Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lake in the Clouds (11-16 February 2011, Days 64-68 of 127)

Cuzco, Peru is the acknowledged capital of the Incas. The proof is in the ruins. Five big ones to be exact! Fri 11FEB was the day we visited all of them and were quite impressed with what we saw and learned.

Our tour started at 2:30pm with a visit to No 1 Qorikancha in the centre of Cuzco. This name means "The Temple of Gold" and the Spanish built a Dominican Monastery on top of this Inca site in 1535. The Spanish did this on purpose. Qorikancha was actually the "Mecca of the Incas"! Every Inca was required to visit this temple at one point in their life. The Spanish considered the Incas to be Pagans so they did their best to repress their religious sites.

But karma had its way. Three major earthquakes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the Spanish buildings crumble and the Inca ruins remain. This is because the Spanish used square bricks and mortar while the Incas used trapezoidal granite blocks that "locked" together. This involves huge bolders with "steps" or "edges" and angled sides that prevent one block from sliding over the other. The former crumbled and fell while the later just shifted with gaps but stayed upright! That did not stop the Spanish from nicking 150,000 tons of Gold and 16 million tons of Silver from Peru to Spain during their occupation.

The next stop was No 2 Saqsaywaman (pronounced "sexay waman") at elevation 3,600m and the best preserved of the 6 ruins. This huge site is 2km from Cuzco and is an Incan Royal Residence and symbol of power to enemies since was built from huge granite blocks ranging from 30 to 180 tons over 3 levels as if to say: "don't f**** with us!!! The photos you see in this post only show 20% of the total structure that survived the Spanish occupation.

No 3 "Tambomachay" at 3,765m and 11km from Cuzco, was our next stop which was the Incas ceremonial bath with water still flowing but not many structures still standing. Very close was No 4 "Pukapukara" which means "red fort" but was actually the alledged royal Incan "hunting lodge"!!! It overlooks distant valleys and mountains to the east of Cuzco.

The final, No 5 site was "Q'engo" which means "zig-zag" and is a massive limestone rock (as big as small house), the interior of which was carved out of a single massive boulder by the Incas as a place of sacrifice, featuring an altar, seats and even a sky-light so they could see what they were killing!

That night, Maureen and I enjoyed Alpaca done medium with pepper sauce in a slightly "fancier" place and it tasted like beef!

The next day on 12FEB, we farwelled Cuzco at 8:30am for a 5hr double-decker bus ride to Puno on the eastern side of Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world at 3,809m (12,497ft, only 1,500 ft below the oxygen line) - literally a "lake in the clouds"!!!

It is in Puno (Pop 178,500. Elev 3,860m), that John Cloudrunner broke another high altitude run record, not once but twice.

Two 10km runs along the lake at 3,809m (12,497ft), one on 12FEB and the other 14FEB. Runs were harder than Chivay (previous record of 3,651m) with 52min and 55min to do 10km and some pain in right foreleg on second run. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to run the highest lake in the world and do it twice! The runs where along the Titicaca shore-line. the first with plenty of sun and granny-smith crisp weather, sky so blue, water deeper blue and visibility unlimited!

The bad news about being in Puno was the need to fix my laptop which went belly-up on the 5hr bus ride from Cuzco to Puno when Windows refused to re-start during a battery change. The good news is that I managed to find a place in Puno to fix it two days later - read all about it in LAPTOP DRAMA below.

At 7am on Sun 13FEB we set out from our Puno hotel to spend the next 2 days on Lake Titicaca with an overnight stay with an indigenous faqmily on one of the islands.

Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world at 3,809m (12,497ft) and covers an area of 8,560sq km, almost the size of Switzerland! At an average of 165km by 60km, maximum depth of 600m, average temp of 9C in summer and 2C in winter, it is more like a freshwater sea. The lake was central to Inca culture, being the bithplace of the Inca Sun God.

Our first stop on our Titicaca adventure was a visit to one of the 50 "floating islands" of the local Uros peoples, some 10km offshore from Puno but still in Puno Bay.

These peoples decided to build floating islands from the native "reeds" in the lake to avoid the aggressive attacks of the Incas pre-15th Century and the sackings of the Spanish post this period.

They continue to this day!

There is a total of 3,550 Uros left living on these islands with 4 schools and 3 churches to boot! Our tour group of 25 visited 5 families living on a single island and they explained to us how they built it, how they maintain it (reeds must be replaced twice a year) and what they eat and make. This is not a place for the very active but the absence of stress means they can live to up to 75yrs old which is a lot for a local.

Next stop was Amantani Island (Pop 4,500. Max Elev 4,145m. 38km from Puno) where we would stay the night with a local indigenous family descended from the Tiwanaku culture.

It takes a boring 3hrs to sail the 30km from Uros since the boat is old and has a piss-weak engine with max speed of 10km/h!

Once there, each of the 25 gringos were split amongst 12 families making our experience very intimate and authentic.

Maureen and I met Senior Ricardo at the wharf, who walked us to his humble abode up in the town plaza, some 15min walk, 30m uphill! Although Maureen had a hard time walking up we both delighted to find that Snr Ricardo was the towns publican running a cute pub with plenty of beer! Trust the only two ozzies to be assigned to the pub owner!!! We then met the very short and moon-faced Seniora Francesca. A lovely lady with rosy-red altitude cheeks and lots of colourful layers of traditional skirts. She looked like a walking onion! Our hosts have 6 children ranging from 30yrs to 13yrs with 2 at home and Snr Ricardo is 70 whilst seniora is 64. How do they do it?

After a lovely home cooked lunch of Quencha soup, "haloumi-style" fried cheese, tomato and YES, more potatoes, I set off to the beach for my swim in the highest lake in the world, I wanted to do 30min but could only manage 5min in the 9C water before my heart felt it would jump out my chest and my head explode!

At 4pm all the families brought their gringo guests to the town square and we set off to walk to Mt Pachatata (Elev 4,050m) and Mt Pachamama (Inca for "mother earth", Elev 4,145m and this highest point on the Island and in all of Lake Titicaca).

The views from both were spectacular and the hike up was good for me but not for some due to altitude sickness. Lake Titicaca has simply the best clouds I have ever seen, especially when sunny - the lake is so high that the whispy alto-cirrus and thick alto-cumulus clouds at 20,000ft are right there above your head and just look spectacular!

We got back at 6pm and had a lovely beer on our home-stay balcony overlooking the lake.

Dinner was very simple comprising a potato-thickened vegie soup and a tomato/herb/potato omelette.

I also shared my red wine in the yogurt container with our hosts and they loved it. Before you say "salute" (cheers) and drink, you must pour a smidgen of your drink on the ground to "pachamama" or mother earth so she can return the favour 5-fold!

Our hosts simply loved the wine and gobbled it down, especially the seniora! I was starving but too shy to ask for 5 more omelletes! Instead I relied on my own stash of two museli bars and a packet of crackers that I bought from Snra Francesca and gobbled up late at night with a beer for good measure!

Our lovely couple then dressed Maureen and I in traditional costume and walked us to the local hall for a Peruvian dance with all the other gringos (our tour group) and their host families. We had a great time dancing and drinking 625ml beers for only $2AUD! Snra Francesca was particularly keen to get us dancing and threw us around like coca leaves! I slept like a baby that night.

The following day we woke at 7am after a night of heavy rain and enjoyed a breakie of corn pancake and coffee. After thanking Snra Francesca and greeting her 1yr old grandson baby boy "Sebastian", Snr Ricardo walked us down to the wharf to meet the rest of our tour group and set off on a 1hr sail to nearby Taquile Island (Pop 2,500, Max Elev 4,015m. Area 7sq km).

The boat trip to the island was horendous for many, rolling around in a 2m swell!

Taquile Island is UNESCO protected because it produces very unique, hgh quality fibres, that women spin while walking and wait for this.... from which the MEN (yes MEN) knit and weave high quality clothing in the traditional Tiwanaku style. UNESCO has decided to preserve this tradition.

We walked 1hr and ascended 209m from the port to the town square under occassional showers.

As soon as we got to the town square it poured meaning we would not see the "weaving men" who actually knit outside and as they walk around.

Instead we visited their co-operative to see their finished products which were very colourful and varied in design.

We also found out that single men wear a red hat and married me wear a red and white hat. When men get engaged they have to weave the bride's wedding dress! No wonder there were so many red hats in the town square!!!

Poonan, Jess and I then decided to head back to the boat down 500 steps insead of lunching with the others at 11am. By 12:30pm we were on our way back to Puno, another 3hr cruise which I slept most of the way.

Once back in Puno I completed my second record-breaking run and picked up my repaired laptop.

It was then off to a local restaurant to have Guinea Pig, Peru's specialty!!! You need to order the Guinea Pig ahead of time when you book the restaurant, because they kill it 1hr before you arrive and prepare it for cooking when you arrive. The little critter is flash-fried then finished in the oven and usually served with local potato and large white corn. It tastes like a cross between turkey and duck believe it or not. A lttle rich, not much flesh but filling because of the mini-crackling skin. Another local animal bites the Golfin dust!

NEXT BLOG: to cover our entrance into Bolivia form Peru and La Paz (the capital) due 20FEB.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: 1) My sincere thanks to "Pomme Peru" (Apple Peru) computer store in Puno for their fine work in recovering my data and fixing my laptop. All this for 50 Soles ($47.25AUD)!!!

LAPTOP DRAMA: I had my first laptop failure in the 5hr bus trip from Cuzco to Puno. I had just finished writing my Machu Picchu blog about 1hr before Puno (spent 4hrs writing it) when I got the low battery warning, so I decided to save to disk and shut down to change battery before backing up to stick.

To my horror, after changing the battery, Windows refused to re-boot citing a corrupt config.sys file in thesystem32 directory and asking for a reload from a system disk that I did not have. I had just lost 4hrs of blog that I wanted to post that night from Puno! I was heart-broken. Not only would I have to re-write it but my laptop was dead and inaccessible. Lucky for me, our guide and I managed to find a computer place, cheekeley called "Pomme Peru" (Apple Peru) after arriving in Puno and they were able to access my data via another PC.
They then asked me to leave the laptop with them for a day since they suspected a bad hard disk. Lucky for me I was off to the Islands on Sun 13FEB returning Mon 14FEB so I left it and came back Mon arvo. The cause of failure was a virus that polluted several windows files. He reformatted the disk and loaded the latest WIndows XP Professional, Microsoft Office 2007 and ESET NOD32 antivirus software. The only downside is that it is now slower (heavier software than before) and all in Spanish!!! Maybe this is the best way for me to learn Spanish! Despite the happy ending, I had to post my Machu Picchu blog from the hotel machine from the data that my man in Puno had recovered. Yet another set-back overcome!!!

FACTS: 1) Indigenous people in Puno and around Lake Titicaca are darker and shorter with longer eyelids and larger (hook) noses because of the higher altitude and more sunny days. 2) I forgot to include the following in my Machu Picchu blog so I attach them now: a map of our Lares Treck and a map of Machu Picchu and what we saw in detail that day.

One of my mot favourite photos is the one on the left here... It is a moonlit night of Lake Titicaca under moon and Venus on the night we danced with the locals...I went out for a break...and saw this....what a moment...thanks S95 and Tv timed shutter exposure!

PS: Venus is the dot in the middle of this grand photo!