Beunos Tardes from Uyuni!
Last time I emailed you all we were waiting to go on our trek to Machu Picchu and into the jungle. That´s all done now and we´re currently in freezing cold Uyuni, Bolivia.
The trek was amazing. Pretty hard for the first two days as it was UP UP UP to 4600m. The air was so thin we got puffed out very quickly and were stopping and starting quite a lot! After the second day we reached the highest point and from then it was downhill all the way thank god! We were camping for two nights and it must have gone below freezing both nights, thermals, t shirts, jumpers, fleeces, hats, scarves and gloves to bed and I was still freezing! The first morning we woke up there was ice on the tent and llamas pooing round the corner...nice. What was good about our trek (Lares Valley) was that we passed through lots of little villages on the way to Ollyantatambo (The stop off before Machu Picchu) and met loads of kids and families. The kids were not Spanish speakers they spoke Quechua which is an indeginous languages in South America; but they knew enough to say hello and out their hands out for sweets! Very sweet though. The local people were prepared for tourists, the first night´s camping in Waka Wasi was accompanied by a woman with a bag full of beer and coke to sell us! Unexpected but very welcome!
Once we reached the highest point, Sayacocha Pass, it started snowing! Earlier in the day it had been a boiling hot, glorious day but two hours later it was like being in a different country! Apparantly if we´d been much slower we wouldn´t have been able to get over the pass at all!
The rest of the trek was much easier on the lungs as the altitude got lower, but the calves were definitely complaining by Wednesday night when we reached Ollyantatambo. We had the chance to have a shower (A freeeeeezing cold trickle but absolutely beautiful!) and food before getting the train to Agues Caliente and a nice hostel before going to Machu Picchu the next day. As I said the trek was great but Machu Picchu was AWESOME. It was pretty surreal to be there but well worth the trek and the money!
After Machu Picchu we returned to Cuzco (In bed by half 8!) before heading to the jungle on Friday morning. We flew to Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon Basin (Though our flight was cancelled to begin with and we never thought we´d get there!) and were taken by motor boat to a jungle lodge.
My first sight was a massive spider which did not impress me but I just about coped. The difference in the climate here compared to Cuzco was amazing. It was seriously tropical and we needed sun cream! Very nice after the nights shivering in Cuzco! There were lots of activites laid on at the lodge, a trip to Monkey Island (We saw one monkey) Cayman spotting at night on the river which was cool, a trip around the national reserve (Good but too long on the boat for us and not many animals to see) and a trip to a clay wall to see hundreds of parrots. That was excellent. The only activity I was unable to do was a night walk into the jungle to look for tarantulas! I completely wussed out but Wendy went and loved it! I, however have absolutely NO regrets! Tarantulas are really not my thing!
After the jungle we headed to Puno, south of Cuzco and FREEZING!! Puno was the "hop off point" (According to the Lonely Planet!) for trips to Lake Titicaca and the floating islands. We took a trip to Orus which was the most bizarre thing I have ever seen! There were about 40 floating islands and they were made from reeds. Everything on them was also made of reeds including their houses. One family of about 10 live on each of the islands and each island elects a "presidente" who is in charge. They make their living through tourists mainly and also trade at local markets once a week. We were told that each island lasts for about 40 years and they constantly have to build up the floor of the island with more reeds. Also, if they get bored they can pay a motor boat to tow the whole island to another location, handy if you don´t like your neighbours! We took a reed boat to the capital of Orus before heading to Taquile which is a natural island on Lake Titicaca. This place was VERY geared towards tourists, the local people were charging for posed photos and you couldn´t move for local crafts and stalls! It was a long walk up to the main plaza, Lake Titicaca itself if over 3000m so once again the thin air was doing my smoker´s lungs no favours!
We learnt a bit about the way of life from our guide, the most interesting to me was that they don´t have wedding rings on Taquile, but whether a person is single or married depends on their clothes. The single men wear hats that are white and red, they have to knit their own completely red hat and are not allowed to get married until they have done this! Their wife must weave them a belt which thay can wear once they´re wed. The single women wear brightly coloured clothes or black with colourful pom poms to attract the men! Once they´re married they wear black.
The whole day was very interesting and if I was to go again I would definitely stay on one of the floating islands. We´re short on time so only did a day trip.
We´re now in Uyuni and are taking a three day trip in a 4 x 4 to visit the salt plains, lagoons and geysers of Uyuni tomorrow. If we survive the trip (Our tour person said there´s no gasoline in Uyuni!) I will update next week!