Puno and Lake Titicaca

Sunday 12th July
Today was all about the bus. Or as they say here, the buss (like puss). Buss two. From Cusco to Puno. Ten and a half long hours to go 300 odd kilometres. But 6 stops along the way at archeological sites, villages, churches and for lunch. There’s not much to report but the highlight of the day was the gold encrusted church of St. Peter, although it was extremely cold, or the Inka temple of the god of gods. Actually that was my preferred place.

There’s not much else to say except that we learnt a lot today which compensates for the 10hrs in seat 14. We learnt that Juliaca (pronounced Huliaca) and Puno have smuggling economies with “thousand of womans” crossing the border into Bolivia, buying goods and returning to sell them in Peru. We also learnt that the government imposes taxes on multiple storey homes, so people commence construction as though they will build mansions, leave the reo bars exposed and then build just two stories to avoid taxes. Bear in mind that no taxes are paid on their “imported goods” either. Needless to say, government supported infrastructure is limited.

We also learnt that St. Peter’s church has murals, and the Sistine chapel has frescos. What’s the difference, you ask? Well, we learnt that today. And the promise of the “Sistine chapel of South America” was developed as an advertising gimmick. But, that said, the church was impressive and worth the side stop. At our second stop, the fermented drink of barley or corn meal was sampled (and may be responsible for a case of dysentery. Not me!). This stop also had a Plaza de Armas as does Puno. So, the Plaza de Armas translates as the plaza of the weaponry and is a common feature in Peruvian towns.

Third stop, the temple of the God of the gods, we learnt that the Inkas could create amazing structures of handmade bricks stacked on top of the hand chiseled rock, to create a building of mammoth proportions. But only for the smart people. Everyone else was excluded by a wall surrounding the area. Additionally we found that just because you pay for a photo, doesn’t mean you get a smiley face!

Fourth stop we learnt that the pictures and names on people’s houses are election advertising for the various political parties from the election in 2014. We saw these on the way to Machu Picchu too, but now we know what they’re for. In the cities they were required to be removed but in rural Peru they remain. My favourite was definitely the Indian warrior. We saw hundreds, all painted in exceptional detail. Fourth stop was also lunch.

Fifth stop was at our highest point were we learnt that we are not suffering the effects of altitude sickness. Here we saw the snow covered peak and llamas and alpacas. Did I mention I had an alpaca burger for dinner last night? It was just like a steak sandwich. Sixth stop, we learnt about the bulls. Two bulls on top of your completed house provides you with protection. So, I bought a pair for my house. They won’t be going on top but they can go inside. And then we arrived safely in Puno.

The town looks scary but the tourist precinct is safe and busy. The rest of the town of 250 000 people is full of unfinished homes with reo bars poking to the sky. Imagine square concrete frames of approximately 1.5m, filled in with red bricks, all linked by reo bar to make a space. This is topped with a concrete slab before the whole thing starts again. Until you complete two floors, the tax man visits to threaten you with a tax for another storey, so you abandon that house and start again with a bigger floor plan! There are 1000s of abandoned properties and many more awaiting a government freeze on the tax. When that happens this place will explode! Until then, don’t expect pretty rooftop pictures from this town.

Monday 13th July
Unlucky for some, struck down with the gastro bug. I think it’s fair to say that it came from home brewed fermented barley, purchased in a remote village between Cusco and Puno. But the patient is now dosed with conventional and traditional medicines and remedies and seems to be making a recovery. Meanwhile I’ve been writing my postcards, drinking coffee and watching the world go by.

There was some sort of protest rally this morning through the streets of Puno to the plaza. It appeared to be almost entirely older people in traditional clothes (not costumes) chanting and then making endless speeches. They were there a long time. I obviously couldn’t understand their banners or chants but the odd word was decipherable, like agua (water), irrigacion, and respecto. So, I’m thinking it had something to do with access to water? Anyway there were 100s of women in the traditional dresses with the flouncy petticoats and leg warmers, wrapped in blankets wearing the greatest hats. Their clothes are amazing, but their faces are too. It’s hard to tell whether they are 50 or 70. Some are wrinkled with blackened, broken teeth. Others are smooth skinned with white teeth reflected on darkly tanned skin. There is a museum here that has a display and explanation of this style of dress. I’m hoping to go there tomorrow afternoon. And I’m collecting my own photos of them, considering a single or multiple one for my room, to go with Ruby and Kiki.

And there’s not much else to say about today so I’m hoping tomorrow is great fun. We were forced to postpone our tour to the Isla Uros from today until til tomorrow. Then hopefully I can see the museum I mentioned, and perhaps the dinner show … A big day before an early start on a 6am bus on Wednesday.

So, let me say a few other things. I love my camera. It takes an absolutely fantastic photo. The photographer still needs some practice but the camera can’t help that. It also has a fabulous, simple method of transferring images to other devices by wifi. So, it connects to my phone and I send all my pictures there each evening. This saved my bringing a computer to back them up. Of course, I can then back up to the cloud. The convenience and ease is unbelievable. I’m also loving my luggage. It has the right features and the perfect number of pockets, without making security impossibly difficult. There is one minor design flaw (a pocket on top of the day pack that opens upside down when you lay the pack on its back) but otherwise it’s perfect. I can see me using it for Japan and New Zealand. As for my packing system, it’s working well. I’m able to pack in almost no time and I don’t really need to unpack anything to find everything. It’s all accessible.

Something else, our hotels have been fabulous. The booking fairy did a great job of choosing the Tierra Viva chain (a fluke apparently) which has provided exceptional service in all there places. They have made calls, arranged tours and buses, put on a great breakfast spread and have good rooms and facilities that are exceptionally good value for money. They have our tick of approval! Finally, altitude sickness. This hasn’t been a problem for us, other than maybe our first night. Again we flunked the itinerary and have taken just less than a week to get to our highest point, here in Puno at 3830m before we go on to la Paz at 3360m. Prior to being here, the highest I had ever been was 1500m to see Mount Kintamani in Bali. So this is an entirely new experience for me with no apparent consequences. Thankfully. It’s all down hill from here …

Tuesday 14th July
Another day in Puno and one more than is needed (but in our case we lost a day to illness). We spent the morning on an organised tour to the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca. This was an easy way, if slightly over touristy. The boat ride is quick, the islanders live well within sight of Puno. Apparently there are 85 islands and each is its own community. We visited one called San Pedro with 22 inhabitants. They demonstrated how they make the islands from the roots of the reeds, ties blocks of these root masses together, another this bed to the lake with 10 eucalyptus pegs and synthetic rope, and then stack reeds on top. The reed layer is added to every 15 days as it rots quickly. It’s soft to walk on, humid and quite intriguing. Wether these people will be there in 100 years is anyone’s guess. Their young people leave to go onto the mainland for school and university and don’t come back.

The interesting thing was that the island living only started when the Inkas commenced their rule over Peru, an out 600 years ago. In a retreat, these people took to the water in reed boats, with small rooms and lived on the lake. The quickly realised they could make these reed islands and adapted to life on the water. So, whilst it would be sad if they stopped living this way, it’s not as though it’s been a way of life forever. The trip was certainly worth the small price (we haven’t yet paid) and I got my piece of art for the trip. The piece is hand embroidered and I’ll have it attached to a frame and I think I’ll hang it in the family room. I have just the spot.

The rest of the day was spent dawdling. The coca museum doesn’t appear to exist anymore so I didn’t get to there. The advice was to avoid the condor lookout due the robberies and savage dogs, so we avoided that! In fact, I’ve just noticed this advice is also given in the Lonely Planet guide. We also got some $US and changed a good amount to Bolivianos in preparation for tomorrow. So, it’s an evening of packing, again, before an early start tomorrow on the 06.00 bus to Bolivia. This is a transfer over the border and to la Paz before we grab a cab to the airport and a plane to Rurrenabaque. This time tomorrow we will be in the depths of the Amazon.

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