22.11.2009 - 26.11.2009 24 °C
John:... ´I Did it My Way', and indeed he did. The fresh faced, poncho wearing, pan pipe packing young Andean Indian guy leapt up to entertain us on our lunch break stop yesterday on our tour of the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco. As he manipulated the backing CD it was clear that his rendition would neither emulate the version by Frank Sinatra or Sid Vicious. The anodyne piano and drum machine backing disk kicked in and, a semitone flatter than the backing music, our friend rendered ' I did it my Way' ....unconcious. Other casualties included ´Imagine´ and ´Jealous Guy´ by John Lennon, ´Yesterday' and ´Hey Jude´ by The Beatles and Harry Nilson´s ´I Can´t Live (if living is without you)'. Tragic that he thought that this is what gringos touristico would want to hear rather than some of his own rich musical culture. As I tucked into the last bit of an otherwise lovely lunch I realised that he had stopped playing and switched to a CD of his own, copies of which he was selling by going from table to table. In an act of supreme cowardice we left the restaurant by the back door and went to talk to the Amazonian parrot in the garden....but I am getting way ahead of myself...... As previously reported our flight from Arequipa to Juliaca (the nearest airport to Puno) went smoothly. We were met at the airport, as arranged, by a taxi driver for the 48 km drive to Puno. This was the smartest taxi we have been in so far (all four wheels matched, dent free and, unusually, the rear seat belts were functional). The taxi ride to Puno was painless, travelling through the squalor of Juliaca before getting on to the three lane highway to Puno. As soon as we left Juliaca the scenery changed. We saw small families of farmers working the land; small neatly ploughed strips of soil, a few cows and a sheep or two. Workmen working in very dusty, hot conditions surfacing the new highway waving us on, away from Juliaca towards Puno. In fairness to Juliaca it doesn´t promote itself as a tourist destination. It is the local industrial hub, being the manufacturing point for ´Inca Cola´, ´Cusquenia´ (local beer), a number of soft drinks firms, a cement factory and bootlegging goings on. For only a few soles you can buy a genuine Rolex watch. A little less will get a genuine (best price senor) fancy handbag and a lot less will secure an Adidas shirt, Nike trainers and so on.
In many places it is easy to say it´ll be nice when it is finished but that would not be true for Juliaca. Whilst the people who live there may think it is a nice place to live it would be impossible to reach that conclusion otherwise. Unpaved side streets with great pools of dirty water, pigs rooting around in the decaying rubbish in the middle of the road and mangey dogs roaming around looking for food. It was still early in the day, 07:30 ish as we drove through the town but there was no indication that more people on the streets would make it any more attractive.
Our hostel was good and within a short while we had unpacked, yet again, and headed into the port of Puno to find some breakfast. That achieved we decided to visit the old steam ship SS Yavari moored just outside of the main part of the town on Lake Titikaka.
This remarkable little vessel was commissioned by the Peruvian Government for the Peruvian Navy to be built in the United Kingdom for the expressed purpose of patroling the Lake. It was then dismantled, shipped to Chile and, piece by piece transported inland to Lake Titikaka, the world`s highest navigable lake, by mule and manpower. Here it was reassembled and put into active service. After it was decommissioned it fell into disrepair and was left to rot. Since then interest in its restoration was sparked and a slow process of fund raising and rebuilding has taken place. A thoroughly rewarding experience. Admission is free of charge but a donation is gratefully received.
On the day we went, an ex-(Peruvian) navy chap was busy and enthusiastically polishing the brass on the capstan whilst two teenagers were busy practising their spoken English by taking tourists around the boat. Like many things in Peru the tour wasn´t particularly polished but the enthusiasm for the project was evident and infectious. The little boat was gleaming, the engine room shiny, Peruvian flag flying proudly, decks scrubbed and all on what is obviously a shoestring budget. If you are visiting this part of Peru this is a great little visit. Allow yourself an hour or two. The charity supporting this project is based (I think) in London (google SS Yavari) and has a web site for further information. If you have an interest in old fashioned ships, several others are around Puno in various states of repair, one of which is the sister ship to the Tavari.
Puno itself is an interesting little town. As I mentioned, this is the main Peruvian port on the Lake, taking imports from Bolivia with whom it shares a border that cuts across the lake. Most of the boating activity is tourist and fishing related. At nearly 4 000 metres above sea level the air is a little thin and altitude problems can make themselves felt here. We took it easy, drank coca tea and wandered about admiring the different hats and clothes of the Andean Indians in this region. The missing Peruvian musicians that we had looked for elsewhere were here, in the street, in cafes and restaurants, in fact at times it was hard to move for them. The place was awash with wooly garments, some more authentically Indian than others but all colourful and/or interestingly patterned. We took a guided trip to the Sillustani funerary towers an hour away from Puno.
The community (originally the Colla culture) still works pretty much as it did in pre-Inka times 600 years ago, farming llama and alpacca, harvesting reeds from the local lake and harvesting Peruvian Soles from the constant stream of tourists arriving to see these spectacular towers. Built by the Inkas with remarkable stone masonary, many have at least partially survived the earthquakes that rock the area and flatten more contemporary structures.
Our main reason for being in Puno was to head out across Lake Titikaka to visit a floating village, then to carry on towards the island of Amantani where we would be staying with a family over night. As luck would have it we were put on the wrong boat at the harbour. This became apparant when the guide said that after the visit to the reed islands the boat would be returning to Puno. The advantage to us was that we were left on the reed island for longer than everybody else waiting for our connecting boat to take us on to Amantani. We enjoyed watching the comings and goings of island people and toursits; an interesting mixture of colours, languages, shapes and sizes. The floating villages are fascinating places. Up to 2000 people live on the lake on reed plaforms made from blocks of reed roots bound together, covered in fresh reeds and anchored to the lake bed. There are in the region of 40 islands clustered in this part of Lake Titikaka. Each has its own traditional costume and family identity. We travelled to the Huros community where houses, built from wooden frames and reeds form a semi-circle around a communal area. We were shown into one family´s hut and beneath the straw exterior was some polythene sheeting for extra waterproofing and a TV powered by a solar panel that we had not spotted earlier on. Income for the island is mainly generated by selling embroidered and knitted goods to tourists and so we were able to look at, and buy, some finely crafted things. The motifs on these items reflect the importand matters to the lake peoples, fish, birds, frogs, weather, boats and reeds. Eventually we picked up our connecting boat and took the two and a half hour journey out to Amantani. Heading towards the island was an illustration of how large the lake is. At 180 km long and 70 km wide Lake Titikaka is a major piece of water and, as we were to discover the following day, subject to major weather.
We arrived at Amantani, together with a number of fellow travellers, and met our host family. Martina and Pedro live with their 6 children (oldest aged 11) and Pedro´s elderly mum in a homestead higher up this very steep little island that I care to recall. Our companions for this stay were Pree and Steve from Hong Kong. As we all gasped our way up the rough track Martina walked, sedately, in front, sensitive to our respiratory and mobility problems. As she walked she was spinning wool. Every now and again as we looked a little pink around the gills she would pull out some leaves from the ground, crush them and get us to breathe in the aroma. This plant, pronounced Munya, is a real antidote to altitude problems. We had it served as tea, in soup and a real life saver it was.
As the ´cultural show´ was back down at the place we started from we declined (wisely as it transpired) the opportunity to dress up as Lake Titikaka Indians and dance around. Steve and I walked to the top of the Island to visit the temple and got back to Martina and Pedro´s place as night was beginning to close in. This walk was an epic journey diminished in terms of world achievements by the number of children and adults running up and down the hill whilst we were contemplating the penalties for stealing a donkey to complete the journey.
Pedro´s family was a delight. Their main language was Quechua with a few words of Spanish which, happily, matched our few words of Spanish. Conversation was difficult but even so we learned a little about their family, their farming and the childrens schooling. We also had a chance to make friends with Pree and Steve. Hopefully we can catch up with them when we get to Hong Kong. It was really good to spend the night out on the lake. The food was simple but very tasty, when night fell it was bed time, no electric lighting of note. Thick Alpacca wool blankets kept us snug and the inquisitive children kept us on our toes.
I made a paper aeroplane for one of them which caused some interest while Jackie showed them a book and got them to tell her what the picture was. Every picture of water, whether river, sea or anything else was identified as Lake Titikaka, so far the extent of their worlds. Early the next morning we set off from Amantani across Lake Titikaka to another Island with yet another set of codes and costumes.
As soon as we left the lee of Amantani the shallow draft boat began to rock and roll in a most alarming way. By the time we were half way across the 30 minute journey the wind and waves were very strong to the extent that a couple of people on board were concerned the boat may sink. By this time it was as quick to finish the crossing as it was to go back. We arrived safely and climbed to the top of another steep island for lunch before beginning the 3 hour, much more serene journey back to Puno.
We had deliberately chosen a coach to Cusco, capital of the Inka empire, that stopped at various sites of historical interest on the way. A combination of pre-Inka, Inka and colonial Spanish places, the 9 hour trip was really interesting. Without going in to all the detail about each site, of particular interst was the way in which each conquering culture subsumed some of the beliefs of the previous one.
Paintings in the almost stiflingly, highly decorated and in places very beautiful Spanish colonial church at Andahuaylillas were mostly undertaken by Peruvian artists from the Cusquenia (from Cusco) school, who painted South American detail into biblical scenes. (The best example of this is a near replica of the famous scene from the Last Supper in the Cathedral here in Cusco which actually has the local delicacy Cuy, or guinea pig, served before Christ and the Disciples for eating. These additions to the conventional story were an essential part of the process of conversion, establishing relevance to the native peoples)
On our journey through the mountains I was surprised at just how fertile the land is here. Away from the coastal desert is a land of farmers working small scale farms, each tilling a few fields of rich black soil at altitudes I had previously only associated with mountaineering. Very little mechanisation although the occasional tractor to be seen but most ploughing was done with oxen and most harvesting and weeding done by hand. If you spoke to many of these perople about organic farming they would give you a very strange look; it is all organic up here.
Each little farming community had developed its own townshop, tidy, clean and well maintained, in marked contrast to the ugly squalor of towns like Juliaca, full of people who had come in from the countryside. We arrived in Cusco and after overcoming some problems with our accomodation eventually settled in to a great little hostel just 10 minutes walk from the stunningly beautiful Plaza De Armas at the heart of the city. And so to the end of this posting. Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends. Two weeks until we head to the UK. Not long now. The next posting may be a few days away as, tomorrow, we head to Machu Pichu.