Saturday, 5 January 2008

Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu

So, I was so relieved to be in Cusco. I decided I would leave the next day to go to Puno, the city in Peru right next to Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world. I also ended up booking the four day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
I left Cusco the day after I arrived at 10 PM. I arrived in Puno at around 5 AM, exhausted. I walked into the bus terminal, and instantly I had two or three guys trying to get me to go on a tour of Lake Titicaca with their agency. I ended up getting together with another American and a Brit, and together with our increased bargaining power we were able to get a very good price for a 2-day and 1-night tour.
The man with whom we booked our tour took us to a hostel where we ate breakfast and met up with other members of our group. At about 7 AM, we were off. We squezzed into a van and drove to the port of Puno on the Lake. Our driver showed us to our boat, where we met more group members and our guide, Zakaria. After seeing how many people were in our group, I understood why we were able to get such a cheap price. We left the port, and Zakaria started giving us basic information on ´Las Islas Flotantes,´ the floating islands. These islands are completely made of reeds by people who live on the islands. Back in pre-Incan times, people decided to make and live on reed islands on Lake Titicaca to escape the conquests of other pre-Incan people who had said they must join them and adapt to their way of life or die.
We arrived at the reed islands about thirty minutes after leaving the port, and I was instantly in awe. There were many islands, and we landed on one and got out for a look around and an information session. As I stepped on to the island, I felt my foot sink down a few inches and it was very obvious that I was not standing on real ground. It was very cool to see the islas flotantes, but they were very touristy. It was clear that a large part of the lives of the people on these islands relies on tourism.
We left the islas flotantes and started the two hour boat ride to Isla Amantani, one of the two important island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca (part of the lake is in Bolivia). Due to my lack of sleep the night before, I passed out and slept like a rock for most of the journey. When we arrived on the island, we were assigned our host family. I was put together with Joachim, a German carpenter and Jorgio, an Italian lawyer, and we stayed in the small and simple house of a man named Vicente.
We got to Vicente´s house and had a small lunch before walking over to the main plaza of the small town to meet our group. Once the group had assembled, we started the climb to the top of a small mountain on the island. Along the way, we stopped several times and Zakaria gave us information about the island, the way of life of the people, and how the people had lived in pre-Incan times. At the top of the mountain, the views were incredible. We could see nearby islands, and the lake seemed to go on forever at some points. It really looked more like a sea than a lake. We climbed back down to the town, met up with Vicente and went back to his house where we had dinner (unotunately, another small meal). After dinner, Vicente brought us tradition clothing of the men on Isla Amantani, and we all dressed up and went over to the community center where a dance was taking place. It was very funny. Our whole group was dressed up, and many of the locals were there dancing with us. We all tried to do the dance correctly, but I am positive not one of us was doing so.
That night, there was a huge storm that lasted all night long and into the next day. I woke up several times during the night, very disoriented due to the noise of the heavy rain on our sheet-metal roof and the total lack of light in our room.
The next morning, it was still raining but not quite as hard as during the night. We had a light breakfast before heading over to our boat. We left the island after saying goodbye to our hosts, and headed for Isla Taquile, the other important island on the Peruvian side of the gigantic lake.
We arrived at Isla Taquile and were dissapointed that the rain had not stopped. Nonetheless, we all threw on our rain jackets and started the walk towards the island`s small town center. Once again, we heard a lot about the island and saw some incredible views. It was great, but of the two island Amantani was my favorite. Before we got back on the boat to head back to Puno, I decided to take a quick dip in the lake. I stripped down to my boxers and jumped in the ice cold water. After about thiry seconds, I was more than ready to get out.
I had an amazing time on the tour, and decided that I had to see the Bolivian side of the lake. We got back to Puno around 4 PM, and I got a bus back to Cusco at 8 PM after relaxing and having a nice meal with several members of the group.
I got to Cusco at around 4 AM, and I went straight to my hostel and hit the sack. I woke up around 10, and started taking care of some last minute things I had to do before starting the Inca Trail.
The next day, I woke up at 6 AM and got dressed and ready to take off. I got picked up at around 7, and couldn`t wait to get started on the trek. We drove for about 2 hours total until we reached our starting point. It was here that I met all the members of the group, which proved to be very diverse and full of interesting people. There was an Australian couple travelling all over the world for 12 months, an Australian travelling for three months before going back to University, three Brazillians travelling for five weeks over vacation, one English man travelling around Peru for a month over vacation, and three Canadians (a son with his mother and step father) travelling around Peru. I was the only American.
The first day of the trek was awesome and easy. The scenery was awesome, and we got very lucky with the weather so I was able to hike in shorts and a tee shirt all day. When we were almost at camp, we arrived at a high point looking out onto an incredible Incan city. Our campsite was really nice, being situated on a small feild, looking out onto surrounding mountains. At tea time, our guide asked if any of us were Catholic, and said that there was a service for the nearby town. I decided to join him.
The church was a small, dark room lit only by three candles and full with people who looked like they just finished work on the feild. Many women had small babies on their backs, and children scampered in and out of the church laughing with each other.
The next day, we woke up at 5:30 when two of the porters came around to each tent giving us ´mate de coca,´coca leaf tea. After packing up, we had breakfast at 6 and were on our way by 6:45. This day was not easy. The first four hours (or more, for some people) were pure uphill. Steep steps leading upwards that never seemed to end. Finally, I arrived at the top with legs of lead and lungs of fire. The next hour was pure downhill and I arrived at our camp with Duncan, the Australian student, at around 11 and we chilled out for the rest of the day.
The third day was almost pure downhill. I decided to take it easy and go nice and slow, and didn`t get to camp until around 5:30, we had left around 7 that morning. We didn`t get so lucky with the weather that day. It rained all day long and most views were obscured by the fog. We saw a couple Incan ruins and went through two tunnels that were also made by the Incans. Even though we had bad weather, I still enjoyed myself and had a great day.
The fourth and final day, we woke up at 4 AM so we could arrive at the Sun Gate, the first view of Machu Picchu, for sunrise. We didn`t get to the sungate until around 7 AM, well after the sunrise. When we arrived, I was very dissapointing. It wasn`t raining, but nearly the entire city was covered by fog. We relaxed at the Sun Gate for almost an hour, and as we left the fog started to clear. Thiry minutes later, the sun was shining and Machu Picchu was revealed in all its glory! It was incredible. Truly amazing to see this ancient city in the mountains and know that it was once full with people, thousands of years ago. I was so happy that the weather turned out well. In fact, it turned out great. I changed into my sandals, shorts and a tea shirt and ended up getting sunburned!
We all dropped our bags off at the main entrance, and stayed together as a group for a tour of the ruins, and then split up. Duncan and I left the group to climb Wayna Picchu, the tall mountain peak right next to the city. The climb up was very steep, but only about half an hour, a piece of cake for us Inca-trailers. The views from the top were unreal. We could see the entire city of Machu Picchu and all the surrounding mountains. Duncan and I relaxed up top for well over an hour, taking in the scenery and basking in the sun. Then we hiked back down to Machu Picchu, got our things, and started the hour hike to Aguas Calientes, the nearest town.
We met up with our group in Aguas Calientes, said goodbye to out two guides and hopped on the train back to Cusco.
That night, I went out with a few people from the group and had a really good time. Unfortunately, the next morning I had to be at the airport at 6:30 for my 8:30 flight to Quito, Ecuador where I would be meeting my family for Christmas. The next morning, I slept through my alarm, and woke up at 7:45 and started panicing. I still hadn`t packed, so I threw my stuff into my backpack, ran outside and got a taxi to the airport. Thank God, I got on my plane and arrived safely in Quito that afternoon.

1 comment:

aclm said...

keep the reports coming Chris. love to read about your adventures and your interpretation of all that you are experiencing!