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Arica! Arica!

Lake Titicaca - Puno - Arequipa - Arica

overcast 15 °C

Hello everyone,

As you can see, I didn´t manage to keep my promise about updating the blog on a more regular basis. Anyway, with lots to report, I better get on with it...

After a long but not uncomfortable bus journey (that took me to the highest point I´ve ever been to in my life - around 4000 and something metres - and probably will ever go to as I don´t harbour any plans to go mountaineering in Nepal just yet...), we arrived in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca (one of the highest lakes in the world, fact fans). But before I go on, just a short note on long distance bus journeys in Peru.

I feel, after having been on a number of long distance bus journeys so far, that I can speak with some authority on the subject. Peruvian buses are something of a mixed bag, and the quality and comfort of the bus you get on is usually down to pure luck. I was lucky on the bus to Puno as it was comfortable and relatively punctual. However, after discovering we´d been charged double the ticket price by the nice travel agent in our hostel, we decided to buy direct from the bus station. Bus stations are not the most picturesque of places wherever you go, and Peru is certainly no exception. So, in a bid to get in and out as quickly as possible, we went to the first desk (where the man was advertising his services by yelling "Arequipa, Arequipa, Arequipa!" very quickly) and bought a ticket for 25 soles (just under $10) for a journey on the sparkling and luxurious coach the man showed us in a picture. Job done, we thought and we chuckled to ourselves as we thought of all those naive travellers getting fleeced for the same bus journey by nice travel agents in hostels.

We arrived at the bus station early the next day and sorted out the departure tax (in Peru you have to pay money not only to travel on a bus, but also to get on it in the first place), then walked to the gate where, in the place of the sparkling bus in the picture, was a rickety, scuffed version of something that probably once was a luxury coach, but certainly wasn´t anymore. The huge crack in the windscreen and scrapes on the wing mirror didn´t really inspire confidence about the ability of the driver either. We went upstairs, past the baño ("only urinating" a sign pointed out) to our seats (we had rather stupidly chosen seats right at the front - "where you get the best views" the salesman had assured us) and gingerly sat down on two stained and threadbare seats and looked out of a window that hadn´t been cleaned for a while. And by a while I mean years. Decades even.

And so we set off on a journey that is probably the closest I´ve ever been to death. Not only was the outside shabby, it seems the workings, particularly the suspension, was also in desperate need of repair. Everytime we went round a corner (and there were lots of them on the road to Arequipa), the whole carriage leant over against the direction of the turn like an over-zealous sailor tacking in the wind. Did I mention the road wound its way through the Andes? And that it rarely had barriers between us and the bottom of the mountain? Oh yes, indeed it did, and we got to witness every single moment of it due to the excellent view we had. This was accompanied by an omnibus of Spanish dubbed Nazi films screened for the duration of the journey (The Counterfeiters, Inglorious Basterds, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and Valkyrie if you´re interested) and the snoring of the rather large Peruvian slouched in the seat next to us. On arrival in Arequipa, I prised my fingers from the handle in front of us and stumbled out, tired, shaking and with an unusual desire to form a facist dictatorship...

But that wasn´t until later. Right now, we´re still in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Puno is slightly less touristy, and therefore rougher round the edges, than Cusco. The advantage of this is it´s relatively cheap, but the disadvantage is that it´s not long before you stroll into some insalubrious neighbourhood. For me, the jury´s still out on Puno, but Patricia enjoyed it. "It feels more authentic" she said. And if by authentic you mean being barked at by emaciated dogs and picking your way through rubbish- (and possibly sewage-) strewn roads, then yes, it is more authentic than Cusco. Anyway, as we wanted to go and see the variety of islands on Lake Titicaca, we booked a two day tour with what seemed like a responsible travel agency, in terms of not exploiting the indigenous people of the islands (and which turned out to be true - we had a guide who was both knowledgeable about the islanders and concerned about not exploiting them, as well as paying the islanders directly for our overnight stay rather than handing the money over to the travel company).

The trip itself is currently still the highlight of our journey. It started off with a visit to the Uros, a community of people who live on floating islands made from totara, or reeds, that occur naturally in that part of the lake. When you first set foot on the island, it feels spongy as there is no solid ground beneath you. In fact, the islanders are continually ´rebuilding´the island by covering it with fresh reeds as the old reeds beneath become rotten. The effect of the relatively recent links to the mainland (and subsequently tourism) is also evident in that cultivating connections with the Aymara community has led Uros, the language of these islands, to die out. The last Uros speaker died in 2007, and now the people only speak Aymara and Spanish. In many ways, this dilution of their culture through tourism and links with the mainland is necessary for their survival. As they don´t pay tax, the Peruvian government refuses to fund their communities, therefore the only income they receive is from tourists. However, this creates something of a negative impact on their way of life, and I certainly felt this in the practised routines of Aymaran songs and traditional dress we were treated to. Anyway, enough politicizing...

After spending some time with the Uros, we carried on by boat for three hours to Isla Amantani, where we were going to stay the night. When we arrived, we were "assigned" to different families - our hosts were Vielete and her eight-year-old daughter, Betsy. They took us to their home where we had lunch before a long walk up to the temple of ´Pachamama´ (mother of the universe) on the top of the island´s mountain. It was facinating to see how this local community live - Vielete, for instance, lives in a small house made from mud bricks that has no electricity and no running water. The main room is the kitchen with a stove built into the walls and a few chairs and a table. In the evening, we ate by candlelight while Vielete´s father told Patricia how the island only got their first motorised boat in the 70s (before that, it took them around 24 hours to row to Puno). The isolation is still apparent - Vielete´s mother for instance only speaks Quechua, and spent much of the time, like me, not understanding what was being said. I also had the pleasure of being comprehensively beaten by Betsy at ´Jacks´, one of the few games she owned.

The next day, after waving goodbye to Vielete and her family, we travelled on to Taquile, the next island. This was far more touristy than Amantani, as evidenced by the ´traditional´hunting dance put on for tourists in the main square. The locals didn´t seem to mind though, as each break brought another crate of beer to share (and this was at 10 in the morning). Even I felt slightly sick at the sight of them swigging from water bottles full of what looked like vodka. They didn´t seem to mind though... We then went to a restaurant at the top of the island where the difference between how the islands have connected with the tourist trade was evident; lunch here cost 20 soles, whereas board with lunch, dinner and breakfast cost us 25 soles on Amantani. After lunch, we got back on the boat for a three hour trip tha took us back to Puno.

Right, that´s about enough from me. I´ll try to write ´part two´tonight about Arequipa and Arica but, as you´ve probably guessed, I can´t really promise anything...

By the way, thanks to Sarah and Steve for your message - Patricia´s feet certainly look less diseased now (we went to see a doctor in Cusco) and thankfully I managed to get my bag back after a couple of days. I won´t be flying American Airlines anytime soon though...

Speak to you all soon,

James and Patricia

Posted by Patriciah6 09:09 Archived in Chile Tagged seniors

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