30 March 09
We are finally in Cusco!! This is essentially the base from where we start the Inca trail (well, the actual starting point is called Ollantaytambo, but its pretty close to Cusco…we start walking on Wednesday!).
Cusco is spectacular - cobblestone streets, beautiful cathedrals and heaps of great restaurants and bars with a backdrop of the mountains. The nicest part of Peru so far… Its still really cold! Thank God for our alpaca socks we picked up on our way here…we look like little Peruvians :)
On Friday and Saturday we spent our days on Lake Titicaca (which we accessed from a little town called Puno), which is the largest and navigable lake in the world. It actually looks more like a sea - at its longest part, its 64km or something crazy like that! We took a boat out to the floating Uros Islands. I've never seen anything like it! The islands are actually made of many, many, many levels of reeds laid by locals which are then 'anchored' to the lake floor by ropes. The islands literally float! Everything on the island appears to be made of reeds - huts, chairs, boats. The islanders even eat a part of the reed (good for keeping teeth white - the only South Americans we have seen with nice teeth). We got to taste it - it's like a cross between celery and coconut - difficult to explain!
The ladies on Uros took quite a liking to Timothy - "Amigo! Amigo!" - hahaha. Always the charmer :)
A further 3 hours on our boat (which lulled everyone to sleep with the lovely (not) smell of diesel) and we were at Amantani Island. We were allocated a family and a "mama" with whom we spent the afternoon and night.
Our "mama" was 21 years old with 2 kids aged 1 and 2... I don't think she was too impressed with us coming as she didn't really want to try and communicate and pretty much kept to herself (we later found out she had a stomach ache and hadn't been feeling well. Plus, her little boy Alexis had a minor fall when trying to crawl and bumped his chin on the ground - somehow she made us feel like it was our fault for not watching him!).
I tried helping prepare lunch (mum would be proud) which consisted of quinoa soup and then fried cheese with rice and potatoes!! Talk about starch on starch! In the time I peeled three potatoes, she had peeled ten (it's pretty hard peeling potatoes with a hunting knife! I did my best…haha). The food was delish, even though Tim kept secretly trying to move his potatoes on to my plate when 'mama' wasn't watching…there were A LOT of potatoes! He was a good boy and ate them all, however :)
Their houses are made of mud bricks and are put together pretty well. They live a very simple life, basically living off the land. Our room was surprisingly nice, but our bed was very uncomfortable - deepheat anyone?
After some football (gringos v locals - GRINGOS WON! Good goal, Timmy!) and hiking up another mountain which also took our breath away (again, literally), it was time for the disco which we would attend with our families. We met our "papa", Arturo, who was just awesome and made us feel really welcome. He helped us get all dressed up in the traditional dress of the islanders. For Tim, this simply meant a poncho. For me, this meant two full skirts, a blouse, belt and shawl - all wonderfully colourful of course!
Then, at altitude, we danced the night away. It would have had to have been the highest disco in the world at the time… It was a lot of fun, but also took a lot out of us (I should mention, underneath my costume, I had on ALL my clothes I'd been wearing that day, including pants and three layers on top - its freezing there at night!! So, I was pretty hot, sweaty and tired after it was all over).
The next morning, after some pancakes with our families, we said goodbye and caught our fabulous diesel boat to nearby Taquile Island, where we trekked for another hour to reach the town centre (the smallest and quietest town centre I'd ever seen).
Tim, Brendan, Aimee and I were just dying for a cup of coffee (and a free toilet) so we nestled in at a little café looking over Lake Titicaca. To our surprise, the waiter brought out a giant thermos of hot water, a can of milk and a tin of Nescafe (good ol' 'Blend 64'!). I guess its all that could be expected of a little café on a small island in the middle of nowhere… But, we were glad enough to have some caffeine running through our system and 3 cups later we were ready for lunch (quinoa soup and trout - farmed locally of course).
Just a note on courting rituals on Taquile Island - if a boy likes a girl, he has the opportunity to let her know at the annual parade by throwing a rock at her. If she turns around and smiles, then she likes him back. If she runs away, well, he better throw a rock at someone else.
Talk about tough love! This left us pondering: what if you were a bad aim and hit the not-so-pretty one? Or, what if she turned around at the wrong time and got sconned right in the face? Could you then retract the throw…?? Our guide didn't have an answer…