Saturday, November 3, 2012

You know what I mean?

Today, we are exhausted. Ben and I sat for over an hour this afternoon in Cuzco´s Plaza de Armas, staring at a fountain. We then went to ¨the world´s highest Irish pub¨ -at 11,000 feet- and watched the entire Manchester vs Arsenal soccer game. We just came off the Inca Trail, four days of waking early, walking up millions of stairs, and relishing in the company of good people, physical activity, and beautiful scenery. It was fantastic.

Between Arequipa and the Inca Trail, we stayed in the city of Puno (also known as the ´folklore capital´of Peru) for three nights, of which one was spent on the island of Amantani, about three slow-boat-to-china hours out in Lake Titicaca. Only three minutes into our taxi ride from the bus station in Puno, we realized that we were going nowhere. The only information I had obtained before coming to Puno was that the city was known for its festivals, and you would be hard off to be there on a day when there wasn´t a festival going on. Stalemated in our taxi, and only about 5 blocks from the hotel we were to stay at, we realized that the thousands of ornately costumed Puno-ians were not letting up their festivities in the street anytime soon. So, we passed along a couple of soles to our cab driver, grabbed our bags, and headed onto the street. Full of color, a repetitious mantra of music, and costumes of what we assumed to be reflections of folkloric characters filled block upon block of Puno. Being as it was nearly impossible to make our way to our hotel, we set down our bags and, entranced, watched the next hour of parade. We came back later to see more, and then even later to see the pinnacle of dancing in the Plaza de Armas. We even left to take a cruise on Lake Titicaca, and the festivities were still in full force when we returned 2 days later!

The typical touristy thing to do in Puno is take a trip to the islands on Lake Titicaca. We decided to take the regular trip, and then spend the night on the island of Amantani with a local family. Our hotel owner was quite helpful and assured us that it would be cheap, our boat would be fast, and we would have a great time. Nevr one to completely believe things in developing coutnries, we knew it would be fun enough just to be on the lake and see the islands. We left early in the morning and made our first stop at the ´floating´islands of Uros. While historically interesting- the islands are indeed ´floating´built upon a strategic arrangements of reeds and roots- the islands themselves no longer house actual inhabitants, but instead an array of overpriced knick knacks and overly dressed ´traditional´Urosians. It was like a floating section of Epcot Center at Disney World.

A little disappointed in the first section of our journey, we ventured onwards into Lake Titicaca with a great group of internationals on our little putting boat. We watched as every other group of tourists sped past us, and realized that we, again, were on the cheapest trip. Luckily for us, the cheapest trips always have the best compatriots, and we chatted away the three hours to the island of Amantani. We arrived to the beautiful island, where most inhabitants still live as they did hundreds of years ago. We stayed with a local family at their farm, in a comfortable room decked out in Minnie Mouse comforters and ridiculous Peru tourism posters. The members of the community rotate tourists each night, so that each family gets a share of the meager stipend that we paid, and each family only gets tourists once every couple of months. It seemed like a good system from our end, as then the money was evenly distributed. We were able to hike up to the top of the island that night, a beautiful 360 view of Lake Titicaca, with our whole group. Needless to say, Ben and I were at the front of the pack, the altitude of about 12,000 ft only minimally affecting us! It felt great to get out and hike, and the journey upwards was a great confidence booster for the upcoming Inca Trail, which caps at about 14,000 feet.

A group of 6 of us stayed at the same homestead (there were about 20 people total), but ours happened to be the most language-inept of the group. With Ben and I speaking minimal Spanish, we attempted to communicate with some snotty French girls (who also spoke minimal Spanish, and little English) and a couple from Lima who only spoke Spanish. There was a lot of repetition to get conversations going, and altogether our meals were a little tedious. Also of note was the final dinner at the house- a miracuous mix of three starches! We have had issues in Peru with the constant double-starch meals (usually a meat plus potatoes and rice) but this meal was...drumroll...rice, potatoes, AND macaroni (with a thin tomato sauce) though kind of tasty, we dreaded the next 24 hours, when our intestines would surely curl up and die.

Our intestines didn´t die, thank the lord, and we traveled back to Puno the next day to see the end of the weekend long festival (of what, we are unclear), to which we realized that Punoians just love life and love a party! The next day we headed northward to Cuzco, where we´d quickly be scooped away on our trek on the Inca Trail. More on that to come!