Flying visits to Puno and Arequipa
30.05.2012 - 01.06.2012 20 °C
Crossing the border into Peru was easy enough; destination Puno. We didn’t really know what we were doing there, other than objective number one which was to find a replacement camera battery charger. We searched high and low, went into every electronics store, market and even a place they call “the contrabanda” but to no avail. All hopes would have to rest on either Arequipa or Cusco for that one. Fingers crossed.
The only reason one visits Puno is to access Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side. We had seen a bit form the Bolivian side and after a bit of research decided on a ½ day tour of Uros, the floating islands. As far as we could gather most people do a two day, one night excursion, staying overnight with a local host family on one of the islands, but Mike was in no shape for that , so a ½ day it was. We reckon Mike was suffering from a touch of altitude sickness, despite him being fine all the other times we have been at altitude. Maybe a combination of post jungle recovery and slow altitude acclimatisation?
Uros though turned out to be much better than expected. We surprised ourselves with how much we enjoyed the visit – the people of the islands friendly, engaging and extremely welcoming. We had been a bit worried about how ‘touristy’ such a visit could be, the local people exploited and gaining little from the arrival of boat loads of tourists It didn’t feel anything like that. And we learnt quite a bit about their way of life and culture. Firstly that each island only lasts about 30 years, each hut/house 1 ½ years, women are equal to men and can fulfil the role of ‘president’, a position whose sole responsibility is to ensure the island stays afloat. Probably THE most important thing to these people! If there is a family conflict of some sort the huts can be rotated so that the doors don’t face the same way, and if the conflict turns out to be unsolvable the entire island can be spilt in two. Last year there were about 50 floating islands, this year just over 60.
Initially we thought the Uros people would be similar to the Masai Mara people in Kenya, but they could not be more different. The Uros embrace advancement: the first island we visited had solar panels to power their TV (I kid you not) and they are knowledgeable about the need for family planning and modern medicine. Living on the islands can still be pretty tough though. There’s no heating for one thing and as it’s bitterly cold at night child mortality is high. There’s also no fresh water supply so bathing is on a once a week basis kind of thing. And as the islands are relatively small no-one does any exercise so as our guide puts it, they all tend to be rather ‘stout’.
The reeds have many uses though, aside from the foundation of the islands. You can eat the inner bit: tastes kinda like cucumber. And it can be used as a poultice for headaches and such like; Mike gave it a go but he’s not sure how effective it was on him. What we were most interested to learn was how significant the puma is to the Peruvians, pumas obviously being very close to our hearts now. Lake Titicaca is actually shaped like a running puma chasing a rabbit. Our Uros hosts jokingly reckon you need a few pisco sours to really identify it but we got it anyway. “Titi” means puma in one of the indigenous languages (Amaya we think) and “caca” means brown, like a puma's coat. So go figure: pumas are everywhere. We love that.
After Puno it was Arequipa and we decided that one day would be enough time for us. Walking through the streets with countless gorgeous buildings, churches and mansion houses we thought for a second we had been transported to some European country; so developed and modern it is. A testament to its past Hispanic influence. We liked Arequipa immediately and not just because we purchased a new camera charger for our big camera within seconds of the shops opening. I’m pretty sure we got fleeced with the price but never-mind, hakuna matata! Arequipa felt like luxury after weeks of being in Bolivia and the jungle so a pity we only had one day to enjoy it.
While Mike went to get his monstrous facial hair professionally removed, I went to the convent of Santa Catalina for a look around. No-one lives these anymore, but visitors are free to roam around, marvelling at the architectural and artistic beauty of the place. The convent had no contact with the outside world for hundreds of years, shrouding it and its inhabitants in mystery. Of particular interest is one nun: Sister Ana. She’s well known for preforming 3 miracles, the most amazing of which is curing cancer. The pope has allegedly confirmed or acknowledged this miracle so people reckon it must be true. (?) I only wish she hadn’t stopped at just the one patient so that I wouldn’t have to go back to work shortly. I bought some coca lollies at the gift store for Mike. Perhaps being from a holy place they might be blessed and work a charm on his altitude sickness?
For a bit of culture we checked out one of Arequipa’s mansion houses: Del Moran which was nice although we spent more time photographing angles out the back than checking out the rest of the house. Oddly they had an exhibition on Peruvian coins through history in one of the rooms so we had a look at that too. Had we had more time in Arequipa we may have been tempted to climb of the three imposing peaks that tower over the city or rise at 3am for a day trip to the nearby colca canyon. Not this time though.
So Peru is off to a flying start with visits to Puno and Arequipa. Puno was pretty average, except for the floating islands and we liked Arequipa. Next up Cusco and Aguas Caliente where again we would really like one and not so much the other.