Epic Journey. Part 5. Lago Titicaca

4/12 Cusco>Puno

I shelled out the $55 to take the “tourist bus” from Cusco to Puno.  The other option was a lot cheaper, but was a night bus arrving in Puno at 4:30AM (which sucks), and I figured I’d get to stop at a couple places along the way.  Plus it included lunch, always a bonus.  Good choice.  The trip takes 6-7 hours on the direct overnight, and with the stops only 10.  First site was an insanely ornate church (St. Peter and Paul in Andahuaylillas).  Sadly no pictures allowed in the interior, but it was insane inside.  Early Baroque Cusco art at its finest.

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Next up, the Temple of Wariqocha called Raqch’i.  Wariqocha was the God of gods to the Inca (and earlier dynasties in the area), and this was thought to have been an important religious, astrological and scientific site.  The remains of what was an enormous campo to their HBIC are there, as well as around 200 circular houses for sheltering travelers or religious service.  Truth is we don’t know shit.  Our guide was Marita was awesome, and it was here that she showed us the kawaj ñan, or route of the Wariqocha (back home internet searches aren’t revealing much more about this, but this is what she said and had maps).  Its crazy!  All the major Inca sites are in a straight line 45 degrees from the equator (going south).  From Ecuador to Bolivia the main metropolises are laid out in a row.  Marita definitely had a spiritual/alien slant (although she never used the “A” word), but seeing the places at the very its apparent what we thought we knew about “pre-Colombian” culture barely scratches the surface.  Stoked on the “tourist bus”, but next time I’ll rent a car.  The road between Cusco and Puno is well a paved, and gorgeous jaunt up to and through the altiplano.

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wariqocha temple

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Marita was full of energy, incredibly informative and obviously super passionate about Lago Titicaca and the centuries of human history surrounding it.  During one of her last talks about the beauty/significance of the place she was actually tearing up.  Peru definitely feels like a spiritual way point and Marita further stoked this perception with her brimming emotion to a bunch of tourists on a bus.  She talked about a huge temple complex under the waters of Lago Titicaca near where the Inca creation myth states humans emerged.  After getting to internet and a quick Googling, turns out its true!  What the fuck is that?!?!  Never heard about that in class, or on the news.  Atlantis?  Noah’s Flood?  Seems like it fits with some ancient stories we have floating around.  Blowing my mind.

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puno first view

Puno is WAY more chill than Cusco.  For better or worse.  I’m digging it.  Part ski lodge, part beach town.  It’s dark and I have no grasp of the enormous holy lake I’m perched on, but happy to be in a new town.

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4/13  Islas Flotantes

Got up today, and walked to the docks to find a boat to the Floating Islands.  Pretty easy.  Found the first captain I made eye contact with and was whisked away.  I use “whisked” lightly as this boat chugged into the lake at about 3 miles an hour.  I have to say that the whole experience was SUPER touristy.  The boat ride itself was cool (although I realized later that we hadn’t even entered the immense Lago proper at all), floating through the dozens of man made islands was surreal.  Eventually we docked at one of them, and thats when it got weird.  The “mayor” of the island met us and explained how they make EVERYTHING (houses, boats, LAND) with the reeds that grow in the shallow water around the bay.  We all got to eat the juicy “fruit” of the reed and feel real authentic.

 

When he was done his speech he assigned one of the lurking ladies on the island to each group.  Being alone I had the one on one experience.  My lady showed me her house which was interesting, but then the racket started.  First she had me put on local clothes  for “the picture”.  I was too polite to say “fuck this lady! I’m not on a selfie vacation TELL ME ABOUT YOUR REAL LIFE!”;  but thats what I was thinking.  Then she made me look at her “handmade craftwork”, which was the same crap I’d seen in the airport in Lima.  I was grudgingly still polite and bought some stupid throw pillow cover of Pachamama as a shitty gift for some one…(maybe you!).  It was 40 soles, and when I gave her a 50 she disappeared with out change.  I decided that was my take photos which out tipping fee, and took full advantage.

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Next the Mayor, suggests a ride on the “Mercedes Benz”, a pimped out boat made of reeds of course.  This would be cool, but felt like a trap as another fee was levied.  I feel kind of shitty bitching about a $3 fee to ride an indigenous boat hand made from reeds, but I guess I’d just say I’d prefer a less rehearsed presentation.  I’d pay $20 just to chill and hear about life on the Floating Islands, with out the hard sell to buy bullshit.

 

So the “Mercedes Benz” took us to the “Capitol”, a larger reed island with a couple stores, more ladies selling the same shit, and a reed restaurant.  I bought a beer from the reed-store, and sat down at the reed-dock, watching the reed-boats come and go.  I reminded myself that out there somewhere out the die-hard Uros still life a simple life on the hand made floating islands of reeds.  Thats pretty amazing.  These closed off clans reject the influx of tourism, so its that old give and take.  It was easy to get here, but I had to deal with the consequences of tourism, whereas if it wasn’t for these places I’d never see this life.  Paying 12 bucks for a crappy pillow cover is a small fee I suppose.

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4/14 Isla Taquile Trip

Super tired, and writing by candle light, but today was a special day.  This morning I woke up at 6AM and all I wanted to do was sleep in, exhausted from adventure, altitude, and Cusqueñas.  But the goal was Isla Taquile so I dragged my lame ass down to the port and hopped the first boat out there.  I think I accidently snuck onto a tourist boat with service I didn’t pay for.  As opposed to yesterday’s trip to the Islas Flotantes, this one came with a toilet and bilingual guide; Javier.  Javier was awesome, and made a lot of the stuff that was probably said yesterday more entertaining and (although I fancy myself a spanish speaker) more clear.  We made the obligatory stop in another floating island (this time way further into the lake), and the schtick was EXACTLY the same.  Word for word.  Re-enforcing my feeling of the Islas Flotantes tour being basically the Disneyland version of what its really like on the floating islands.  But still cool to see.

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floating reed island

***

It was another couple hours cruising through the interior of Lake Titicaca until we got to Isla Taquile, and quite lovely.  I kept to the roof to take in every moment of the mini-voyage, and sunburn-be-damned don’t regret a second.  The sun had a halo, the birds surfed air around us, and the mere moment of entering the lake proper was something I couldn’t miss.  This was the birthplace of the universe according to the ancients, and I wasn’t going to fail to give it the due respect.

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Once we docked at Isla Taquile, I stuck with my adopted group, and poached their lunch spot.  We trudged up the immediate hill, and stopped at a long table under a tarp.  As the lady who owned the “restaurant” prepared our lunch (grilled trucha and tea), I sat back and started to take in the beauty of the island.

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After lunch I secured a bed with the dueña, Julia, of the house/restaurant.  She showed me my digs, and told me dinner was promptly at 8.  The room was a simple, but cozy, adobe room with two beds on a straw floor.  I dropped my bags, and headed out to explore the island.  It was around 2 o’clock so the tourists were scampering back down the hills to their waiting boats.  It was quite satisfying watching them have to flee, and seeing their boats churn away I continued to explore this other world.

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isla taquile bed

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bye bye boats

I ended up doing an entire circuit of the small island.  My first quest was to get to the beach I had heard about.  As I walked the paths across this pastural island it was like I’d stepped into a time warp.  Everyone I encountered was super friendly, albiet a bit curious of the random gringo who must’ve missed his boat.  The men more-so, and the women seemed shy like they weren’t suposed to talk to me (or I wasn’t supposed to be talking to them…).  Eventually after an hour of walking the path ended at a gate.  I figured that was the end of the line, and I must’ve misunderstood how to get to this sandy beach.  Sounded like a pipe dream anyway.  When I turned back I ran into a guy named Hector and his sister/girlfriend/cousin/who knows.  He was quick to ask if I was looking for the beach, and said they were heading in that direction.  Hector and I chatted in Spanish as we ambled along the cliff top path.  Turns out the gate was to keep the animals on one side or the other of the island.  Smartly, half the year they plant the crops on one side, letting the animals graze on the other side, and then switch to keep the soil good.  Hector was soft spoken, but interesting to talk to.

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potato farmers

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hector guides me

The beach was something special.  Surf, sand, waves lapping, and across the water looms Bolivia’s Cordillera Real.  I might be wrong, but probably the only beach on earth you can dig your feet into the warm sand and see snow capped mountains across the way.

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***

I meandered my way back through the hamlets to my house for the night.  I asked Julia where the best place to watch the sunset would be, and she told me to go up.  Not much more direction than that, she said if you go up the hill above us it would be tough to miss the “chapel” on top.  The walk was fucking STEEP, but easy enough to navigate I guess.  Once I got up there, I saw this creepy “chapel” was more of a ruin.  Hand written on the entrance it said “do not enter”.  I was bugged out by the place, but stepped in anyway.  This place felt heavy, I immediately regretted ignoring the sign and stepping in.  I saw as I turned to get the hell out of there that there were burial mounds in the back.  As I quickly walked away I heard a shriek pierce the dust sky (I swear to god).  The noise sounded like a baby scream, and kept happening for the next bit while I was watching the sunset.  It was probably a bird or something but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shook.

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This was a moment I’ll never forget.  After I found a nice spot, the sunset to the west was a bit thwarted by clouds.  The bonus was seeing the dazzling lightening show striking over the Peruvian Andes.  I happened to look east, and there before my eyes was the biggest, fullest moon I’ve ever seen emerging behind the Cordillera Real.

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To my left an impressive moonrise over Bolivia.  To my right a dramatic sunset over Peru.  And Lake Titicaca all around.  I did a little jig on my rock, poured out some beer in thanks, and enjoyed the show.  All you could hear was the wind (besides the unnerving shriek noise every once and a while), and in 360 degrees a beautiful natural show of the cosmos.  Thanks to the Pachamama.

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The walk back down to my house was eery.  The huge moon cast sufficient light ot navigate, but around every couple turns a cloaked figure would walk past.  In the lunar light Isla Taquile is even more other-worldly; another bonus to going beyond the standard tour boat.

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Back at my house I hung out with Julia while she made dinner.  She was stoked on my head-lamp, so I ended up giving it to her.  Beats the candle light when the wind kicks up thats for sure.  She gave me a thankful hug, and it was nice to see how proud she was as she zoomed around the kitchen.  I’m thinking I’m the only gringo on the whole island.  Sure feels that way.  I haven’t seen a non-islander since the boats left.  I figure I would’ve bumped into someone on the beach, or the sunset, or somewhere along the way.  There isn’t much else to do.

 

Anyway, my “mom” made a tasty barley soup and omelette.  Julia told me the only proteins they eat here are eggs and trout to keep from exhausting the land with livestock.  Pretty smart.  Tasty dinner nonetheless.  Don’t know if its the sun, the walking or the altitude but after a couple Cusqueños I’m DONE!  This bed is amazing, and outside its pure silence.

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julia making dinner

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***

After my best night sleep in Peru and a nice breakfast from Julia, I thanked her and her family, and headed to the dock to catch a boat back to Puno.  She gave me the strongest hug!  I didn’t really want to leave, but had to hitch a ride back to get my things in order to get to Bolivia tomorrow.  On the way to the dock I stopped to take a couple photos of the men working.  On this island the men do the weaving, and take great pride in their creations.  Each hat lets the rest of the community know marital status, and various other social details.

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glimpse into a weaving party

Back in Puno I figured I’d grab a beer, and write a little before getting an early dinner and hitting the sack.  That didn’t happen.  As soon as I sat down at Kamizaraky Rock Pub I was roped into a conversation with a shaman named Gerald.  In retrospect I’m pleasantly surprised I was able to keep up a couple hours of conversation in spanish, especially in the abstract subjects we discussed.  We talked about the mysteries of Peru and the universe.  Every time Gerald would leave the bar the bartender would acknowledge me, and comment “El es loco”.  He’s right, but it didn’t bother me.  We shared a bunch of beers, and it was fun to talk to a stranger.  With the mystical feeling I took back from Isla Taquile, a shaman was perfect bar company for my last night by Lago Titicaca.

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3 thoughts on “Epic Journey. Part 5. Lago Titicaca

  1. That beach-in-view-of-snowcapped-mountains thing was one of the most interesting parts of New Zealand for me, too. My head had such a hard time reconciling the two.

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