SGW is pleased to continue with Part Two of Allen Lai’s Adventures in Peru. In this part, Allen visits:
Lima – Juliaca – Puno – Lake Tittcaca
A very early start. We left the hotel at 6:30 am to catch an early flight to Puno. We got stuck at the airport because for some reason I could not check in my hand carry. The airport was packed and there was, of course, a language barrier. Just as I was about to lose it the local guide stepped in. She knew all the tricks and with a barrage of conversation we were soon leaping through back doors and skipping lines. I was on my way again.
The one-and-a-half-hour flight was uneventful and we landed at Juliaca at 12,555 feet above sea level. I took things easy, even still, the rapid ascent had my heart pounding if I tried to rush anything. However, the coca tea, (made from the leaves of the cocaine plant) worked its magic.
During the drive from the airport to Puno, we saw many unfinished houses. As mentioned earlier, the law of the land states that tax will only be applied when the house is totally completed, so by leaving the outside wall or the roof unfinished you can avoid tax for generations.
To assimilate to the altitude we took a stroll around the town. Puno is a very colourful and unique town. Being the border city between Bolivia and Peru it is also a smuggler’s paradise. Hence, shopping is great as long as you don’t ask for a warranty or after-sale service. The authorities believe that 60 percent of the population here is involved in trafficking goods.
In the afternoon we checked into the boutique hotel Casa Andina Premium, located right on the shore of Lake Titicaca. It was a perfect location to explore the area.
The night view across the lake is fantastic and we turned in early in preparation for a busy day tomorrow.
At 12,246 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake and one of South America’s stunning natural wonders. According to legend, Viracocha, the Inca god of creation, emerged from the depths of Lake Titicaca and created the sun, the moon, the stars, and mankind. This marked the beginning of the Inca empire and its great expansion across the Andes and beyond.
From the hotel, we boarded the tour boat and in 15 minutes we reached the island. Centuries ago the Uros people abandoned their homes on the mainland to establish a way of life on floating islands amidst the waters of Lake Titicaca.
The resident families welcome travelers to their floating homes. My first thought was that it was a tourist trap but as I stepped onto the soft and springy Torta reeds on one of the 120 islands, I realised that each island is a tiny museum, a culture centre, a place where we not only learned about the Inca people but in return helped to support their existence.
Each island houses between 4 to 5 families. The proud Inca people, instead of waiting for government funding, make crafts, good quality crafts, and together with hunting and fishing, they survive. They showed us how the floating island was made, and how life is lived. It was a total eye-opener because what we were being shown is genuine and the people are simple and down-to-earth.
Life must be tough for them because on top of COVID they have to deal with the political unrest in the country. For the whole day, I saw only two other tour boats. There was a child maybe 6 to 7 years of age. In Toronto, a boy of the same age wouldn’t even know how to make a bed. Here they row a boat across the lake on their own to go to school and help with the family chores. Today he was running around barefoot, helping with the family’s sales.
I boarded the balsa wood raft, and watching the Inca family rowing it my mind traveled back in time, to 1947 and Thor Heyerdahl crossing the Pacific Ocean in one of these rafts. What a feeling.
We then continued our journey to Taquile Island, an hour away. Climbing the little hill, we all had to constantly stop to catch our breath and calm our pounding hearts.
Colourful traditional clothing was the first cultural aspect that caught my eye. We learned to tell a man’s marital status, not by a ring on his finger, but by the colour of the hat on his head. We watched the cultural dance and some of us even joined in with the traditional music.
In 2005, Taquile and its textile art were declared an oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. Both men and women take part in this ancient tradition, using hand needles and looms to wave cultural significance – indicated by different designs and colours – into each garment.
For lunch we stepped into the only modern building in the area, a restaurant serving cooked food using 100 percent local ingredients. It was unique and delicious. I only wished I dared to sample some local wine to go with it.
Then we returned to the hotel and got ready to face another new challenge. The strikes seem to be escalating, public transportation was locking down and there were road closures and airport strikes. We wondered what was going to happen with the rest of our trip. Other tour groups in our hotel had already packed and left to get to the airport before the possible closure.
I was not as concerned as many of the other tourists. I knew we were with the best tour operator. So, from experience, I had full confidence that they will find a way through any and all eventualities. Also, I knew that any animosity the people might hold would be directed at their government, not us.
SGW is grateful to our friend and contributor, Allen Lai for this latest part of his adventures. We look forward to seeing Part Three.
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