Once over the border, and the buses flat tyre fixed, we were on our way again, and soon arrived in Puno, where I booked into a hotel for a couple of nights. Once settled, I paid for two trips, one for the following day, and the other for a two day tour out onto the islands of Lake Titicaca, where I would spend the night with a local family.
So, on Thursday 18th August, I had breakfast, and then went to the market to buy a kilo of rice, sugar, bread and oranges for the family I would be staying with the following day.
In the afternoon, I went on a trip to the pre-Inca site of Sillustani. It's an ancient burial ground set on a peninsular jutting out into Lake Omayo, which at 3900 metres, is actually higher than lake Titicaca. There are a few Chulpas there, which are burial towers, and some good views, but that's about it. A pleasant enough afternoon though, and I learned a little about Pachamama and Pachacaca, which are the earth mother and earth father of the indigenous Indians. Like most belief systems around the world, it's base is one of duality.. You have the sun and moon, night and day, good and bad, ying and yang, man and woman, heaven and hell and even heroes and villains. And that's the secret to life folks.. Balance!
Friday the 19th of August was the start of my two day trip to stay with a family on the island of Manatani. I put my rucksack in storage at the hotel, and got picked up by the tour company. There were twenty people in our group, and we got on the boat Don Jose, which would be our transport for the next two days.
The first stop, were the Uros islands, which are basically man made islands constructed from totura reeds. Before I went, I wasn't really that bothered about seeing them, as I thought it was a bit too touristy, and even though it was, I'm glad that i did, and highly recommend it. Stepping on the islands was really weird, like somebody had put lots of layers of sawdust and woodchips on top of a sponge cake is the only way that I can describe it. Apparently, when the community wants to move location, they just up anchor, and paddle to the new place in the lake. Why exactly they would want to do that was never really answered. I ended up buying a few more souvenirs, and had a short ride over to another island in a totura reed boat, although I was slightly disappointed to find out that it was kept buoyant by hundreds of empty plastic drinking bottles. It's one way of recycling them I suppose.
After that, it was a three hour boat ride to the island of Manatani. We landed, and it was a steep walk up the cliff where we were met by the families we were due to stay with. The lady whose family I stayed with was called Anselma, and she was really nice. The door to the room I was in was tiny.. really in the land of the little people! Inside was a lot better than I expected however, and in the absence of a light (no electricity) there was a candle to use after dark. After a late lunch, we walked to the top of one of the mountains, where there was a temple dedicated to the Pachamama, and watched the sunset, which was pretty spectacular, with a Peruvian band playing in the background. As we walked back down again, a full moon started rising from the sea, making it even better.
With dinner (egg and chips… ace!! hey, it's local food! They've been eating chips since way before we did!) in our bellys, it was time to prepare for the fiesta. We were required to change into fancy dress, and mine consisted of a blanket with a hole in it for the head (a poncho in other words), and some form of Peruvian birthing hat. The fiesta was held in the community hall, and it was with some relief that I saw that all the other tourists looked at least, or even slightly more, ridiculous as I did. There were two bands playing, who alternated after each song at opposite ends of the hall. I'm not sure if it was the altitude or what, but there were a lot of grinning buffoons doing some sort of electrocuted frog impression. I then realised that they were dancing. The local women were the ones to get things started, and I was looking forwards to dancing with the village beauty queen to the sound of panpipes, a ukelale and a bass drum, but I somehow found myself a target for a succession of toothless old crones who seemed to have taken a shine to me. At least they had good rythmn, I suppose. Slightly concerned by this, and the fact that I was starting to turn in to one of the grinning buffoons, I opted out after a while, and headed to the bar. Well, table with beer on. It was run by a pikey looking village elder with an ace leather cowboy hat on, and now, with my excuse for not dancing in my hands, I made my way outside to where a bonfire had been started, ignoring the seductive eye (singular, definitely in one case) of the gap toothed grannies of the community. I met up with a couple of English girls about the same age, and we lamented that the rave scene had gone downhill since the heyday oft the early nineties, although one Austrian appeared to have taken all the E's, and most of the other letters in the alphabet, too. Just as I was about to get a second beer in, Anselma came over, and a sudden cold shudder hit me as I thought I might have to make a tit of myself dancing again. No worries though, it was just to tell me and the French girl also staying at the house that it was time to go back.. ten o'clock curfew, ace!
The next day, I got up early, and walked to the top of the settlement, where I sat on a rock, and slowly watched the village come to life around me as the sun rose. It was quite peaceful sitting there, with wood smoke drifting across the valley, pairs of birds flitting around, and a tiny, young lamb following an ancient old man as he carried a bundle back to his house. Had breakfast of pancakes, and wandered back down to the docks. It was an hours boat journey to the island of Taquile, where we walked to the village at the top of the hill, with plenty of good views along the way. We had lunch just up from the main square, and had a look around some handicraft shops, but compared to the prices in Bolivia, they were far too expensive. Another walk back down to the southern port, and then a three hour boat trip back to Puno.
I met up with the two girls at night, and wanted to stay out for a few more drinks, but my fascist bully boy of a landlord wanted to close the hotel at 10.00 p.m. … Another curfew!! Still, it probably did me a favor, as I didn't spend the bus trip to Cusco the following day feeling like Inspector Gadget.
Monday 22 August sees me staying in hostel in Cusco which has a high comedy value but low quality rating. I haven't seen a place this ineptly run since Fawlty Towers, and the ongoing construction work is being undertaken by builders who clearly weren't related to the ancient Incan architects, but, at 20 soles a night, it's cheap!!
Visited Qorikancha, which was an old Inca temple which the Spaniards built the Convento De Santo Domingo on top of. The foundations are still Incan stonework, and inside, are a mix of Inca masonry, walls and Christian religious artifacts. I bought a tourist pass for all the major archeological sites in the area (excluding Machu Picchu), which will last for ten days and cost 70 Soles.
The following day, the rubbishness of my hotel becomes even more apparent when the builders cut through a water pipe mid shower. I go out to complain, and nearly decapitate myself on a section of ceiling which they've constructed at a wonderful five feet eight inches high, and then nearly bump into the cactus which they've strategically placed in the middle of the hallway. I decide to give up, and return to my room, to discover that I've locked myself out. Help is at hand though, as the builders didn't quite fit the glass in the window properly, and i can easily lift it out from the nails it's wedged between, thus gaining access to the room and my Mr. Blobby towel to remove the soap from my upper torso. This place is ace, and I'm determined not to swap hostels just to see what other oddness occurs.
The last site was Chinchero, where the Spanish had again built a church on top of the foundations of an Inca religious and governmental centre. The inside of the church was quite spectacular, although almost gaudy.
Wed 24th, and after leaving my big rucksack in the incapable hands of the receptionist of my dodgy hostel, I walked over to the train station, and at six fifteen on was on my way to Machu Picchu. The four hour journey passed through some amazing countryside and past several impressive looking ruins and terrace systems before arriving in the town of Agua Caliente. I booked into a hostel which had four walls AND a roof AND water and had a look around. The town was little more than collection of hotels surrounded by dozens of shops and market stalls all selling the same sort of Bohemian looking stuff. it was inevitable that I'd end up buying even more junk, and so I am now the proud owner of a new bag. Had an early night in preparation for the next day.
Another five o'clock start, and after a quick breakfast, I walked over to the bus stand, and after paying $12 (you what!!!!!) for a return ticket, I caught the fifteen minute bus to Machu Picchu.
I'm almost lost for words (which is a first!!!) on how to describe it all, so I'll go for a few short sentences instead.
cloud mist drifting between the mountains.Lines of terraces. Two section, ceremonial on left and functional on right. Still possible to avoid the crowds on the right side. Sound of a river running below. Warmth of the sun. Small birds flying from rock to rock. Faces trapped in the surrounding mountains. The colour of some of the rocks with black stripes. The building in harmony with the landscape. A seat carved below an overhanging crag. Running water and fountains were important to the Incas. A mix of stonework styles from rustic to Imperial. Powerful, majestic.
Anyway, that about sums up six hours of wandering and sitting around the site. It's seeing things like this that make life so amazing, and that given even a thousand years, i still wouldn't have time to do and experience everything I would like. Just to sit down and appreciate places like Machu Picchu in a quiet, out of the way corner of the complex is something that would be harder to do with company, and I think that's why I prefer travelling alone.
Although I've still got ten days left as i write this, and I've still got one more site to see, it feels like the end of my trip somehow, as I plan to get back to Lima. I withdrew what is now positively the last money I can, booked a twenty one hour bus ticket for the 31st, a hotel room for four nights in Lima. I had my boots repaired at a market, some stitching done on a rucksack, and bought yet more junk which i hope to Ebay. Failing that, people are going to end up with Christmas presents that look surprisingly like the gifts they got on my return!
Welcome to the Hospedje Porta!!!
It really was a tremendous place, although the lack of water for the last three days was a touch inconvenient.
Whilst in Cusco for the second time, I went on a city tour which covered some of the archeological sites close by, such as Sacsyhuaman, and although they were interesting, I have to say that it was a bit of an anticlimax after Machu Picchu.
I spent a few days doing not a great deal, and then caught the 21 hour bus to Lima.
I'm staying in the area of Miraflores before I catch my plane on Monday 5th, and land back in England on Tuesday 6th, so maybe it's time to think back over the trip.
The places that I've seen… such as Palenque, Tikal, Easter Island, Machu Picchu and Teotihuacan.
The people that I've met.. That mad Spaniard who insisted it was perfectly acceptable to get half his calorie intake a day from beer. The Peruvian Bullshit guys. The guy who had such amazing stories about Africa. Bumping into somebody on the roof of a train who was also from Northampton. The two girls who remembered back to the rave days. The three guys in Honduras, who with me managed to turn a quiet bar cafe into a death metal sanctuary for the day. A hundred people who pointed me in the right direction. The smile of a waitress after a long day on a bus. The village women with their layered skirts and bowler hats. The Rastas in Belize.
The things I've done… Swimming with sharks. Caving to reach an ancient Mayan site. Cycling around a temple area. Staying with a family on Lake Titicaca.
The things I've learned.. Wear sunblock. Have plenty of Immodium.
And so much more. I'm a little bit sad now that it's all but over, but also in a way, looking forwards to returning home and even to work. (It's going to feel good having money come in rather than going out for a change!). I hope everybody has enjoyed reading about this trip as much as I have enjoyed being on it, and keep in contact, as I'm already planning my next one!!
Thanks, and take care all