South America Blog16
We left Puno in the chilliness of the morning, and followed the road as it hugged it’s way around Lake Titicaca.
As we rode closer to the Bolivian border, there was a slight change to the houses, and the dress of the locals. We began to see alot more bowler hats, and long black ponchos. Apparently the bowler hats were introduced to the Andes back in the 1800’s, and the ladies of the area adopted them with gusto.
They are very beautiful, with round faces, ruddy brown cheeks, long dark hair tied in plaits, all of a similar length to each other, and adorned with pom poms, or flowers at the ends. The little bowlers are worn very high on the head (as I demonstrated for you in yesterday’s photos). The skirts these ladies wear are ruched or pleated at the top, with a lot of petticoats underneath to add wideness, and the jackets, or waistcoats are bright pinks, yellows, greens. Just looking makes you smile.
The border was a very busy looking place, but in fact was pretty straightforward. There were just a lot of people selling their fruits, drinks, nik naks, and all dotted throughout the roads. Apparently Friday is market day on the Peruvian and Bolivian side of the crossing, and it is so busy you can barely find your way through to the migration offices. We had wondered how busy it would be today being New Years Eve, but it was a fairly straightforward 2 hours. Whilst I waited for Paul to queue, I had a lot of people coming by for a chat, with curious questions or wanting photographs, so that passed the time quickly. We have changed time zone and are now only 4 hours behind the UK.
Our ride the other side was just 25 miles to a hotel in a tiny town. As we rode along the temperature dropped sigificantly to 6 degrees celsius. Although we are still at the other end of Lake Titicaca the mountains here are quite high, causing some fog, dampness and cold.
We appear to be the only one’s staying here tonight at Hotel Akanapa, it’s good value and clean, what more can we ask.
Today was something we had both been looking forward to, a visit to the famous Reed Islands, (Las Islas de Orus), on Lake Titicaca.
We had both had fitful sleep because of mild altitude sickness. It is advisable to sleep at only 500m higher than your previous night when trying to acclimatise, but that just isn’t possible here as there is nowhere to stay. Hence we are 1300m higher, and probably that meant we rose a little too quickly.
Anyway, we were collected in a little bus at 9 am, and taken with a few other passengers to the boat terminal for Lake Titicaca. This morning had dawned with rain, and overcast, which was a bit disappointing. Before long, we were chugging away with 10 other passengers and our guide telling us all about the history of the islands, up to present day.
There are 87 of the floating islands remaining in use, and they house 2,000 inhabitants. The islands are made entirely from reeds and anchored into the lake for stability. Each island is different in size, but the one we were taken to housed six families. We saw only one man on the island, so were not quite sure if all the ladies were his wives….. There was mention of his wife number one.
We were taught by our guide how to speak in the local language too say hello, I am good, ‘waliki’.
We had a warm welcome, and were talked through local customs, daily habits, eating habits, cooking, which foods they ate (trout, kingfish, duck, seagulls). Plus more details of history:
The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake Titicaca. The dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called Khili (about one to two meters thick) that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every three months. This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot much faster. The islands last about thirty years.
Each step on an island sinks about 2-4" depending on the density of the ground underfoot. As the reeds dry, they break up more and more as they are walked upon. As the reed breaks up and moisture gets to it, it rots, and a new layer has to be added to it. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands. Because the people living there receive so many tourists now, they have less time to maintain everything, so they have to work even harder in order to keep up with the tourists and with the maintenance of their island.Tourism provides financial opportunities for the natives, while simultaneously challenging their traditional lifestyle.
Food is cooked with fires placed on piles of stones. To relieve themselves, tiny 'outhouse' islands are near the main islands. The ground root absorbs the waste.
After this we were given free time, and were taken in groups of three to look inside a house, and then be shown the handmade goods made on the islands. Some of these were truly beautiful, and a small handmade tapestry takes about 2 months to make. I was also allowed to dress in Uro clothes, which amused Paul greatly, but was fun.
We felt honoured to see this life, ok, so it may be mainly a tourist attraction now, but it’s very humbling all the same.
After returning to our hotel, and a supermarket visit, we found a tiny little place for our lunch, where there were no lights, and no choice, it was just a clear vegetable soup, followed by a thin slice of beef, rice and roast potatoes. Accompanied by a very dark purple drink, which we bravely drank, unsure of what it was. Thankfully, no upset tums followed, and all for the princely sum of $4.00 US!
We had fun and games this morning, chasing around for a member of staff to pay our bill. To say that the hotel was quiet is an understatement. It was very unusual, sited in a very large park with two swimming pools on an urban estate, manned at both entrances by security guards.
Once we made our getaway, we found our way back out of the town relatively easily compared to the whole shenanigans yesterday, but still had to file out of the busy town in queues of traffic. This raises the question of where they are all travelling to, there is the bedlam of trucks, collectivo buses, taxis, motorcyclists and drivers all jockeying for position, until they reach the edge of town, where it all ends abruptly- do they all turn around and do the whole thing in reverse?
The road 34a was a good one sweeping upwards higher and higher, and mainly populated by coaches and slow going trucks, making it a good ride, if a little busy. When we first stopped for a drink, about 10 am, I noticed I was a little short of breath, and it was pretty chilly. After buying us a drink, I came back out to find there were snow drops beginning to fall, so we escaped quickly.
We knew we were climbing high, but were both quite surprised when we saw the sign which read 4,528 metres (14,716 feet). By far the highest we’ve been. We stayed up that high for a long time, and both of us noticed a tingling numbness in our fingertips, shortness of breath and a slight headache.
However, those things did not bother us at all, we were in the Andes, the real Andes that we have only seen in photographs, with colourfully dressed ladies, Llamas, Vicuna, pampas and plateaus, surrounded by mountains for as far as the eye could see. Wow. Just wow.
Our route turned us onto a lesser used road than the main one, a shortcut maybe, and we were very happy to enter further into the villages, just to see. It was all going really well, until the last section which was a challenging 12 mile half road, half dirt washed away type of thing. But we took it slowly, and made it into Puno at around 3pm, found our hotel (one recommended by John & Wendy- thanks!), before heading into the town square for a look around and a bite to eat.
We managed to sleep surprisingly well in the strange place we had picked to stay last night, despite the three cockroaches in the bathroom. We had reminded ourselves of the place back in Panama for Paul’s birthday with the rationed generated electricity, and thought ‘well, it’s not that bad!’. The accommodation in Peru so far has been a real mixed bag for us, but nothing dirty enough for us to take in our own bedlinen (yet!).
There was no breakfast supplied, so before long we were off like the wind, overtaking the slow going vehicles, before making our turn inland away from the sea.
We stopped by some roadside bamboo constructed shops, three in a row all selling the same things, crisps, sweets and milk from the area.
After a nutritious crisp and coke breakfast, we were back out in the busy traffic, this time passing by alot of agricultural land, sheep, cows, dairies advertising milk, yogurt and mozzarella cheese. All these green fields are neatly set amongst the remaining sand dunes.
Suddenly in the distance the ghostly outline of mountains appeared looking ten times as high as the rocky little mountains that were distinctly in our vision. We’re back near to the Andes. Exciting! We’re very much looking forward to seeing what’s to come.
The day was going really well, we only had 3 hours riding, and when stopping at a minimarket I managed to buy rice, tuna, stock cubes and restock our pantry. We felt happy, with only 12 miles to go.
Oh dear, I had the hotel marked on Google Maps, so clearly, and the route was to take us straight there. Do you think we could find it? An hour and a half later, after going round and round, up vertical climbing streets, and dodging one-way systems, we finally found the hotel inside a gated neighbourhood, behind further gates (of somewhere we had visited ½ hour earlier!). Slightly frustrating, but when we arrived there is plenty of secure parking, and a very decent room for the night. Happiness soon returned.
After an early rise this morning, we enjoyed our last breakfast with John & Wendy.
It really has been interesting meeting up with the (Desmo) Deckers, who have their sidecar attached to a larger bike than ours. They started their journey in Buenos Aires 6 weeks ago, and have another lovely 5 weeks to fill. They have already visited the Salt Flats at Uyuni, Bolivia, and Cusco in Peru, where they made a very long day trip (3am-11pm) to visit Machu Picchu. They have had a wonderful time, and it was great to share stories and enthusiasms together (as well as Pisco Sours and Pina Coladas). No doubt we shall meet again in the UK sometime in the future.
We left the hotel, with a sad look back and made our separate ways aong the same route, John & Wendy heading in search of a campsite to pitch their tent, for a few days, and us with a definite destination in Camana.
With rested bodies and renewed enthusiasm it wasn’t long before we were thoroughly enjoying the scenery of the Pan American Highway. It all seemed less grubby, the faces were a tiny bit more smiley, and the scenery was becoming mountainous in places, with contrasting colours. All that whilst riding with the Pacific Ocean at the right of us for most of the day again. A wonderful blue, lined with long sandy beaches, and huge waves. Stunning.
After 240 miles along the same road, we found our destination. Hmm, how to describe? A glorified beach hut maybe? Still, it’s very close to one of those sandy beaches. We went on a fools errand to the sandy shores lined with tiny restaurants, which weren’t serving any food (?), and where the bar we chose had to go and buy their drinks from elsewehere before they could serve us. But the view, just wonderful.
Eventually we took a chance on a roadside shack restaurant ‘El Escorpion’ and ate heartily of chicken, cooked to perfection and served scalding hot with an extremely hot pepper on the side. I only raised this pepper to my lips, and stuck my tongue on the tiniest part, and it felt like my mouth had been forced into a roaring fire!
Tomorrow we start heading inland for the first time in Peru, so we shall see what that brings.