Posted tagged ‘Lake Titicaca’

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.”

August 3, 2012

I’m still hibernating. The air felt cooler when I went to get the papers, but the weatherman says 84˚ so I might as well keep the AC running. Usually I never watch the television in the daytime, but I’ve been watching the Olympics: the women’s soccer and track and field as well as men’s water polo. I think I’m addicted.

We’re in Puno and we’re boarding the hydrofoil to go across the lake. My friend and I could have chosen a cheaper regular boat, but a hydrofoil was on my list of things I wanted to try. The sensation was neat when the boat rose in the air and then flew off across the water. We made three stops on Lake Titicaca; all were on the Bolivian side. The first two were the Islands of the Sun and the Moon, del Sol and De La Luna. Both have Incan ruins. The Sun is a large island and is believed to be the birthplace of the Sun God. We got off the boat there to see some of the ruins, but the only one I remember is the Sacred Rock. The shores of both of these islands were filled with rocks, and we only saw de la Luna from the boat as there was little to see on the island. Our last stop was Copacabana, Bolivia where we went into the town and visited the Cathedral. I remember the statue of Our Lady of Copacabana was in a niche and it was the first time I’d ever since one dressed in real clothes.

As we got closer to Bolivia we saw a few reed boats and men fishing off them. One of the boats was small and had room for only one. It looked a bit like an oversized kayak. Those reed boats made me feel as if I had been transported back in time as their method of construction has never changed. When our boat landed on the coast, the Altiplano of Bolivia, we boarded a bus to la Paz. The Altiplano almost defies description with all its beauty. Mountains ring along the side and the landscape is stark. It looked a bit like the moon must when you’re standing on it. I think I hurt my neck swiveling my head from side to side to look out the windows. We rode for four hours or so; I don’t really remember. I just know it was dark as we got close to la Paz, the highest capital in the world. We came in from the mountains, and the city was below us built in a canyon. Lit up, La Paz looked like some giant Christmas decoration with lights spread across the canyon. The sight was mouth dropping in its beauty.

We found a hotel close to the bus stop and fell asleep in a heartbeat. But by this time I had a cold, a winter cold, and that hotel was so damp I woke up shivering. We decided to go plush in La Paz and got a room in a really good hotel. It had a buffet breakfast which I enjoy every morning but only for a little while. We explored la Paz. The streets were windy and seem to go higher and higher. Many were cobbled. We wandered all over not at all bothered by the altitude as we had been in the mountains since Venezuela. We went to the witches’ market and just stared at all the weird stuff on the tables. We saw pouches with what I think were potions, dried stuff I didn’t want to know about except I think I saw a few mummified frogs, not so great for souvenirs. We saw parks filled with statues and sat in a few. The hats had changed again. The women wore brown bowlers. The clothing was still colorful. We visited the Iglesias de San Francisco. The outside of the church had all sorts of engravings. Inside, we took almost cave-like stairs to the roof. The view was well worth the trip. La Paz was my second favorite city after Quito.

We decided to fly from La Paz to Asunción, Paraguay as we thought an overland trip, correct that to an over-mountains trip, would take too long. The La Paz airport was high above the city, and we got the view in the daytime which had astonished us at night. La Paz looked tiny below us, like a kid’s toy, but it was no less jaw-dropping.

I’ll always remember waiting at that airport. We were standing there when a whistle blew. Afterwards I figured it must have been lunch time because all of a sudden armed soldiers appeared from everywhere. They must have been hiding along the runways in the tall grass or behind structures. I swear there were at least twenty of them all carrying machine guns, but that only made us chuckle. They all went to lunch at the same time leaving us to our own devices.

The plane was making only a stop at La Paz, and when we got on it, there were already people sitting there sucking on oxygen. That was the first time I’d ever seen anyone actually using the drop down oxygen masks. I thought it a bit over the top as they had never left the plane. I had been in La Paz for four days and once I’d thrown up each morning I never thought anything of the altitude. I sort of snickered, a bit of arrogance I guess.

We flew to Paraguay and left the Andes behind us. We had been in the mountains for over six weeks.

“Like you’re riding a train at night across some vast plain, and you catch a glimpse of a tiny light in a window of a farmhouse. In an instant it’s sucked back into the darkness behind and vanishes. But if you close your eyes, that point of light stays with you, just barely for a few moments.”

August 2, 2012

The humidity of the last few days has prompted an early hibernation for me. I started out with doors and windows opened then raced to close them and turn the AC on. Today and the next few days will be in the 80’s, warm for us, so I’ll hunker down and enjoy the cool air.

On with the travelog!

First, I apologize for the oversight so I’ll introduce the other half of the we I keep using. It was my roommate Francie, who had traveled only once out of the country on a guided tour of Italy with a bunch of high school kids, so this was, for her, a huge risk. She was the best of companions.

In Cuzco, we went to the market and bought some fruit and some coca leaves. We had read that chewing them allows the Peruvians to work at high altitudes without getting overly fatigued or hungry. We figured they’d help so we gave chewing them a try. The leaves weren’t worth the chew. We found out later they are mixed with something or better consumed in tea.

In those days, there was no tourist train to Aguas Calientes, the stop nearest the road to Machu Picchu, so we got up early and took the local. It was filled with Peruvians with their produce and reminded me of travel in Ghana. All that was missing were the goats and chickens. It was an amazing train ride. We traveled on rail so twisty we could see the front of the train from the back. I hung my head out the windows many times to see the train and the view along the way. We passed through Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the valley of the Incas and could see terraces up the mountains, places where the Incas planted their crops including potatoes and quinoa. After about four hours on the train, we arrived at the station where we had to buy bus tickets to get to the ruins. The road to the ruins was an amazing back and forth twist of a road, a zigzag switchback allowing travel up the steep hill.

All the pictures I see of the site now are filled with people roaming around. I didn’t find that. There were few people so I could take pictures without anyone in them. Machu Picchu is easily recognized as it sits between two mountains. The first view I saw of the ruins was from the hill which overlooks all of Machu Picchu. I don’t think I could move for a bit, astonished as I was by the sight. Finally I headed into the ruins where I walked around for hours. I went up to the sundial whose corners each point to a different direction. I took pictures through windows of the same view the Incas must have seen. I walked up and down the terraces. I took picture after picture of the ruins, the mountains and the ruins across from us on another mountain. I sat and just looked all around me. I think I forgot to breathe.

On the way down to the train, small boys raced the busses which had to negotiate the twisty road. The boys beat us to the bottom. We boarded the last train and headed back to Cuzco where we’d spend one more day exploring other ruins including an Incan foundation which still runs with sweet cold water. Then we took the train to Puno, a regular train back then. The ride was magnificent with the snow-capped Andes beside us for hours, the stops at small stations where we saw Peruvians in bright colors sitting in the sun, and in my mind’s eye, I still see the small children dressed in colorful clothes, red shawls are what I remember the best, who waved at us as the train passed. We always waved back. The second part of the trip was over the Andean plains, an amazing contrast from the mountains but no less beautiful. There we saw llamas, herds of llamas, shepherded by boys who followed behind them.

The trip to Puno took about 11 hours. We found a hotel and then wandered. Puno is right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. When I was a kid, that name always made us giggle when the nun said it. It was as if she were swearing somehow. We bought dinner from a stall along the street, and I bought a small, woven woolen wall decoration from another stall. The cloth was green and on it were appliquéd people who looked like all the Peruvians we had seen. One of them was playing Andean pipes. I still have it.

The next morning we went to the lake and booked passage on a hydrofoil guided tour which would stop at three islands on the lake then take us across to the Bolivian border where we’d board a bus to La Paz.

The journey continues!

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