Saturday, December 31, 2005

Peru Tour - 7 - Lake Titicaca

31 Dec 2005 – Lake Titicaca

A very good morning! Took a lovely shower and vacated the room by 6:30 am. Breakfast was so. Our guide came at 7 am and we drove to the harbor. Picked up some fruit for our host and some bottle water. (The tour is that we go to an island on Lake Titicaca and stay with a local host family for one night to get a Peruvian village experience). It was a little rainy this morning. This rain is getting a little tiring but what to do?

Placido gave us a good introduction about the lake. It is about 180x60 km, all fresh water, shared by Peru and Bolivia and has 4 native and 2 exotic fish. It has algae and weeds which are used to make the floating islands. Lake Titicaca has many floating islands on it. Each is made and inhabited by locals. There is no irrigation or other human use of the lake.  There are four rivers coming into it and flowing out. Lately a new species of frog, 12-15 cm size has been discovered in the lake. I think that is a humongous frog! The shape of the lake shows a puma eating a rabbit and the name of Titicaca comes from “grey Puma”. But this is all strange because there were no satellite images back then!

There were some natural islands also on the lake. The artificial ones are called Uros. The first island we stopped at was Uros Island at 8:30 am. It was made entirely of weeds from the lake. It was still raining so we sat inside one of the huts. Every single thing, the hut, the seat, the roof was all made of weeds.

Placido told us about the weeds: they can be used as food, fuel, building material, fodder etc. very useful! The island residents came to us with their goods. Ultimately it was all about making money. The smell on the island was bad. Maybe it was because of the rain also.
There was trash on the island. There was a pond with more weeds. It was all very scenic. The color contrasts were amazing.
So apparently one family lives on one island and there are about 20 islands like with about 200 people living on all of them. They are all tied to each other to prevent them from floating away during windy times. I did buy some small local stuff of the weed and I gave some chocolate to the kids.

Next stop was Tequile Island. This is a huge island (a real one!).  We docked on side of it and will be picked up later on another side. We walked for more than an hour to get to the center of the city – the Plaza. The walk was all uphill and not all of it was even. There were many vendors on the way. We met a lot of locals on the way – all dressed traditionally – red blouse and red skirt for women and pants and kurta type shirt for men. Men also wore hats. They would have belt also around their waist, we learned later what it meant.

The walk was very pretty, all very scenic, there were archways on the way – so beautiful. There were many flowers on the way. Placido showed us many medicinal plants – one of which is “munio” – very good for colds and digestion.

The central square was ok. We went up to the roof of store. The view was just amazing! The island and the lake…just gorgeous. The sun was now coming out and it was getting pleasant. At 12:30 pm we went to have our lunch – another 30 mins walk. There was no one there except us – so great service. Placido showed us all the variety of corn on the island. It was all so colorful – not all yellow, and it was all small size, about 6 inches.

Lunch was quinoa soup – sooo good! I have to learn how to make this. And omelet. Also good. We had tea made of the “minua” herbs – quite strong and flavorful.

While we were drinking, Placido told us about the customs of the island, how women wear blue skirts and red blouses, unmarried girls wear brighter clothes and cover their heads. When a man and woman decide to marry they cohabitate for three years to see if they are compatible. During this time the woman cuts her hair and weaves it into a belt with other threads. She makes patterns of what the couple has been achieving in their life. Once the couple has decided to stay together, the wife will give the belt to the husband as gift. The belt is usually very fine looking.

Almost everyone gets married on 3rd May as that is the day the priest comes to the island! J

For men – they have three different caps: half pattern and half plain is for bachelors, half pattern and half plain with a line knitted in the middle means a bachelor looking for a wife. And all pattern means a married man. Men also carry coca leave pouches tied on their hips. When they meet someone they greet by exchanging coca leaves. These leaves come from Puno as they are not found on the island. And finally only adults can chew coca leaves.

When people die they are buried under or above the ground depending on how much money they have. Above ground is more expensive.  

One interesting thing about the men on Tequile Island is that they knit more than the women, and they are better in the designs, types, sizes etc... Placido was really good in telling all this…it was all such interesting stuff to know about a culture.

And finally – the men with the black hats are government officials. The jewelry on this island is very different and nice. Although the women do not seem to be wearing any themselves but they sure know how to make it! There was one best picturesque arch before we climbed down the stairs to our boat. It was just gorgeous – the sun had come out, the lake was all blue and so was the sky! Then 200 steps down the hill and we were in our boat.

After one hour of boat ride we came to Amantani Island. Placido talked to the men there and we got placed with Mrs. Fortunata. Apparently as the tourists arrive they get placed in the houses of their hosts, so the hosts also don’t really know who their guests will be.

We had our three bags and thus began our treacherous 1 mile trek to Mrs. Fortunata’s house. The walk was a killer! Too much up and down and one of it was a ravine! The house was very pretty, all made of mud. It looks picturesque. Our room was upstairs. Very simple and very sweet. The toilet was outside and not really hygienic. There is no running water in the house. There are a lot of pails and tubs around to store water.
We showed Placido all the stuff we had brought for the people and he helped us give some items to Mrs. Fortunata. Placido suggested we go up the mountain to see the sunset. So we thought okay, but then when I saw all the clouds, I said no, what’s the point? We won’t be able to see anything. So instead we sat in the community place for a while Placido went to get our other things that we wanted to donate.

There were a lot of white tourists here. They were playing soccer with the locals. They did trek up to see the sunset. Good for them! Sad news for them though – there was no sunset today. We went around to distribute the clothes and other items to a number of families. They seemed happy, I just hope they use the items.  It was nice to see all the houses.

We came back to our host’s house and sat in the kitchen. It was very much like an Indian kitchen with a chulha… there was a lot of smoke inside. We had coca tea and dinner around 7 pm.  Dinner was pasta soup with potatoes and rice with vegetables (more potatoes and beans etc.). It was all so good except it needed a little more salt.
We then went to our room and we waited to go to the party which will start at 9 pm. it was very cold at night. There was only one candle in the room and it was dark. So really there was not much to do. I was just cold to the bone! Mrs. Fortunata came around 9:15 pm with a local dress for Bhaiya and me. Bhaiya’s was a simple poncho and cap. Mine was a blouse, 2 skirts, a belt and finally a shawl. All tourists dress this way for the party, which is held when there are so many tourists. Which today is also special because it’s New Year’s Eve.

We walked with the help of flashlights to the community hall where all the jokers – oops the tourists were! (Including us!). The walk was really bad in the dark.

The room was full of people. So many young people. The party was okay. 5-6 young men were playing musical instruments and dancing was going on. The music was quite good. Each host would get up and get their guests to dance with them. Ours did too….it was really quite a nice community affair. No one really cared also how one danced – just get up and dance and have fun. After 12 am hit and we all said happy New Year, I said it was time to go.  It had been a nice but tiring day after all the walking.
The walk back was not so easy either. And worse – it was raining now! Mrs. Fortunata helped me undress – I was still wearing all my other clothes underneath – it was so cold! Bhaiya had to show the torch while went to the restroom – this was one of the worse parts of the trip.

The bed was not that comfortable, but no choice. It was so cold – but no choice! 

Friday, December 30, 2005

Peru Tour - 6 - Puno

30 Dec 2005 – to Puno

It was a cold night, there was no heating in the room. Could not sleep well but had to get up early 5:45 am. Our wake up call was going to be our own Peruvian guy coming to knock on our door. But he never came. Had barely had our breakfast by 6:45. Shirley was off today so our breakfast was a little bit of a mess.

Our guide came to pick us up for the drive to Puno. There were some familiar tourist faces on the bus from the days before. The bus was quite comfortable. We will stop in many places on the way to Puno – 1) Ardahuylillas, 2) Raqchi, 3) San Pedro, 4) Sicllani, 5) La Raya and 6) Pukara.
The initial scenery was like that on the way to Machu Pichhu – all mountains and river – all beautiful. The valley was clearer i.e. there was more flat land.
Our first stop was Ardahuylillas. Our guide, Manuela, gave us a good introduction about the cathedral.  It was about 400 years old with some of the original paintings still there. After the earthquake and Spanish invasion the cathedral was renovated.  The front wall of the cathedral was covered with gold leaf work. The framework was cedar wood covered with 24 carat gold. It was all really beautiful.

Next stop Raqchi. The temple here is quite different from everywhere else.  This was made of mud on the top, with the bottom is stone. It was shaped like a hut, a row of wall like structures in the middle and two rows of columns of about 8-9 on either side suggesting that the structure ay have been a hut like structure. There were residential quarters behind the temple. Most were made from mud.  It was all very symmetrical except for the first one – maybe it was the priest’s hut? 
On the side there are many silos. This area is very rich agriculturally and they seem to transport grain all over the place. The Inca Empire used to be quite huge – from Colombia to Pacific Ocean into Bolivia.
There was a place for offering sacrifice – usually black llamas as they are rare. There was a huge wall surrounding the temple.  So interesting. I wish I could go back in time for a while to see how Inca people lived. Outside the temple were vendors (of course). I did end up getting some bracelets and toys.

At 11:30 am we stopped at a tourist spot to see more llamas and do more shopping. The baby llama was so naughty, it kept running around and spit at anyone it did not like. Baby llamas are so cute! After 15 mins we departed for Sicuani where we had lunch. This was not the usual buffet. There were a few ladies who had made home cooked meals. We had soup, spinach-corn, Quinoa grain and quinoa mixed with eggs and fried – so yummy!! The desert was custard…good also.
Did end up buying a couple scarfs made of Alpaca wool – really soft. After another 45 mins of driving we reached half way to Puno. This place was 4335 m high (about 14,000 ft.). It was cold and the mountains were quite different. Not barren but not lush either. The scenery had also changed. At this point, La Raya, we could see glaciers far away. So picturesque. There was a huge row of vendors; and I yet again bought another scarf and a cap. Most prices are pretty much the same.
And then hail came down. It hailed for about 15-20 mins while we were on the road. La Raya was just a picture spot stop. The scenery changed again – now it was more barren. There were more llamas to be seen, fewer people, no huts, really large valleys. Mountains were getting smaller. It rained for a long time on the way. I took some power naps!

The bus was leaking! How funny! And I did have tea on the bus, twice – good tea.

Reached Pukara around 3:35 pm. visited a museum of pre-Inca artifacts. Manuela compared the pre-Inca with Egypt – no mention of Chinese or Indian civilization.

The Andean cross that I was curious about came from pre-Inca civilization. This civilization was more into sculptures. However, I think they were very violent, from all the history I was learning.

Passed Julianna on the way. Small city with an airport. It was quite big, but really dirty with garbage everywhere. Almost all Peruvian towns have been this way. We reached Puno by 5 pm. Our wonderful guide Placido was waiting for us. We drove into the city to the hotel. The city is also quite dirty. Our guide told us about the next two days program and luckily we were able to call home to wish happy New Year to everyone.
We were only about one block away from Plaza de Armas, so we decided to walk there. It was smaller than Cusco’s plaza but still quite nice. Walked around to see the vendors. Bought some more little trinkets. I am enjoying the shopping here. Very different and affordable. Came back and had last of puris for dinner! Repacked stuff for tomorrow. It will be one night stay at an island in Lake Titicaca.

All in all good day – it was a relaxing day, but I can still the pain from the mountain climb of yesterday!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Peru Tour - 5 - Machu Picchu

29 Dec 2005 – Machu Picchu -> Cusco

It was noisy outside so it took a long time to sleep, but still got up to the wake up call. It was raining so decided to delay the Machu Pichhu climbing…slept some more. Got up later and went for breakfast, the bag will be sent to the railway station. The fruit and bread was not that great, but pineapple jam and potatoes were awesome.

Reached Machu Pichhu by 7:30 am and by 8 am we were ready to conquer Wayana Picchu. Two Japanese girls got together with us as they did not know where the entrance was. We have company. We signed in and started the climb. Little did I know what I was getting into! The trail is about 200 m high and took about 1 hr. to complete. The steps were all very uneven and made of rocks. There was rope to hold on to, but not in all places so had to have good balance to trek.

My bag pack was too heavy for this kind of trail and then I had to take off my jacket too…an added burden. The climb was steep and I had to stop at several places to catch my breath. The girls and Bhaiya never needed to stop…but they did for me. Sweet. I really feel out of shape!

We reached almost the top and walked around the mountain and admired Machu Pichhu and Urumbura. It was cloudy but the clouds kept moving so all was visible.  We sat and admired all the scenery before hitting the last few meters of the trek. Oh! Who knew it was going to be like this.  There was a narrow, dark and low tunnel – it was only a few feet but I had to crawl through the hole without my bag pack to get through. A little harrowing. And then a wooden staircase let us to the highlight of the climb….the top of Wayana Picchu.

Wow!! What a view! So worth all the climb. There were some huge rocks and there were already so many people up there.  We sat for a while, walked around, took some nice pictures.  We sat and waited for the clouds to dissipate for about an hour.  It did get nice and sunny. Then it was time to go down!

We decided to go the other way, not the way from the hole. The first thing that came was a huge steep rock with some place holds for feet, but oh Lord it was steep! The only way down was to just sit and slide down, and that was not the worst of it. Then came the narrow, steep, small steps.  The steps were so narrow that I could barely keep a foot on them and that too sideways. When I saw them, I just about freaked out! It would need total concentration – sort of meditation, to go down. It was treacherous. I was facing the mountain and held the rocks with both my hands. There was no rope! It was such a relief to be down those stairs.

The rest was still rocky and uneven but doable.  Going down I did not have to stop. We got back to the gate by 11:45 am. And it just started raining, so all in good time. I was exhausted! I wish someone could carry me to the train. It rained and rained. We sat around Machu Pichhu till 1:30 pm and then took the bus down. (The Adios kid followed again!)  There were many kids doing touristy things, like dressing up traditionally for photo ops.

We walked around Agua Calientes to shop a bit, until our train time. Train left punctually at 3:35 pm.  The scenery is great as usual. They brought out some snacks, cookies and cake and drinks. Then some dancers came by with local dance show and grand finale was a lovely fashion show of all the local wool wear. Some of the shawls and sweaters were beautiful but as expected more than $100. Good thing I don’t wear these clothes.

We arrived at Poroy at 6:30 pm from where our guide/driver picked us up and took us to Cusco, back to the same hotel. It was a 25 min drive.  The hotel did not save us a double room so they put an extra bed in another room and no phone. Not cool.

We had some tea and went to do some grocery shopping. I always love going to local grocery shops. Bhaiya took a long time to decide which cookies he wanted which then did not buy any J.  We did buy some juice and plantain chips. I had some hot chocolate, made by hotel manager, it was great! Very rich.

Great day! Great climbing, great train ride…I have lovely visions in my head.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Peru Tour - 4 - Machu Picchu

28 Dec 2005 – Machu Picchu

Got up by 6 am and were having breakfast by 7 am. Good spread of juices, the local pita bread, potatoes, pancakes and eggs. I ate a little bit of everything (as I always do!). The omelet was delicious!  The taxi guy promptly at 8:15 am to take us to the train station at Ollyantatambo. Waited for our 9 am train to Agua Calientes, on the base of Macchu Picchu.  The train was very comfortable, it was AC and the TT played three roles: that of checking tickets, serving us breakfast (which we could not eat as we were full) and finally as a vendor for the Macchu Picchu goodies.

The scenery on the way was beautiful. We rode by the Urumbura River, it was flowing rapidly over rocks and boulders – I don’t think this one can raft in this river.

We reached Agua Calientes promptly at 10:40 am. Met the guy from the hotel (Inti Inn) and our tour guide from Condor Travels.  He was a short, stinky man – Horatio. He was a little hard to follow because of his strong accent.

We took the bus to go up the hill to see Macchu Picchu – a 20 min ride. Lovely ride, went like a zig zag on the side of the mountain to get up to the top. The Sanctuary Lodge was at the bus stop. I am really eager now to see the sights! 
The first sight is awesome! Terraces going from bottom to higher ground. There were sections of building of solid stone, the roof must have been made of something else that is why it’s not there anymore after 500 years.

Macchu Picchu was discovered only around 1920 and it is speculated to be about 500 years old. It is hard to tell authoritatively who lived there and how. It’s quite a mystery. Apparently this site was chosen to keep it as a secret; but was this a religious community, a royalty with slaves – who knows? But it is definitely an Inca ruin. The architecture and build of the buildings is the same as we have been seeing for Inca history. They all have same joints as others. The stones had a variety of cuts – 4-12 and they still managed to fit together – great engineering. Some had the male-female joints for good connection. All stones are granite, so dark and definitely very hard. And their sizes are so big – who knows how they cut them and put them in places.

There is a great significance of 3 in Inca – the three animals are the condor, puma and the snake. The symbol of Inca is also significant – why? Horatio showed us all the rooms and temples but its all speculation. Everyone seems to read the same touristy books. Macchu Picchu was not discovered by the Spanish so Inca were their own enemies by letting their culture die out by making Macchu Picchu so inaccessible and secretive. If they were hiding from someone – then who? So many questions… The Inca did not have a script, their structures don’t have any carvings either. So maybe they were a culture just trying to exist – there was no way for them to communicate except verbally, which is probably why they did not last long.

Being on the top of the mountain must have been hard too…it was not an easy mountain. They did have a good aqua duct and irrigation system, a good ventilation system – so really good engineers. Rooms were all small, the doorways are all small - maybe they were tiny people. But then how did they manage to move around such huge stones? And why are the royal quarters and the farmer’s quarters the same size and shape? Maybe this was a monastery.

Horatio was speculating that about 3000-4000 people lived here – but it seemed big enough for only a few hundred. So right now I am just going to admire the place, make my own story sine the one from the guide is not working well for me.  We went all around Macchu Picchu before going to the Watchman’s Hut – which is where one gets the classic view of Macchu Picchu.

Just spectacular! I can just sit there and not know how much time has passed by. Today it rained all for almost 3 hrs. while we were touring. It’s no fun trouping such a beautiful site under an umbrella. And of course since we were high up, clouds were everywhere. It was very pretty, but still….
Horatio left us to tour by ourselves at 1 pm. We had lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge. I was a little tired as there was a lot of going up and down during the tour. Lunch was buffet and it was ok – had some lentils, rice, potatoes.

The sun came out at 2:15 pm. And we went to the Watchman’s Hut the hard way – straight up! Okay! The view was just amazing – breathtaking. Sun does make things so much better.
We decided to go on a trail hike – about 35 mins round trip to see the Inca Bridge. Nice walk, saw the Urumbura River all the way. We were walking away from Macchu Picchu at this point. The trail was not that strenuous – just narrow but not hard to do. The bridge was a little rinky dinky thing on the side of the mountain – but still….a nice Kodak moment (or Cannon moment).
Came back by and decided to tackle the Sun Gate trail – 45 mins walk one way!! And the entire trail was uphill. Oof – what a killer! It was really tough on the feet and butt…but of course I did it. It was lovely view all the way. We could see MP from there – quite spectacular – totally worth the walk. There were a lot of people on the trail, so it was nice. There was a wishing point on the way. I never miss an opportunity to make a wish.
Walk back was a lot better as it was downhill. We stopped again at the Watchman’s Hut to get some more photos. Now MP was quite empty…lovely.  Took the bus down to Agua Caliente around 5:15 pm.  A little boy – around 6 yrs. old, would come to our bus at every curve and shout out “Adios”. So cute – little dangerous, but so cute. At the bus stop his dad and he came on the bus to ask for money. Oh I should have seen that coming!!

Agua Calientes is a little town which has a hot spring (hence the name). The town is really just there for MP visitors. So it’s all very touristy. It is full of hotels, restaurants and shops. Our hotel seemed so far away from the bus stop, since my feet were really hurting. We checked in – nice hotel. We walked back into the city to have dinner – pizza. We also managed to get pisco sour (a drink). Pizza was good – thin crust and not oily like American pizza.

What a great day! Went back to the hotel, took a shower and went to sleep!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Peru Tour - 3 - To Machu Picchu

27 Dec 2005 - Cusco -> Machu Picchu

Buenos Dias!

It’s not cloudy today and we are in no hurry today. The tour bus will be here at 8:30 am to pick us up. The bags were packed for 2 nights. We will be back in Cusco for one night. Went for the delicious, simple breakfast.  We gave our hotel manager a small gift (part of Christmas too). Our guide came at 8:30 am promptly and we were off. Left the rest of the luggage at the hotel.

We were the 2nd group to be picked up so we had great choice of seats in the bus. We met some of the same tourists as yesterday as they got picked up. Our guide today was Elizabeth, was an older lady and very good in speaking English.

During the drive to Pisac we stopped in a couple places to take pictures. We were descending from Cusco. The scenery was just lovely – huge mountain ranges with valleys below for agriculture. All the spots we stopped at had nice shops and kids dressed locally ready for photo shoot. Its interesting business.

We drove to llama farm owned by a family. There were different size and color llamas – who knew there were so many types! And they were quite tame, we could get close to them and take photos and feed them.  There was a little tour thing too – they showed how they would dye the llama wool and some handloom work. It all ended with a gift shop – of course. Everything was very expensive there. It was all good but too expensive. And for me – not quite useful as I don’t wear sweaters or shawls. A very good stop…

Out first real stop was Pisac, which is an agricultural town. It has a great market! It was about 11 am and we had about one hour to shop around.  We thought it would be more than enough – wrong! We had barely seen half the market in one hour. We started with having boiled bhutta, and then walked around. The shops were amazing, so much to buy! A lot of them had the same stuff, but it was good stuff. And the jewelry – so much jewelry – I had to buy some. Walked around some more. Every time I thought I was done with buying, I was buying some more. I think I will be needing a couple of llamas to carry my stuff.
From there we drove to Urubamba, which is a town near Rio Urubamba. For lunch six of us got down at hotel Alhambra while the rest of them went to hotel Tunupa. Apparently ours has all natural food. The food was good. Salads were all tasty, macaroni and cheese, some spinach and cheese pastry. The potato vegetable was very tasty (it could have been just the potato being tasty itself).  Deserts were okay. Peruvians seem to eat their rice kheer with purple corn syrup. Nothing too exciting for me.  The best was the quinoa soup! Amazing! And finally we had tea – real tea – no coca business.
Walked around for the 5-10 mins we had to take photos – there were beautiful flowers all around. Elizabeth came promptly at 2 pm to pick us up.
We drove about 20 mins out to Ollantaytambo ruins.  I like how Elizabeth is doing the tour, very relaxed. We walked about 1 km to get to the site. The ruins were primarily huge blocks of stones, there was farming going on the steps. On the top was the sun temple. It was a huge area. It was about ½ km high and wide. There were 300 steps leading to the sun temple. After a little intro from Elizabeth, we all braved the 300 steps. These were not just steps, they were high steps! It was not as hard as it looked, but still!  

The top was wonderful, little windy but good view of the town and the steps below. The walls were made from huge rocks cut very nicely and placed on each other with quite precision. And they were not all squares either. A number of rocks were quite odd shaped, but still were not cemented together. They were just placed on each other.

The sun temple was for huge stones – about 10 ft. high and 4-5 ft. wide joined by narrow blocks of rocks. There were some carvings on it too. The zig zag carving seemed very common as is the number 3 – which for Peruvians signifies the sky, earth and the earth below.

We walked around the terraces to other terrace, past the storage house and dam. Quite a good tour. We finished off by seeing the water temple where people would take ablutions. The only sad part about all this is that a lot was ruined by the Spaniards and there is no clear historical description describing the structures. A lot of it is speculation.  Most of it was written in the 1920s – so quite recent. There is no sculpture or any paintings showing the life of Inca people.

We were done here by 5:20 pm. The tour was going on to Chenko but we were going to be dropped off at a hotel in Yucay. The hotel was a beautiful setting. Lovely courtyard with flowers all around, even better than the Cusco hotel. Our room was very nice – great view of the mountains on one side and the courtyard on the other. We walked around a little bit, but it started raining so we came back.

Good day!!