We’re tired when we get to Puno, late at night. The thrill of our escape from Copacabana earlier in the day has worn off. It’s night and we, the group, go for our first Peruvian pisco sours. Again, it’s the older ones that stay out later than the under 30s. We’re up early and there’s a ride to the Uros islands already waiting for us in the street. The taxi-cabs or tuk-tuks are they called? It becomes a regular mode of transport in Peru but right now we’re adults racing each other, snickering, and taking photos all the way to the port where our guide waits.
It takes 20 minutes on the water before the floating clumps on the water become actual homes. Houses and schools floating on reeds. How can this possibly work? I’d tuned out of the guide’s explanation, rather asking a friend whether the mown symbols in the mountains were political or just sports advertising, turns out both things. There’s an old woman and three others who serve as tour guides of their floating homes and they explain in Quechua, translated by our guide, how they live.
We sit in a circle on a chair made of reeds, floating on a 2metre floor of reeds held up by another metre of mud, which is meant to be the main base of the Uros islands. An ibis runs out from the house and steals a piece of fish lying in the centre of the circle. We all laugh and they shoo it away, apparently the ibis make pets here. She explains to us about their lifestyle, their culture, trade, all of which I can’t remember later on but they then perform a dance, ask us all to dress in their traditional clothing (reserved for tourists) and their children lead us all around the island.
I feel invasive. These families have had to resort to tourism to maintain their culture and now it seems like things here are just commodities. There’s an old reed bedroom with a mat and stitched blankets on the floor with an old 90s CD player beside them. Then the children take us outside and the women have set uo a makeshift market selling cloths, jewellery, tapestry… the same as what I’d been seeing since Peru. Children show us their drawings then ask us to buy them. Two worlds combined. Why do I suddenly feel responsible for this?
We say farewells then go back to Puno, split up for lunch and share the wealth in the mercados restaurants. Three girls and I go for chicken and chips, a lady and her daughter’s only customers. We get snacks for the road and we get on the truck for Cusco, our Uros guide coming too. It’s supposed to be a short drive to Cusco so we stop at ruins along the way. A cemetery for the Inca and Ayman chiefs in Sillustani. The tombs are above ground, circular, and we can Lake Titicaca from the views on the hill, where the largest and empty tomb rests. The tombs were raided by the Spanish, just like the entire continent, and many structures are collapsing. The largest one, 2 metres at least, which overlooks the valley and two lakes has a distinct carving of a lizard at the top. It’s speculated to be ___________.
We sit on some rocks overlooking the other lake, it’s massive and there’s an island in the middle.
Want to hear a story? He said that more than once. We like our legends and superstitions in Peru, I heard that from many Peruvians.
Supposedly a woman who once lived in this area was visited by the Gods or a voice who told her to leave the village and when she heard screams, to ignore them. She leaves and then hears screams (as there is an earthquake) and so she decides to return to the village where she is then turned to stone. The village sunk to where the river is now and the island is where she stayed.
Walking back to the truck he tells another story, one of my favourites, of the Sun gate, the door to the mystical realm. The legend tells of four musicians walking through the countryside where they come across a man on a white horse who invites them to play music at his party. They go. There is song, dance, food, alcohol and many more white people are at the party. Everybody drinks and celebrates including the musicians, except for one man, an Evangelist. As everyone becomes drunk he notices that everybody has the legs and feet of animals. He is frightened and leaves the party. When he comes past the next day there is no house to be seen, only rock. This man and many others believed this to be hell while others say it is the door to the mystical realm where his friends simply chose to stay.
We decide to make a detour to see this sun gate, which is not so far from Sillustani. The sun is setting and we trek through weeds to find the spectacularly large rock with a space in the center that appears to be a door, carved into the wall. Again, I’m overwhelmed with desires to touch and feel the spiritual.
It’s getting late and the others want to get to Cusco, we’re briefly held up by two Peruvians on bikes, asking for money. They say we visited the village’s tourist attraction. We give them change and drive into the night. It’s a long night and we sleep most of the way, getting to Cusco at 10 or 11 at night. We’re shattered and some of us go straight to bed.
It’s an easy day in Cusco, shopping for any last trekking equipment and checking out the main square. Cusco is stunning and clean, unlike most cities I’ve seen so far. Colonial architecture and endless historical sites. It’s an early night as we have meetings with our trekking guides, Jamil and Paul, who had just arrived from taking a group to Machu Picchu.
Groups split in the morning and the classic group take a bus up to Sacsayhuamán (Sexy Woman), passing through Pisac on the way. Paul points out an old house, as the modern colonial buildings start morphing into slums. And there’s one unfinished house. It’s cursed, he tells us. There are ghosts in the building and no-one wants to finish the construction. Sacsayhuamán overlooks the city completely. It’s ruins of stone walls, detailed construction and perfect angles. It is speculated to be a fortress, it’s stones are so large, some 6 metres tall. How did they bring such stones up here from the quarries? Look for hidden symbols, animals, the Incas hid images in all their works. We find a stone llama made from stone shapes and an eagle, or was it a snake?
Overlooking the entire city of Cusco, Paul points out shapes again: a puma. The same as Lake Titicaca, also named the same. The puma, a symbol for the living to Andean culture, would appear everywhere in my travels throughout Peru.
We climb back into a bus for the next ruins, slowly approaching closer to the cloudy mountains that have haunted our nerves since arriving to Cusco. We’re headed for Pisac, passing through the Sacred Valley. We have to stop as we reach the valley. From where we are we can see the river cut through the mountains and curve out of sight, it eventually leads to the Amazon. Jump in and in about a month you’ll find yourself in Brazil, Paul says. Down in the valley are fields and villages, harvesting maiz. How many varieties of maiz and potatoes are there, 500? 800? It’s a lot. We stand in awe, once again, until we’re urged to move on.
We race through the ruins of Pisac and the Temple of the Sun, overlooking the Sacred Valley. The Inca constructed agricultural terraces on the steep hillside, which are still in use today. They created the terraces by hauling richer topsoil by hand from the lower lands. The terraces enabled the production of surplus food, more than would normally be possible at altitudes as high as 11,000 feet. The narrow rows of terraces beneath the citadel are thought to represent the wing of a partridge (pisaca), from which the village and ruins get their name. The birds are also common in the area at dusk.
All through the valley we see small holes in the mountains, graves of Inca people and once kept with treasures before the Spaniards.
Move on, lunch stop in Urubamba by the river, then we’re on the the town and ruins of Ollantaytambo. By far the most inspiring Inca structure I have seen.
Story of the warrior and his love…Terraces… quarries…temples…fountains…face carved into the mountain for solstice…old man beard near the storehouses…
We go into town for preparatory beers at a local bar, we’re sitting on the porch playing with the bar owners cat, listening to reggae. The sun sets over the ruins behind us. Free drinks for me at the cost of a too-forward bar owner, he’s drunk. quieres marijuana? te amo. I be your guide.
Early night in the hostel and we set off on a bright cloudless day to the last point before the trek begins. We’re in a field and the porters have arrived, they pack their bags while we stretch, take photos, rest, enjoy our last toilet stop.
Cusco… what happened that night in Cusco?
Racqchi home stay
Chivay- Colca Canyon
Watch the condors
Arequipa – white colonial city
Puerto Inka beach camping – Zoe on violin, bonfire, Dave on guitar, burgers, cusqueña, Ricky turns 26!
Nazca two nights – see the cemetery, camping.
Huacachina sandboarding and camping in the dunes with a BBQ and piscola
Huanchaco camp by the beach – papa mama with papas rellenos – hippy beach town
See ruins near Chan Chan
Punta Sal – hang and camp on the beach for two days – Mancora –
Cross to ECUADOR