07 January 2010

Two Days of T & A

Sprang up at the sound of a train passing around 6am. “JEEEZUSS!”

After breakfast at the Eco Inn, we stored our big bags and headed off to the lake with an overnight bag. Mmhmm... repacked & departed.

UrosThe four of us were taken to the boat, Wayra Cusi, that would carry us around Lake Titicaca for the next 30 hours with our guide Clever & Captain Elias. The first stop, about two hours from Puno, was at one of the Uros Islands (Waliqui), part of a network of floating islands made entirely of totora reeds that grow in the lake. Clever and Hugo, the presidente of the island where we stopped, gave a brief presentation about island life then the tourists were whisked off by one of the five families living on the 90’ stretch of “land” to see their dwelling and ideally purchase one or more items they had made by hand.

The highlight of our stop on this Uros island was my encounter with a kitten. I think I had seen about 12 cats in total since arriving in Peru, as compared with the 200 dogs I’m sure I’d seen.

Maybe if I weren’t predisposed to feelings of guilt, I would have enjoyed the experience more; but as it is, I felt torn about how vaguely exploitative this encounter was until later in the day when speaking with Jason about it. I was led to a slightly different and more positive perspective about the role of the tourist in the life of the Uros Islanders, an Aymara speaking people of Lake Titicaca.

Just as a heavy hail storm came in, we cruised on towards Amantaní Island. The Quechua speaking people of this island greeted us warmly, and the passengers of our boat were separated to go with our host families for the night. The four of us were to stay with Sra. Valeria, who, as it turned out, is the wife of our captain. I recognized upon landing that I would probably like this place much more than I had the previous stop. Sra. Valeria led us uphill toward her home. During the walk, S began to feel ill. Altitude sickness had struck. Our host mother started immediately to collect leaves, and S encouraged us to go ahead and leave him there for 10 minutes to try to recover. After showing us our accommodations with very low ceilings, our Sra. Valeria gathered some more leaves from her garden and used them with the ones she had collected to make an infusion for S: ruda, muña, coca, and salvia. This may have been my first sighting of real traditional medicine. We only had coca & muña in our infusions. She also gave S eucalyptus leaves to put under his chullo (alpaca wool hat) which she or her daughter had made. He was sick for pretty much the rest of the day & night.

Our lunch consisted of quinoa soup followed by an omelet with rice and potatoes. Very simple, but satisfying with a cup of mate de coca & muña. That afternoon there was a soccer game with the locals, but we opted to go for a short hike up the female mountain on the island instead. At the top there is a temple around which you can walk counter clockwise and make a wish. Various wishes were made.

Before descending the wee mountain we had picarones with sugar cane syrup that reminded me of molasses. Really, this was just to give us enough energy to get back home for dinner after a short rest. After a variant on quinoa soup, we had a creamy sauce of potato, carrots, zucchin, and other vegetables over rice. Needless to say, this was followed by a mate de coca.

Time to dance!

Sra. Valeria and Capitán Elías gave us each a poncho to don with our chullo and then we headed off to the big dance party that was being held in honor of the visitors. A band of andean musicians played a series of long traditional songs, to which we danced in big group circles mostly. A few dances and a beer later, we headed back to Valeria & Elias’ house, even though it seemed Valeria could have “partied” for another hour or so. S had already gone back since he was sick. It was a valiant effort on his part to go out in the first place. Upon arriving at our casa for the night, M, J, and I lay out in the field to gaze at the second most impressive night sky I had ever seen (first was in Namibia a couple of days after arriving at Harnas).

Our breakfast the next morning was two light, thin pancakes that were not quite crepes. These we had with either sugar or jam. Obviously, we had mate de coca & muña to drink. We said our goodbyes to Valeria and set sail for Taquile Island, where supposedly it is the men who knit.

The visit to Taquile was relatively uneventful. We were to stroll uphill to the Plaza de Armas, hang out for a while and optionally look at artesanías, then have a fixed touristic lunch. The vistas were indeed pretty, and lunch was tasty enough: pancitos with encebollado, sopa de quinoa, trucha a la plancha with rice and potatoes, and a maté de coca and muña.
Taquile child playing

During the three hour boat ride back to Puno, I stayed mostly on the top deck to get some sun and recharge. Jason & I had our second longish conversation up top. We arrived back to the Eco Inn to clean up before venturing out for dinner at Don Giorgia, which had been recommended to us the day before.

Puno dinnerThis was one of our better dinners as a group. Complimentary pisco sours to start may have influenced this perception. We started off sharing lomito de alpaca (small pieces of loin of alpaca) which were coated with a yellow fine grain and served with rectangular cheese pillows rolled in quinoa cereal. My main was cancacho andino with oca and potatoes. Everyone seemed happy. The bottle of wine (a Peruvian Tannat) we shared may have also contributed to our opinion of the general quality of the meal where the pisco sour left off. Not surprisingly, I ordered a coffee, which ended up appearing on the bill, while the other three in my party got complimentary coffees identical to the one I ordered. For dessert, we shared a wine-poached pear with sabayonne.

The following morning we were off to Cusco. Ready, get set, go!

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