January 11th. Six months to the day after we started out family gap year journey in South America, we say goodbye to Cusco and take a 10 hour tourist bus to travel the Route of the Sun, south to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
It’s a much better option than a direct bus, stopping at view points and tourist stops along the way:- Andahualillas, where we visit the so called Sistine Chapel of America (we’d have liked to visit the tiny museum with the mummified alien babies that we’d heard of from Lainie and Miro, our friends in Cusco, but we can’t see it and follow the guide to the church! Ah, the difficulties of being on a tour bus!). It has huge, dramatic frescos all over its insides (photos strictly forbidden!) and the kids enjoy studying them, then we’re off to the amazing Raqchi temple of Wiracocha which in spite of all the sites we’ve visited, still wows, although its hard to figure out how much, if any, is original!
We stop at a tourist restaurant for a buffet lunch where we chat with some rather aloof alpacas!
Then visit the highest point along the route at the Raya pass (4335m) but only manage a tourist snap through the window because it is pouring with rain!!!
We finally see lake Titicaca and the city of Puno on its shores, after being taken to the wrong hotel, get settled into the lovely hacienda Plaza on plaza de las Armas (yes another one) with an amazing 75% discount with booking.com – the kids enjoy their first bath in a while and an amazing show with jets and integrated radio!
Needless to say the bathroom gets drenched but its been the highlight of the day! Then we hear music and rush out to enjoy a parade before finding a good restaurant with dancing to watch!
Erika and I struggle sleeping. We’re short of breath and headachy and by morning we ask for oxygen for Erika to help her feel better. The hotel brings it up and give her a 5 minute ration before wheeling it away again!!
We spend a day checking prices for lake trips, putting a huge bag of washing in at a laundry and finally booking ourselves on a very good priced 2 day trip. There is another parade around town with different groups, bands and dancing and in the evening we go to Mojsa, just across the square and have a great meal.
Next day we head off on our two day trip early in a boat for about 18 with a wonderful guide who tries to teach us some Quechuan expressions as many people on Amantani don’t speak Spanish. We chug out in pouring rain across the lake, surprisingly there’s quite a swell but we survive and as we reach the island, the sun is out and we can go up on top to see the villagers waving us in at the little jetty! Zoe whispers to me ”oh Mum. I’m going to love being here with no cars and just this quietness”
We’re introduced and allocated to families who lead us off to their homes up the steep cobbled paths. We have ‘Mama’ – we practice out best Quechuan for ‘hello, how are you?’ Then thankfully discover she can speak Spanish too. She unravels her blanket that they use to carry goods and kids on their backs scoops up and ties Lara on her back and marches off, we struggle to keep up and follow her!!
We speculate on Mama’s age but she has 10 kids who are aged from 32 to 12 and a good few grandchildren! At their home some of the children and grandchildren live with her – they have a little two-storey mud house built around a small courtyard, with a field behind, a donkey and a couple of pigs! Her tiny kitchen is a welcome spot out of the sun and Ben and Zoe ask to help prepare lunch which is a wonderful soup and fried cheese, followed by a lovely herb tea, another aid for altitude! They seem to lead wholly traditional, poor but peaceful lives, they have an outside loo and tap (actually two loos – one very old hole in the ground which seems the walls will fall down in a gust of wind and one very smart newer one with a western loo but you still need a scoop to flush – maybe bought with tourist money?!) and Zoe watches, fascinated, as a young girl washing her hair in the field next door with a tap and a bowl, whilst a young man washes his football kit!! Then Mama shows us some of the hats and scarves she’s made and plaits some pretty woollen flowers into Zoe’s hair.
After lunch, Mama leads us up the path where we meet the other visitors and our guide and hike up the mountain to the two summits – Pachamama and Pachatata, Mother and Father peaks, passing ancient pre-Inca terraces, many still farmed, looking out across the sparkling lake and eventually reaching the summits where there are small temple areas, in which they still hold religious celebrations.
It’s a stunning sight and we sit around waiting for the even more lovely sunset, Ben Zoe and Lara running around and hankering for more expensive Snickers or Kitkats being sold alongside alpaca jumpers and hats by the ladies who carry a ton of them up the hill every day to sell to any willing tourists!
Later we buy some hats and a little Amantani miniature tea set from Mama who helps Ben and Zoe make a little fire underneath and play with her grandchildren for a while.
After supper, we are dressed in some traditional clothing and taken off to a welcome party at the village hall when we all dance the night away before stumbling back across the dark fields to our rather uncomfy beds!
In the morning, its pouring and we realise bow difficult life can be with rivulets of eater running across tour courtyard, and slippy rickety steps that I’m amazed the little kids can navigate! I’m glad to know Erika slept OK and Mama feeds us breakfast then leads us down the hill again in the rain to our waiting boat.
We head off across the lake again to Taquile, another remote traditional island, but there’s quite a swell, we all feel dreadful and Ben of course is sick!
We hike up and over Taquile. It’s really tough at this altitude!! We reach the small main town and see all the local people in their costume, all the women are spinning and the island is renowned for its fine weaving. Over lunch at a local restaurant , are told all about their local dress and traditions, unchanged for centuries before heading back to the boat the other side, down 500 ancient steep steps. There are locals carrying up huge bundles on their backs, skipping up like mountain goats!
Back on the boat for a sunny and much calmer trip back. Near Puno we stop at the famous Uros reed islands! Highly criticised as having become 100% touristy (well we are tourists!) and allegedly even dragged closer to Puno so more tourists can visit on shorter trips. Also allegedly no longer inhabited but with traditional dwellers making the daily commute themselves to welcome tourists and pretend they still live their traditional lifestyles. The place seems somewhat deserted but for the little band of villages who greet us on one of the many little islands that float together. There are some 200 tiny islands made from stacking up wedges of reeds onto the floating mud bases and building straw houses, seating, boats etc…. Some young boys are taking a swim in the freezing lake – this doesn’t look like part of a show!
It’s hard to tell, there were some 200 people in boats attending a meeting! And just a few on the different islands waving at us as we arrived. They explain their crafts, show us a few wares to buy and invite us to look around their homes. It’s hard to believe they are really living in these houses anymore they are so tiny and basic and lacking in, well, everything, except a small tv set?! It was amazing and I don’t think I care one bit if they actually live on the mainland now – who could blame them. Everything is damp, the ground feels spongy and its a little bit smelly!!!
And then its back to ”civilisation” and the noise of traffic and busy Puno, back in our nice hotel, where we really appreciate the shower, bath, fresh soft sheets, good mattress and dry floor! Zoe says – ‘Mum if it wasn’t for the rough boatride from Amantani to Taquile, that was the best thing on our whole trip!’
There follows a couple of days of Martin working, kids schoolworking, a visit to an amazing old iron boat, made in Liverpool , dismantled, shipped and dragged over the Andes on mules, then reassembled on the Lake – fascinating and the treat of watching a couple of movies on satelite tv!
And then its a short bus ride south to Copacabana, Bolivia. The border between Peru and Bolivia cuts across the lake. At the border we’re relieved to have an easy and relatively fast emigration/immigration process after hearing of our American friends had a complete nightmare! We are exceptionally lucky that the British, due to our own relaxed visa rules, get to enter all S American countries on a free visa at entry. Its made our trip so much easier and cheaper than for US, Australian and Canadian citizens who pay $139 at each new country! The kids have fun haggling to change some money with the traditionally clad Bolivian ladies !
Copacabana is much more laid back, small and beautiful than the Rio version, and much more pleasant than Puno too. We stay at the fabulous Cupola hotel, perched on a hill, overlooking a gorgeous bay!
We sit on the main street and sip coffee watching the world go by, chatting to people and the kids watch, and get involved in some street entertainment, we meet a lovely Swiss family, visiting for a wedding and we see the amazing blessing of the cars – people drive their cars here from across Bolivia to have them adorned in flowers, washed in sparkling wine and blessed for safe travels and low maintenance! It is truly a sight!
We could stay longer but Oma is poorly with the high altitude so she, Lara and I get on a bus to La Paz the next day and on to the lower altitude of Coroico. You can read about it in Escape to Coroico and Martin, Ben and Zoe stay on for a day or two before heading to La Paz themselves. More on Copacabana in a blog soon to arrive from Martin, aside from his cheeky ‘we are splitting up’ blog! and more on our fun times in La Paz and the rest of Bolivia.