We’re on the bus all day and the scenery is very sparse, so lots of time to read or sleep – and for Edgar to tell us about Peru. The first part of the trip we were on the same iffy roads as yesterday but eventually we reached the Pan American highway, which is better, but still only two lanes. However traffic is sparse.
Monday, July 8
Today we had a long day in the bus going from Colca Canyon to Puno and reached the highest point of our travels in the high Andes, 16200 feet, at one point we stopped at a lookout and could see see all the major mountains and volcanoes of that area. A least one is active and you could barely see smoke coming from it.
At this altitude the land is barren, no fuel, all rock and scrub, very few people live at this elevation, especially in winter. Llama and alpaca eat the only scrub you can see, it’s s very rough grass they need because of their digestion. You see absolutely no homes or buildings for miles and miles. It’s cool but not cold, the sun is out, no clouds, just clear sky. It rarely rains at his time of year.
I felt better today. I had a small breakfast, no coffee, lots of water. The people of the Andes drink coca tea for the altitude and there has been coco tea in the lobby of each of our hotels. A friend following the blog asked me to explain what I know about altitude sickness. Apparently it hits some people worse than others and is usually started with headache and upset stomach, some people are knocked over by it and have to go to bed, others are barely effected. The hotels offer hits of oxygen if you need it, and chewing coco leaves or drinking the tea is helpful. You really notice it when you climb stairs though. I’ve had a bit of a headache but that really didn’t effect me.
We’ve had two people fall ill during the trip. Martha because of a spike in her blood pressure, not related to altitude, she is flying from Arequipa to join us in Cusco, which is a lower altitude. The other is Ellie, (she’s from Colorado) she’s not sure but thinks it may be something she ate, and perhaps she was more susceptible to the altitude and that made whatever she has worse. The rest of us may have had some very mild episodes at the higher altitudes but not much. The trick is too drink a lot of water and lay off anything that will dehydrate you, and get lots of rest. The fact that I live close to sea level in Bellingham and come here to 16200 ft without feeling too poorly is amazing.
Today we’re seeing lots of alpaca and llamas. As we go down in altitude we see more huts and domesticated animals. The people here raise alpaca for the wool and meat. I tasted some alpaca which they say is healthy because it has little fat, but it was tough, some said it’s like elk meat.
Domesticated alpaca are used to make wool for clothing and its very expensive! One shawl may cost $ 1200 in the better shops in Cusco. Apparently there is a joke in Peru. Question: What three animals does a Peruvian woman want in her home? The answer: Alpaca in her closet, a jaguar in her garage, and a donkey to pay for it all. Yuk, yuk.
Edgar, our tour guide is 97% Inca and 3% Spanish, every time he forgets something or makes a mistake he says its the 3%! He’s very proud of his Incan background. He told us his father had only a few years of elementary school and worked hard all his life, his mother had no formal education and had a stall she worked for 50 years. He said she was a tiny women, very strict. His father travelled a lot so she brought up the six kids. When Edgar became a teenager his father asked him if he wanted to think or sweat. He said think and his father said good and he was sent to college. Five of the 6 kids in his family have degrees. Edgar taught Peruvian history to HS students for several years before he became a tour director. He leads two tours a month for Gate One and lives in Cusco the rest of the time. He has two children his 30 year old son is a civil engineer and his 18 year old daughter is about to enter college and she too wants to study engineering. Edgar is cleat very proud of his family and his heritage.
Life is hard in the Andes. You see herds of alpaca in the middle of a field and a hut and an animal pen quite a distance away. A woman is standing by the herd in Peruvian style clothing ( many layered colored skirts, a blazer, a multicolored shawl and always a hat) sheparding the herd. Every morning she herds the animals to a place where they can graze for the day then bring them back to the coral at the end of the day. They do this all their lives. There is nothing for miles, not a tree in sight, they burn dung for cooking fuel and live in a mud brick house. They sell the wool and meat from the Alpaca to get money for things they have to buy.
On the outskirts of Puno, which is the border between the Aymara and Quechua people and located on Lake Titicaca, we pick up Broz our local guide. He is a mixture of mostly Aymara, with some Quechua and Spanish. Broz is 32, married with a young son, and he took a degree in tourism. Although he’s educated and sophisticated, he is very much a local person and clearly proud of his Punoian heritage. He’s very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and has a huge smile. Cute too.
Our first stop with him is the Sillustani tombs, above ground burial chambers, (called chullpa) some are pre Incan and others Incan. Families were buried in these chambers in the fetal position with household goods. They also had gold and silver which represented the sun and moon. The metals had no other value – until the Spaniards found the tombs and enjoyed new found wealth by looting the tombs. The Inca people expected they would be reincarnated and wanted familiar things with them. Unfortunately the gold and silver led to the tombs being ransacked by the Spaniards.
We finally arrive at our hotel right on Lake Titicaca, the Libertador Lake Titicaca. It’s right on a peninsula so all the rooms have a water view. Unfortunately I can’t get WIFI in the room and its seriously poor in the lobby as well.