Hi everybody from Cuzco, capital of the Incas.
We have had a very eventful couple of days on and around Lake Titicaca. We arrived in the town of Puno and set off early on Sunday morning on perhaps the slowest boat on the Lake. We did not mind, however, as it was a very relaxing sail and gave us a chance to take in the impressive surroundings and recover some more from our altitude sickness, which is similar to a hangover without the fun bit beforehand.
We arrived at the beautiful island of Taquile which is inhabited by around 1000 people. It is totally isolated from the mainland (as most islands are I hear you say) but I mean totally isolated. There is no electricity, the islanders have their own culture and dress code and legal system. It is an island cooperative which means that everyone works for each other and shares the profits from their craft work. According to locals they are the best weavers in the area and this was proven by numerous grannies wandering around just weaving away and smiliing at you as they did it.
The island is significantly reliant on tourism and this is reflected by the amount of locals (particularly children) who approached us trying to sell us some of their wares. We bought a selection of coloured bracelets and now look like bona fide travellers. Albeit we dont have dreadlocks yet. I dont hold out much hope for this personally.
After checking out a local shop and watching the local elders announce the minutes from their weekly meeting we went off to one of the numerous restaurants on the island. We had a hefty climb of about 200 metres which, at about 4000 metres above sea level is no mean feat. But the effort was worth it as we had a terrific local meal looking out on a spectacular view over the lake.
After lunch and some exploding tea (so named for the abrupt gaseous evacuations it causes) we got back to our boat and set off for Jaquile (sp) for our homestay with a local community. We arrived and came off the boat to be welcomed by the local band which paraded and serenaded us up to the local school building, which serves as a sort of community hub. This was a very humbling experience and everyone felt like Michael Palin. Vicki has just advised me that she was very emotional about this. Anyway, we were all divided up and introduced to our adopted families for the night and set off to our new homes to dump our stuff before returning to the school for a game of football. To our alarm our home was about a kilometre away and vicki and i almost collapsed by the time we got there to the obvious amusement of our hosts. Anyway we got back down just in time for kick off and Im sad to say that we were not able to avenge Scotlands dismal draw with Peru in 1978, however I did score our opening goal. Vicki had to be replaced early on after inflicting some Terry Hurlockesque challenges on the locals which initially seemed to jeapordise the entire stay.
Anyway after the game we hiked back to the house to meet the whole family. There was Pedro and Matilda the parents and three daughters whose names all began with "Sol" and richardo the cousin who was very eager to practice his counting in english with us, and also bizzarley was fixated with pointing out the toilet to us.
We had lots of fun with the kids with cuddly toys and we had to draw pictures of ourselves, which they were less than impressed with.
It came to dinner time and enormous bowls of quinoa soup. We thought this was it and were stuffed, but to our alarm this was followed by a huge bowl of rice and pasta for us to share. Alas to our increasing surprise this was infact Vickis bowl and further bowls of equal magnitude were provided for all. Needless to say we were absolutely stuffed.
We had some coca tea to finish off and this helped somewhat with digestion but we were now begining to understand Richardos fixation with pointing out the toilet.
After dinner we were helped into local costumes which involved a poncho, various headgear and further colourful adornements for me and four brightly coloured skirts and a bowler hat for vicki. We trecked back down to the school for a party with the locals. This involved a lot of local dances which some of the girls from our family took part in, we were very proud. Then we were asked up to dance and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the local dance was perhaps the easiest i have ever encountered as it focuses on holding hands and rotating one hand forward then the next. The primary aim being to see the girls numerous and multicoloured skirts swishing about. This was entertaning at first but it emerged that each song went on for approximately 45 minutes and I began to long for an opportunity to do a Bez step.
The night was a great success and we all said our goodbyes to walk home in the pitch dark. This was a long walk and one local girl helpfully held my hand on the way. After 20 minutes when we were approaching what I hoped was our house I began to panic as to whether this girl was in any way related to our new family and that I had not just taken this poor six year old on some considerable detour from her own house. Fortunately it turned out she did live near our house so I am grateful to her for bringing me home. Who knows where I would have ended up without her guidance.
We slept well despite an enormous moth trying to keep us awake. We awoke two hours earlier than planned as I had misread my watch but this was a blessing as the family was awake and it gave us a chance to meet their lambs and pigs which was good fun.
After a gargantuan breakfast we said our emotional goodbyes and set off for the floating islands near Puno. The area is collectively know as Uros and is made up of around 30 islands all manmade of reeds. Every house is made of reeds as are the boats and lookout towers you can see in the pictures above. It was fascinating in how the islands survived and what had lead to inhabitants to occupy them but it was very tourist orientated and our entire group was left with a pretty weird feeling when we were told that the entire community had been sailed up the lake to the nearby settlement of Puno in order to attract visitors more succesfully. However, we went out for a tour on one of the boats in the picture and that was good fun.
After all this excitement we returned to Puno into the middle of a band / dancing competition which involved lots of local bands and groups of dancers parading around the town. It was very noisy but quite entertaning. That evening the town was full of locals and there was a good atmosphere. We all went out and Vicki and I had a local speciality of pizza washed down with Pisco Sours (which are tremendous by the way) We went to bed tired but very happy.
This morning we took a seven hour bus journey to Cusco. This reaffirmed our previous discovery that in order to obtain a driving license in South America you need to be certifiably insane. Beeping you horn indiscrimantly every 20 seconds or so is obligatory as is death defying overtaking maneouvres on blind corners (if any parents are reading this that was just artistic license) (everyone else, I assure you it was not)
Anyway we arrived in Cuzco this sarvo and it is great, probably the most attractive settlement we have visited so far. We went to a really cool restaurant for lunch and we are now slowly downloading the zillion pictures we have taken. Will upload them as soon as we can.
Anyway friends thats it for now as my wrists are gettng sore.
We are off to the rainforest tommorrow for a couple of days and then going on the Inca trail straight afterwards so the next blog entry will update you on all of that.
A and V