5-7 May 2014 Monday through Wednesday. We were again faced with another early start of a day...5:40 am with a rendezvous with the luxury bus that would he take us to Puno on Lake Titicaca departing at 7:20 am. Our tour agent used Wonder bus, a competitor to the Inca Express. We would have five stops along the way, arriving in Puno about 5 pm.
The first was the town of Andahuaylillas where the interior of the 17th century church is compared to the Sistine Chapel, with paintings of the Last Judgement and extensive wall decorations. While interesting and different, I've seen the Sistine Chapel and this is no Sistine Chapel.
Next we stopped in Raqchi at the Inca ruins known as the Temple of God Wiracocha, who was the supreme god. This city was on the Inca Trail in a separate section of the Sacred Valley, both sharing the same river. The temple is the largest built by the Inca. The city also includes homes and granaries and is surround by a wall with only the royals and priests allowed to live within its boundaries.
This was followed by a lunch stop at Sicuani, with another buffet,
but not to the quality of previous lunches. We then drove to La Raya, the highest pass on the way to Puno at 4335 meters (14,222 feet...just 112 feet higher than Pikes Peak that looks over my home). There were many craft sellers and cholitas with their alpacas.
Finally we stopped at Pucara to visit the museum with artifacts from a precursor to the Inca civilization. This earlier civilization lasted a thousand years, during which many technological advances were made most of which were adopted and improved upon by the Inca, a civilization whose pinnacle was only a hundred years from 1400 to 1532 when the Spanish arrived.
We arrived in Puno about 5 pm. After checking into our hotel we walked to the main square for supper. I had the causa, a mashed potato and lime based dish that can include various meats. Mine had trout. Linda had a chicken dish with a Peruvian sauce. It was delicious. We planned to return the following evening.
On 6 May we took a boat to the Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca. These islands are made of reeds, and with constant replacement of the reeds can last up to
fifteen years. We took a ride in a traditional reed boat, and then saw demonstrations of how the islands were constructed.
Our next stop was Taquile Island...a real island made of land. To reach the village where the fine weaving took place we had to climb steep steps for about 40 minutes. Linda and I were far behind the others with the exception of Achillies, a native Peruvian who was a musician in an orchestra in Mexico, his Irish wife, Sharon, and 13 year old daughter Lilly. Achilles also had trouble walking as a dog had bitten his heal a week earlier...to which I replied "Ahh...your Achilles Heal." How often does one get to say that and be factually correct? To give us strength, our guide broke some leaves off a plant and told us to sniff them. This along with the coca tea helped at the time, but I don't think we would pass a drug test. Indeed, a few days later when going through customs and immigration in Mexico, the sniffer dog focus on my backpack, which I had to empty, holding up the line.
We finally made it to the top and looked at their
woven products. It turns out that the really valuable knits are done by men starting at age 14. The men are the only knitters. Between the ages of 14 and 18 they have to knit a cap where the quality is determined by whether it can hold water for several minutes without leaking . Their prospects for marriage are determined solely on the basis of the quality of their knitting. Of course, these are not sold to tourists...only the "inferior" products that are sold everywhere. We then walked to a restaurant for a delicious lunch accompanied by local music and folk dancing. We returned to our boat by a different route, and then returned to Puno. After the hard climb we were too tired to go the the restaurant where we ate the evening before, so we Skype'd the kids and went to bed early.
On 7 May we left early with the first stop being the Bolivian border. This is where a tour guides assistance is invaluable as the Bolivians are not tourist friendly, especially Americans as the Bolivian government has been in the same camp as Cuba and Venezuela. I changed $20 into Bolivianos, and then we
walked the 300 meters to the Bolivian immigration office where we were to pay $135/person for visas. I had not been informed that the bills had to be in perfect condition. Many of our $20 bills were rejected due to minor defects. We had to pay the balance due with the Bolivianos we had just changed. However, the exchange rate was different and we owed another 3 Bolivianos...about 50 cents. Our guide paid the three Bolivianos and I gave him the rest of my sols as a tip. We finally got our visas, but I couldn't believe that we could be denied visas for a matter of 50 cents or slightly used bills. This is just one example of the Bolivian government not encouraging tourism. They could learn a thing or two from the Peruvians, where we always felt welcomed.
Our first stop in Bolivia was Copacabana where we visited the cathedral and the adjacent shopping district. We then boarded a high speed catamaran with plush seats and tables for eating a snack and later a dinner. We headed to Sun Island, the traditional birthplace of the Incas. We docked on the south side of the island where we
were confronted by 140 steps to a tourist attraction that featured gardens planted on the Inca terraces. Linda decided to wait for us on the catamaran...a wise choice as she would have never made it. I barely did. There were also demonstrations of various crafts and a shaman ceremony where candy representing various desired objects such as a car, and coca leaves were burned. I didn't understand what he was saying, but his motions reminded me of those of a Catholic priest at a Mass. This blending of the ancient indigenous religions and Catholicism is known as syncretism.
Following this visit our group split, with some returning to Puno. The majority continued on to Chua where we caught a tour bus to La Paz. The trip to the new town of Alta on the outskirts of La Paz takes an hour, and an hour from there to the center of the city. The traffic is horrific, reminding me of Bangkok. We were so tired we skipped supper (granola bars again) and went to bed.
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