I thought I would be relieved when the Inca trial was over but in fact I am almost sad – I am not sure I can express in words what an incredible experience it was! But as I continue to learn, as one good thing comes to an end, I have to move on in search of the next good thing!
After our jovial end of trek lunch and the lovely train journey from Agua Caliente, we were to spend the night in Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Exhausted, I had hot chocolate at the Chocolate Cafe next door to the hotel and was asleep by 7pm despite the Friday night music pumping!
Still on trekking time I woke early and so Portia and I went to see the remains of the royal Inca estate that the town has been built around. It was a strong hold of Manco Inca Yupamqui and it provided lodging for Inca nobility – Hiram Bingham also stopped there in 1911 on his journey up the Urubamba River in search of Machu Picchu. Even though the site opened at 7am, it seemed the ticket person was not going to arrive till 7.30 so they let us in and said to pay later!
One of the many ‘stray’ dogs around the entrance, a beautiful border collie cross, joined us on the walk around the site. She escorted us around the entire site so we named her ‘Manny’ after our favourite Inca Trial guide – she didn’t talk as much but she was still pretty funny!
We then joined the rest of the group for breakfast before jumping on our private bus to a local community that the tour company I am travelling with, Intrepid, support. Our visit helps support the communities financially and also allows them to show us their way of life – first we were dressed up in local dress (never my favourite activity but there is never an opt out option!) and joined one of the women in a field to dried sort fava beans from the stalks. Next was lunch and then we were shown how they prepared and dyed the wool (sheep and alpaca etc) before weaving. All the dyes were natural, coming from plants, and some even from beetles!
Our final stop for the day was at the Pisac and its large handicraft market. We were there as a big thunder storm rolled in and given that I did not want to shop, I sort refuge in a coffee shop with a coffee as the rain came down. Thankfully it finished as quickly as we started and we were all soon back on the bus and on the way to Cusco where a few of us enjoyed a night of dancing in a local club to celebrate the end of our trek.
Our final day in Cusco was a few day and I really did very little except to recover from the night out and watch yet another massive parade! This one went on for hours, starting with what appeared to be veterans of some sort, before the children joined in!
The next day we were back on a bus – 7 hours to our next stop in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We travelled with a different bus company but it was just as comfortable as others we have been on and the scenery for this day time bus was incredible! We passed through the alpine country side, with snow topped mountains surrounding us, lot’s of small houses, people working in the fields and lots of political party slogans for the election later in the year. With vast landscapes and vast skies – truly stunning. I also managed to spot a few flamingos in one of the rivers along side the road!
As much as I dislike long bus journeys, it is a fantastic way to see the landscapes of the country
Puno is a relatively small town of around 140,000 people and is the capital of an important agricultural and livestock region (mostly sheep, llamas and alpacas). For us it was the starting point for our final days in Peru.
After a quick walking tour (as it was late and getting dark), we stopped at a supermarket to buy some staple food items as ‘gifts’ for our homestay hosts for the next night.
4 of us had decided to get up early for sunrise canoeing on the lake – it was definitely well worth the 5am pick up! We drove to a hotel at the edge of the lake and boarded our outrigger canoe and headed out in to the lake. We started with a beautiful view of the city as the sky lightened and that turned in to a spectacular sunrise over the reed filled lake. The reflections of the clouds in the lake were beautiful as the sun rose higher – it was such a beautiful and peaceful start to the day.
As I am sure all of you are aware, Lake Titicaca is the ‘highest navigable lake’ in the world, sitting at approximately 3800m above sea level in the Andean highlands. The name comes from the Aymara language and one of the official languages of Bolivia and parts of Peru (and the language the inhabitants of the Uros floating Islands speak). The name can be translated to mean gray/lead coloured puma and these use to roam the shorelines of the lake.
As we entered the Uros floating islands, it was like entering the world out of the movie ‘Water World’ – there was something very surreal about it. As we were still so early, we were the only people there as the island inhabitants woke up and went about their morning routines before the hoard of day trippers arrived.
The islands themselves were fascinating. There are approximately 120 floating islands built almost exclusively of reeds. Once built they can last approximately 15 years before needing to be discarded and rebuilt. Of course, the beauty of the islands is that they can be moved if there is danger, or in fact just arguments with the neighbouring islands! Depending on the size, the islands house between 3-10 families each.
It takes months to build each island but harvesting blocks of reeds and roots, which them get lashed together to form floating reed ‘boats’ before being piled high with more reeds. It is constant work to keep the islands and their houses covered in fresh reeds.
According to our canoeing guide, the original settlers moved here to avoid the Incas invasion but others seem to tell different stories of the origins of the islands.
Despite still struggling with Spanish, this day we had to get our heads (and tongues around 2 new languages) – Aymara and Quechua (although Quechua should not be new as this was the first language of our porters on the Inca Trail.
After our Uros Island visit (where the people spoke Aymara), we joined the rest of the group on a larger boat (that we did not have to paddle ourselves) and headed to Capachica on peninsula. Over the peninsula, over 25,000 people live in 16 communities – it was one of these communities where we were to stay the night with Quechua speakers.
After a 20 minutes walk to the community leader’s house, we were introduced to our host families for the visit and we were quickly dispatched to our homes for lunch. Our house is lovely – a cluster of small rooms around a central area where our ‘mama’ often sits doing her spinning or knitting.
After a lunch of soup, omelette, rice and chips it was siesta time 👍🏻 then time for work! Each of our hosts had tasks for their guests and I think Julia (my roommate) and I were lucky. While others had plough/dig fields, we got to sit and peel mushy potatoes (that I think she said grew in the water) with our hand! Not incredibly pleasant and I am not sure we did a particularly good job but our Mama seemed happy enough. She then left the peeled potatoes in the sun to dehydrate them – this is a popular ingredient here for soups and stews.
Next on our agenda was a volley game with people from the community which they won (not surprisingly as I am sure they are used to playing at altitude whilst we are not)!
After another dress up session (this time in attire appropriate to our marital and social status), our final task for the day was chopping lots of vegetables for our communal dinner before an early night. The room and beds were simple but comfortable with lots of heavy blankets to keep warm – unfortuantely it actually made it hard to move in but most of us managed to get a decent nights sleep.
In the morning, we met our ‘Papa’ before he headed off on his 1 hour walk up in to the hills to tend his animals – thankfully their basic Spanish, combined with my basic Spanish was enough for us to communicate to some extent and we shared some pictures of our homes with them.
Our final stop on the lake was Taquile Island, famous for its knitting men! Around 2,200 live on the island and we were told about the way the Taquileños run their society based community collectivism in line with the Inca moral code – don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy (in Inca times, the failure to abide by one of the moral codes would result in death)! Regional leaders are appointed each year and are not allowed to be re-elected to avoid any corruption.
As with the other communities we visited, clothing here also indicated the social and martial status of the wearers. In most cases, it was the hat that indicated the marital status and other items of attire including the belt and jacket/shawl would also indicate status in the community.
After lunch, overlooking the ocean (a view somewhat similar to some places in Greece), we were back on our boat to Puno for our last night in Peru.
Next stop – Bolivia!