I just returned last night from a long weekend in Puno and Lake Titicaca with two other volunteers, Genelle and Claudine. It was a little vacation from vacation, if you will. A week ago a meteorite crash-landed outside the city of Puno and soon thereafter locals complained of headaches, nausea, and vomiting—ostensibly from gases emitted from the meteorite—but I haven´t seen any sign of the meteorite and I´m not turning green (at least I don´t think I am), so I think all is well.
We spent the first day of our trip visiting several small towns between Cuzco and Puno to see the ´Sistine Chapel of the Americas´ in Andahuaylillas, some extraordinary Inca ruins in Raqchi, and to visit a museum with pre-Inca exhibits in Pukara. Once we arrived to Lake Titicaca (which is the largest high-altitude lake in the world, by the way), we visited the Uros islands, which are floating islands made entirely of tortora reeds—the islands are essentially large, floating rafts that the people live upon. Walking on these islands feels a bit unusual—your feet sink in and it´s kind of like walking on a firm waterbed. The inhabitants of these islands use tortora reeds not only for the foundation of the islands themselves, but also to make boats, weave baskets, and as a healthy food source—once you peel away the outer parts, the juicy inner bits of the reed are a nutritious source of iodine and calcium. We tried some of the reed…it was okay, but could´ve used a vinaigrette.
After the Uros islands, we went to the island of Amantani—one of Titicaca´s ´true´ islands (i.e., non-floating). There are no facilities on the island—meaning no stores, no hotels, etc.—so if you want to stay, you stay with a host family. The three of us met with our host, Delia, who took us to her family´s home, which was a traditional, rustic adobe hovel not unlike the ones in Pumamarca village (except big enough to host guests). The house had no electricity, no heat, and no indoor plumbing, but we were relieved to discover that there was an outhouse with a sink and a semi-normal toilet, so it wasn´t as rustic an experience as it might have been 🙂
Although the house was simple, Delia and her family welcomed us warmly and treated us well. We enjoyed simple, but delicious food such as quinoa soup (quinoa is a widely used grain here), omelettes, and several varieties of potatoes, all of which are grown on the island. They also served lots of La Muna tea, which is a medicinal herb used to treat headaches, stomach aches, and other altitude-related maladies. This herb proved to be quite useful when we hiked to the top of Mt. Pachatata after lunch, which is approximately 14,200ft above sea level. At the top are the ruins of a temple to Pachatata (Father Cosmos). The locals walk around the temple three times—the first to honor the gods, the second to honor the living, and the third to honor the dead. We did the same and then prepared to stay to watch the sunset, but a storm was brewing and we quickly descended before it had a chance to blow us off the top. It turned out to be a magnificent storm.
On our last day, we left our host family and hopped on the boat for the island of Taquile, one of the most visited islands in Lake Titicaca. There we enjoyed another hike and lunch before heading back to Puno. It was an interesting bus ride home. During the trip we had several ´mystery stops´—one so the driver could tinker with the engine (that´s always a confidence-builder), and two stops at police checkpoints so they could confiscate god-knows-what from the luggage compartment. Still, although it was a long ride back, I am now safely back in Cuzco and ready to enjoy another week at the Pumamarca school. Sadly, it will be a short one because we all leave for our trek on the Inca trail on Friday. It will be the culmination of an amazing and memorable time in Peru.