Arequipa was at the start of our altitude acclimatization at 2,325 metres above sea level, it is a beautiful city surrounded by volcanoes, El Misti being one. I don’t think I’d ever tire of looking at the view. Arequipa actually means “Lying behind the peak” ,and I can totally see where the name comes from.
We spent the next morning exploring the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, not just a religious building but a whole town within its walls, founded in the 17th Century by a rich widow who only accepted nuns from the very best Spanish families. Traditionally the second Daughter of upper class families entered a nunnery supposedly to live in poverty. In reality each nun had between one and four servants, they invited musicians to perform, had parties and generally lived in the style to which they had become accustomed to!
After our culture overload we upped our game and tried a cheese flavoured ice cream in the square before retiring to a local hostelry in search of new beers for the ever-growing list.
Next day was another long drive to Lake Titicaca, at 3,820 metres above sea level it is the highest navigable lake in the world – I remember that one from school and have always been fascinated, (another one off the bucket list-more to come). Our hotel was about fifteen minutes outside of Puno, more by accident than design – I was looking for a spot for the Hulk to rest, a lucky accident as it turns out because Puno is a hole, dirty, smelly, congested, ugly and full of garbage! Nothing at all like the picturesque port I was envisaging!
We stayed in Chucuito and our hotel was on the shores of the lake with fantastic views over it. We seem to be the only four guests there though and walking down the long dark corridors put me in mind of some ’70’s,’80’s ‘B’ movie murder mystery. Gaz thinks more like “The Shining”, expecting Jack Nicholson about to leap out at any minute. Back to the village, Chucuito is a traditional and very friendly place, if you can call traditional having a fertility monument in the form of several stone phallus, which the local girls sit on in the hope of success! The local villagers even enjoyed, (I think), my little jig to their pan pipe band! Here we also ate our cheapest, most authentic locally produced meal of the holiday and it was really filling and tasty too.
We are not really “organised trip” people, we have been on too many where you are rushed from one interesting spot to another, before being dumped at some local shop for 45 minutes! But since it was the only way to visit the islands on Lake Titicaca, we booked our trip, H even had the opportunity to stamp our passports with a Lake Titicaca stamp….if she ever wanted it, a good career in passport control awaits!
Lake Titicaca,the lake that school tells us is the highest navigable lake in the World,oh and it’s also big!!! Oh and the Canadian trout that live in it seem to have eaten every other fish in it…almost!
Anyhow the best way to see the lake and its floating islands is by way of the tourist trip route and so having booked our tickets I, Ann and D+H were picked up by taxi and conveyed to the docks at Puno early in the morning.
There we joined the massive crowd of jumbled up people waiting to board the pretty much identical boats and were able to breathe in the noxious fumes of the boat engines as they started up. I believe Peruvians only breathe a small proportion of oxygen mixed in with their carbon monoxide if this and the roads are anything to go by. With this theory it must be the fumes and not the altitude that accounts for the difficulty in breathing normally!
And so, we set off on what was described as a speed boat which to be fair did appear to trounce the other boats on the lake.
Lake Titicaca has a group of islands known as the Uros Islands, these are floating islands which are made up of reeds taken from certain parts of the lake and bound together to make an island on which the locals make their homes.
We were taken to one of the floating islands to be met by their President! The sensation underfoot is unusual to say the least and it takes a short while to get to grips with the fact that you will not slip through into the lake.
Three families live on this particular island and they keep herons as we would do chickens! Any visits to the doctor or school must be made to one of the other floating islands in the reed boats, they even have a different island for the bathrooms! They do have some mod cons powered by solar panel so it’s not all primitive.
For the princely sum of 10 Nuevo Soles all four of us piled into one of the reed boats which despite being full of passengers was quite stable,and went for a short spin around a portion of the lake. Most relaxing and a chance to breathe clear air, enjoy the Sun and take in the superb views.
After visiting the island we set off once more to Taquile where there was a chance to work against the lack of oxygen by climbing from the jetty to the main part of the village.
Culture vulturing once more we sat to be entertained before lunch by the way in which the locals dress and carry on their daily lives. Washing clothes using ground up plants for detergent, who knew! Also everyone is a big knit on the island mostly the men and I mean in the form of making their own garments, the ladies do a good line in weaving as well.
Prior to lunch, traditional dance was shown by our host and hostess. Little did we realise that a couple would be selected to try this dance out and little did Dan realise that he would be one half of the couple. Game to the last, he got up and gave what looked to be a sterling effort. Not to be spared the rest of us were soon rounded up to take part in a group dance. I have to say that it took me back to country dancing at school which we were forced to endure as boys although the girls seemed to enjoy it. Anyway, smiles all round from everyone on this particular day!
MEALTIME!!! As is usual soup was up for first course, (Peruvians are very fond of their soup) and delicious it was as well!! The choice for main course was either trout or omelet. Ann being 100% veggie and myself not too fond of negotiating fish bones we plumped for the omelet. It was a good choice as it was gorgeous and stray bones were avoided!!
Then it was up to the main square for a short look-see, (after climbing some more steps, more gasping, who stole the oxygen? Hope we acclimatize soon please!) it was a comparative stroll to the other side of the island to pick up the boat to return to the dock. All downhill and a little easier on the old lungs and heart!!
On the way down we heard a young American couple discussing the island and said that they had seen llamas, mountains, lakes, and climbed steps. They thought the Machu Picchu trail was over hyped and after they had done this they thought it was just as good as Machu Picchu and they could pass their island photos off as Macchu Picchu!!
Hey, why didn’t we think of that, possibly because we came with a brain fitted as standard!
Anyhow, apart from that a beautiful day was had by all of us and although it was the organised tourist trail it was a trip all of us would recommend to anyone!!