they are much more considerate of others. But too, today we hear from the guides that the Church hordes much of the Incan items of value and what they didn’t take they often destroyed. For example; the Incan’s had a way of storing information in knotted head dresses. The Catholics because they couldn’t understand it labeled it “the devils” work and burned a huge percentage of them. Others were sent to the Vatican and from what I understand now the Catholic Church still holds them. On the knotted head dress was information that described their communities, their ability to cut stones, design homes, temples, and communities, farming, hunting, etc. This part of history reminds me of the burning of the Library of Alexandria 5,000 years ago, how much farther would we be in understanding ourselves and the world today had our ancestors preserved information from the past instead of destroying it.
The ruins we visited were overlooking Cusco and the huge stone blocks they carved, moved and fit together are amazing even by today’s standards. The quarry was 20 km from the walls being built. There are estimates that 20-30,000 people worked on the structure taking close to 100 years to complete. (Our guide told us 100 years but one other source quotes 60 years). We visited the quarry and another Temple. By then it was dark and we headed back to the city. Frankly, I’m just about done with tours and guides. They wear me out.
But what I want and what I get are two different things. We did have a day off where we could wander and get the feel of Cusco, then it was to Ollantaytambo where we had one more Cathedral (I didn’t go in), and some weaving with a great demonstration on natural dyes, two more Ruins and a new city to hang out in.
Too, I gotta say I’m getting tired even of ruins but the views I’m always up for. As the Incan Empire was centered in the Andes visiting most ruins involves much climbing and great vistas. We stayed here two days and we actually met some other people, besides tourists. Touring isn’t really conducive to meeting anyone or sharing much. Your time isn’t really yours unless you build it in.
I went out for a walk about while W/ hung at the new abode. There in I found a door open to what looks like a business. In Guatemala I learned door etiquette; if it’s open you are free to enter, half open means look but don’t cross the threshold, and closed it is obvious; stay away. So I entered and met Lucho Solar a master potter. The following day I brought W/ with me to meet Lucho. Simply fabulous is his work.
That evening we met some ex pat’s working in Ollantaytambo. We were having Pizza when two other characters came in and we invited them to join us. They said for 5 minutes while they waited for their Pizza, Peter and Carrie. We spent an hour or so chatting about ourselves and world affairs. Carrie came here about 6 years ago and saw a need for health care so she opened a non profit clinic for the Peruvians. A couple of years after Peter showed up with Cupid on his shoulders, they danced the dance and made things legal. He began teaching children here while she was providing health care for the families. Now that the clinic is mostly running on automatic she can devote her time with fund raising and furthering her career. Both are returning to the states to enhance their education. First however, Carrie and a friend will be doing a cross country fund raising tour with Peter running the sag wagon.
We tried to connect the following day but they were preparing for their trip back to the states. What a fascinating couple, living life on their own terms and sharing their lives and skills with others. If I get their blog info for the cross country tip I’ll post it and anyone wishing to follow anther’s adventures may.
Thus, with our day off we wander the town, climbed to more ruins and visit the market where you can find most anything under the Sun. And we did; a Cow’s head all ready for what ever you wish to make of it.
Tomorrow; we go to Aquas Calientes, the town next to Machu Picchu. Oh Happy Days!