09 Sep Southern Peru Pt. 2
Days 466 – 470 –
The drive back to Ollantaytambo was uneventful. There was no snow on the pass this time, and no accidents, either. We arrived by lunchtime and had planned to pick up some groceries at the market for the next couple days of touring the Sacred Valley. But when we arrived, there was a festival going on and many of the shops and restaurants were closed, including the market. We had lunch at a crowded locals-only restaurant. Soup, pot roast, rice and tea, all for 6 soles each, which is about $1.75. Not too bad. We decided to spend another day in Ollantaytambo. It’s a cute town and we liked our hotel and every now and then you just need a little break from the constant going. We did a few truck projects in the parking lot, and leisurely shopped at the market the next day. We tried Chifa, Peruvian Chinese food, for dinner, and even shared a piece of cake for dessert (it was our wedding anniversary, after all).
The next day we saw three Sacred Valley ruins in one day. First we left our car at the hotel and walked over to the Ollantaytambo Ruins. Afterwards we drove to Chincero to see a small ruin that didn’t have very good reviews, but we had time. The ruin is a Spanish church sitting on top of an Inca foundation, plus some terracing ruins. Not very special, but still pretty nice for a quick stop. After a parking lot sandwich for lunch, we made our way to Moray Ruins. Moray was the one we were most excited about, as it looked like huge 3-dimensional crop circles carved into the ground. We had read that the Incas likely used this circular terracing as a kind of agricultural laboratory where they tested which crops grew best in which type of microclimate. The site was very cool, but much smaller and less crowded than we had thought it would be. It only took us about an hour to see it all. We decided we had time to drive the two hours to Pisaq Ruins so that we could camp close to the park and beat the tour buses in the morning. The next day we walked around exploring and enjoying being the first ones there. But the sun refused to come out and we’d seen a lot of ruins lately, so we only spent a couple hours there.
Days 471 – 474
We drove south toward Lake Titicaca and spent the night at a hot springs on the Altiplano. We didn’t end up using the hot springs, as it was just too cold to get wet, but it was interesting to observe all the local families coming there to actually bathe. In this part of the world people rarely have hot water at home.
The next day we headed to Llanchon on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America that lies between Peru and Bolivia. Llanchon is a tiny little village with very few vehicles. People there are living simply and the only accommodations available are homestays. We stayed outside “Valentin’s” house and slept in our truck with a beautiful view of the lake. We spent the afternoon walking along the lakefront, part beach and part farmland. Valentin and his wife had a pet alpaca-llama mix who was grazing near our truck most of the day, but was pretty timid to Becky’s advances.
The reason we had come way out here was because we wanted to do a tour of the floating reed islands of Uros. From this area we could see authentic islands, rather than the ones close to Puno, the large city across the lake, which are notoriously very touristy and the people don’t actually live there. Valentin arranged a private tour of the nearby island the following morning. After a stormy night, we woke up to a beautiful sunny clear day of 45 degrees, and our boat arrived to take us to the floating islands.
The indigenous people of Uros live on floating reed islands in Lake Titicaca, hand-built from blocks of cut soil and lake reeds, needing constant maintenance. The people of Uros started building and inhabiting these islands in order to hide from the Incas, and later the Spanish. The people that live on the island make their houses, boats, and furniture out of the same reeds. There are over 120 inhabited islands on the lake, and many of them are not receptive to tourists, which is why we needed a formal tour this time. Normally we don’t do tours but this one was amazing.
The island we toured was called Titino. Five families live on the island in small one-room huts made of reeds, arranged in a circle around the center. They had a communal kitchen outside, which was really just a stone to grind flour and a fire to cook fish. The whole island itself is very small, about 100 ft by 100 ft. As part of the tour, the head of the island explained how the islands are constructed, how they hold dance parties in order to smash down the new reeds, how if they don’t like their neighbors they can just pick up their anchors and move away, and how they fish for food and trade. We were given a short ride in one of their traditional reed boats and had a chance to buy a handmade necklace from one of the older ladies. It was a little difficult to communicate with some of the family members, as Spanish was not their first language but it was a really unique experience.
After the tour we headed towards Puno for the night. We’d spend the next couple days doing a few prep chores and making our way to the Bolivian border. We spent our last night in Puno at a campground slightly south of the city. It was located near an Inca site that has not been excavated, that was just a short, steep walk up a hill from the lakeshore. The ruins were somewhat vandalized and not very impressive, but the view from the top was breathtaking and well worth the climb. The campground turned out not to be the best choice. It was very windy there with gusts shaking the entire truck, which made cooking outside very difficult and cold. And we learned that our camping neighbors had gotten their van robbed the night before, so we did not have a very easy night of sleep. It was also the first time of the whole trip that we woke up with ice on the inside of the campershell windows. On the way to the Bolivan border we topped off our gas tank and had a very straight-forward crossing.