We are sitting in a plane high above the Andes heading back to Lima and then to Santiago in readiness for our final flight home. We are both reflecting on how on earth the Spanish found their way to Cusco and beyond – these Mountains make Australia's Great Dividing Range look like a walk in the park! It is unimaginable what drove men in such early times to cover such extreme terrain in search of gold, whether for themselves, for God or country – even without considering the pain inflicted on others – the mind boggles! Equally the choices made by the Incas and pre Incas even earlier – wow here is a mountain top as remote as we could possibly get, lets build some terraces and a temple or two – that'll show those people down on the flat how important we are!
We caught a bus from Cusco to Puno the day after returning from Macchu Piccu (MP). Unfortunately our travels back from MP and onto Puno were timed well to fit in with some kind of farmers strike. No-one could clearly tell us what the strike was about but, as with our own country, we came to the conclusion that the farmers here were getting the short end of the straw – one only had to look at the housing, clothing and teeth to conclude that the government might have been gaining more from the export of quinoa and other products than the local producers. Anyway – we may be wrong but thats what it sounded like when we put all the different opinions together.
A strike in these parts affects everyone through the rather interesting way in which it is carried out – trees are felled across roads, large boulders and piles of rocks are moved onto road and basically all roads are blocked. We were lucky coming back to Cusco as the strikers had gone home for siesta and our driver was able to manouvre around each obstacle where others had made temporary clearances and get us back in a reasonable time. The morning trip to titikaka and puno however required an exceptionally early start in order to get going before the strikers had desayuna (breakfast). This meant another 4.30am wake up as the bus was going to leave at 6am from the main station instead of the usual 7am time.
We managed well and almost left the passports behind as that was my job and I was in a trance – fortunatemente I remembered at the last minute and rushed back up to the room safe!
The trip entailed another couple of stops, one a very ornate church – marketed as the Cistine Chapel of South America and, you guessed it, some Inca Ruins, a museum and the highest pass we would reach as we crossed into the Altiplano where the large open lands are managed to farm sheep, alpaca, cattle, potatoes and grains! The church was impressive, the ruins impressive, the museum small, and the High Point – touristy in a Peruvian kind of way! I guess we were catching a tourist bus – maybe if we'd caught a locals bus we would have had a different experience – but then we may have taken two days to get to Puno and may never have known where we were at each point.
So we arrived in Puno exhausted (what's new?) and after ducking out for a quick meal and look around we headed back to our little hotel room to have a hot shower and pass out. Guess what! No hot water! It seemed we had hit the jackpot again with the dodgy hotel but, after a few calls, Marco down at reception sorted the problem and 1/2 hour later the water was steaming. I have to say that was a long half hour with both of us needing matchsticks to keep our eyes open and as much as I wanted to hate the place, Marco was so genuinely helpful and apologetic we had to be grateful.
Next morning a pickup was arranged for 7am which doesnt sound too early but this travelling was getting quite exhausting so we found it a bit of a struggle after the early start previously and the hot water incident the night before. The day started out cold and drizzley but as the boat headed out into Lago Titikaka the clouds started to part, and, almost the same as at many of our stops like Macchu Piccu, the sun shone through.
We first visited the floating Uros islands which we had been warned we very touristy but, as luck would have it, we were separated from the large crowds and were two of only three people that visited the family built island where we were shown the lay of the land! The people make their homes out of reeds in the lake and lay a new floor every now and then – eventually the island becomes too heavy and they have to start again (after about 40 years). This means that each island has a unique smell as the lower layers become old and rotten! Apparently there are no fires to keep everyone warm lest the grass floor catches fire! Given that the night time temperature reaches -10 celsius they all sleep together in one bed – sounds romantic doesnt it? Mum Dad and the five kids – maybe they dont get to five kids actually – not enough alone time maybe…
Anyway we went to the main island for this little community which had a few market stalls and a rather unique hotel – we checked it out and were glad we were staying in Puno – hot water incident or not – we could not see the need to spend too long on these very small islands where everyone wanted to sell us something!
Next stop was Taquile island which was set up well for tourists also – they did seem to do quite a bit of farming on the side but this island is more famous for its knitting men! The women spin the yarn and the men knit. All very interesting and the lunch here was surprisingly beautiful overlooking the lake but, I would have preferred to visit an island which wasnt expecting so many tourists as again the people here were all setting up markets with trinkets and touristy things along every path. At least we got to visit one family home alone and saw how they used a local plant as soap and shampoo to wash wool, hair, everything!
So that was our last touristy day in Peru. And now we sit on the plane high above the Andes marvelling at the tenacity of all who have come before us and at the same time looking forward with eager anticipation to our own bed and access to a fridge with lots of greenery!