White water rafting, home stay, goodbye peru and hello La Paz

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South America » Peru » Puno » Lake Titicaca » Taquile Island
April 27th 2007
Published: April 27th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

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White water rafting
After our exertions on the Inca Trail we had a few days of R & R in Cusco, while some of our GAP group went into the Amazon Jungle. We decided to spend one of the day’s white water rafting on the Urubamba River. We took a two hour bus journey south west of Cusco with a bunch of Israelis (who got great satisfaction from quoting the latest Borak film) to our base camp. Here we were given a 30minute demo on dry land about all the commands that we would be given and the actions we would have to respond with. This was probably the second scariest part of the day as the instructor told us about all the ways we could screw up and we realised an appreciation for our left and right was crucial. Something both Tom and Gem have failed to grasp over the last 28 years.

We didn’t waste any more time and set about navigating the grade 2 and 3 rapids with the rest of our team. Luckily for us we didn’t need all the responses we were taught and we spent an exhilarating 2 hours rafting down the Urubamba. (Although Tom did nearly knock our poor Japanese team member out of the boat when practising ‘hard right’ in shallow waters). We took it in turns to lead from the front of the raft which was the most exciting, enjoyable but exhausting part of the boat to paddle from. The excitement got to Gemma so much she spent most of her time at the front in hysterics and forgetting to paddle.

Now the scariest part of the rafting was the bus trip back to base camp. Our driver was a mentalist who had no worries overtaking around blind corners or through gaps that weren’t there. Before we came to South America we were worried about getting mugged or perhaps even kidnapped in Bolivia, however after spending a month here we believe our most likely cause of death will be in a bus crash!!

In the evening we went back to Cusco and had dinner at probably the best place to eat in town, Jack’s Cafe. Here the portions are huge, with quality ingredients prepared to a high standard and not a Pan Pipe Band in sight. After a few days in Cusco our patience started to give with the pushy street sellers. Our responses to them which started out as ‘no gracias’ quickly descended to ‘no thanks’, ‘no’, ignoring them completely or for one poor shoe cleaner who wouldn’t leave us alone, even though neither of us had leather shoes on ‘I’ve got f#$king trainers on, now f#$k off and leave us alone’.

Now while the street sellers can be irritating and rude, they have got strong competition from some of the Israelis tourists we met. Whether it is listening to their I Pods through speakers on a public bus (similar to the hood rats in south London but without their taste in music), or more annoyingly, blatantly trying to push in when queuing for restaurants, they have no qualms invading other people’s space and acting the victim or injured party when challenged. Now I can’t think where they’ve learnt that from.

We were glad to leave Cusco although our next stop, Puno, was hardly the nicest place we’d been to date. Puno was our base for exploring Lake Titicaca and the island where we would have our home stay, Amantani. We set off around Lake Titicaca on the slowest boat ever to set sail, taking an excruciating 3

Gem´s team won, although Tom was top scorer
hours to travel the 18 odd miles to our first stop Taquile. Our visit to this Island seemed unclear as there was little here apart from a ‘Woman’s Co-operative Weaving Project’ which had little for sale and who’s product was not too dissimilar to items sold everywhere else in Peru. We then sailed for another excruciating hour to get to Amantani, where we met our hosts for the home stay.

We were taken to our home stays to settle in before our hosts took us to the Island’s football pitch (3900 metres above sea level) for a game of footy. Playing football at this altitude (or doing any proper exercise) quickly resulted in all but the locals moving and breathing like drunk emphysema sufferers. Tom scored a beast, controlling a throw from the keeper on his chest before volleying it into the bottom corner from all of 10 yards. Needless to say, it was probably Tom’s sixth or seventh attempt at the same trick, with the previous efforts going high and wide over the goal and down into the valley below.

This probably annoyed the opposition keeper a little as he had to retrieve the ball but not as much as Tom exclaiming ‘keeper’s ball’ after every shank. Gemma took great pleasure in the fact her side won the game, but undoubtedly her best moment was unknowingly clearing a wayward opposition shot with her face in a true Jens Lehmann fashion.

After the exhausting match we were taken back to our home stays for what we were told would be a delicious meal with massive portions. Gemma & Tom lucked out as they were served raw potato soup followed by hard rice and potato stodge. The most unnerving part of the meal though was being guests of honour. All the family ate in the poorly lit kitchen with only the stove and candles providing light. The women sat around the stove with the men on benches close to the small table we were seated at as a centre piece.

As the guests of honour we were given the largest portions and our every mouthful seemed to be eagerly watched. Always smiling, we persevered through our worst meal to date, constantly repeating ‘this is delicious’ in the local language from the crib sheets we were given by our guide. The fact the islanders have their own language and their Spanish was as good as ours meant the conversation between us was as good as the food. Tom thought the scene was similar to a nativity play with lambs and kids (goats & children) running around. All we needed was for three wise men to turn up.

After our awkward dinner finished we were dressed up for our night of dancing down the local community centre. Tom got away with only having to wear a poncho over his clothes while Gemma had to wear a very fetching 3 skirt and crochet blouse combo. At the community centre we got to dance with our hosts as a local (surprise surprise) pan pipe band played to the room. Their dancing seems to be very similar to country dancing but less organised. It was an amusing evening but it did get a bit tiring as we were at about 3800 metres above see level and each tune (& subsequent dance) lasted about 15 - 20 minutes.

The next day we said goodbye to our most hospitable and friendly hosts and set sail back to Puno. On the way back we stopped at the man made floating reed islands Uros. We were given a talk on how the Islanders live and how they make and repair the islands. The sun was out in force and most of the GAP group (well the boys) were keen to get off the island and back to Puno (nothing to do with the Champs League Semi Final starting in a couple of hours). Before this could happen we were invited to purchase some more local handicrafts. Now Peru is quite a large country made up of a number of ethnic groups, however the handicrafts appeared to be almost identical wherever we went (same patterned hats, gloves, socks & blankets) and we were starting to get a little suspicious of their origin. When invited to browse the goods and the island itself, Tom went looking for a pile of ‘made in china’ tags he believed must have been taken off the ‘locally’ made products.

After one more night in Puno we started our last day on the GAP tour and headed for La Paz (Bolivia), via Copacabana on the edge on the edge of Lake Titicaca. The lake seems a lot more impressive on the Bolivian side, probably due to the colour of the water or perhaps because when travelling in the hills beside the river you get a better perspective of its size and beauty than you do chugging along in a boat.

La Paz seemed an ugly city when we first arrived. The roads are cluttered and the buildings and architecture are rough and messy. Even the old square, which appears to be the focal point for all the South American towns we have visited, seemed baron and unkempt. However the nightlife is probably the best and cheapest we have come across so far. When we went for our farewell drinks with the GAP group we went to a cocktail bar in the more affluent area of town. A two hour bar tab between 12 of us came to 375 Boliviano (25 pounds!!!). Best of all, unlike Ecuador and Peru, you can actually buy European Lagers here which has made Tom very happy.

We now have four days off before we start our next GAP adventure and are currently slumming it in the Five Star Camino Real Hotel and Spa in La Paz. Our Suite has a kitchen (if you leave the washing up the cleaner does it), bathroom with Jacuzzi bath, Bedroom with humungous bed and lounge and living area. We haven’t ventured down to the Gym or Spa yet and surprisingly we are having trouble sleeping at night, it must be the altitude.

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10th May 2007

sounds lush
Just been reading your blog, sounds lush. Bring me back a made in China Bolivian gift. I bet tom loved the Stella, you take the boy out of England but you can't take the England out of the boy. Well, wight water rafting, dressing like the locals, good company, a spa what more could you want out of life. You are soooo lucky. I look forward to the next instalment, this is better than Corrie and Eastenders. p.s Tom no going to any sex museums, and Gem no ordering any spitroats. all our love Loz and Sam x x x x

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