If interested in catching up on previous posts in this series, you can do so in sequence by going HERE, HERE, HERE and then HERE.
And, as usual, I've updated my Flickr Photostream with new pictures that match this post. Just go HERE to see the entire set. The ones in the lower quarter of the page will relate to this post.
CUSCO AGAIN, LAKE TITICACA, HOME
Cusco - Take Two
|Our group at Chicha in Cusco|
After saying our goodbyes to our guides and, we thought, our fellow tour mates, Diane and I cleaned up and rested some at the hotel. We had made arrangements to meet up with our now good buddies Kevin and Josh for dinner, so we went to the lobby to meet them as discussed. As we waited, other members of the tour group filtered in. Naturally, they asked what we were up to for the evening. Learning that we were off for dinner, they all decided to tag along. So, suddenly we had a group of 10 and not four. Hey, the more the merrier! I also thought this was a good sign that our group overall had been a good one for the tour. After all, they would not have wanted to hang out if they didn't like each other - or us!
As it turned out, we found a great place called Chicha not far away and cajoled the greeter there to set up a table for ten people. Chica is an upscale place with a wide ranging menu...and hence why we thought it would be good for a group of ten people. Want nicely done and presented alpaca? They had it. Want delicious pizza? Done. How about some Peruvian classics done up in a "gastro pub style"? No problem. Something for everyone. And speaking of everyone, I was impressed with the camaraderie and openness exhibited by each member of our group. Diane and I had quickly go to know Kevin and Josh right off the top of the tour, but most of the rest of the group already knew each other...so, nice and cordial as they were, it took some time to break the ice. And at this last meal together, the ice truly was broken and we all had a great time. Full and contented, we called it a night after the meal...strolling back through the nigh time Cusco Plaza de Armas and back down the narrow streets to our hotel.
We awoke the next morning and saw that the weather was going to be very nice...perfect for a walking tour, shopping and lunch. By 10 a.m. we out of our hotel and checking into another for one more night in the city. We stayed at the delightful Hotel Arqueologo. After that, we were on the streets looking for knit hats, sweaters, art and souvenirs of all different types with Josh and Kevin along for the fun too. We visited nice boutiques, typical tourist stalls and pretty much everything in between. Lucky for Kevin and Josh, Diane was there to lend her keen eye to their potential clothes and art purchases. I can summarize our shopping thusly: we went to a lot of shops, it took most of the day, it was fun, we bought many items (art, sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, etc.), it's all nice and unique stuff and it was a good way to see the old town.
Early in our adventure this day, we came across a woman dressed in typical highlands attire and holding a small baby alpaca. Very cute. Naturally, we had to get a picture. Now, with situations like this, you know you're going to have to pay the person something for taking their picture. Typically, you ask how much and they say, "whatever you want" or "it is your choice." Also typically, no matter how much you give ($1, $2, $5, $10) they respond with a look or a reply that is along the lines of, "you've got to be kidding...that's all you're going to give me?" So, the thing to do is just figure out how much you think the picture you're taking is worth to you and give them that amount undeterred. My feeling is not to be a cheapskate just because I can. So, I gave this woman the equivalent of $5 U.S. She didn't like it, but I didn't think twice about it.
In between all that, we all visited the Inca Museum for a short look around at art and artifacts from the Cusco and highlands area of Peru...you know, learn a little something! We also spent a little time at the Plaza de Armas to people watch. And, out on the street, we ran into a couple other members of our tour - Sally and Evelyn. Together, we hit lunch at a great little place in the San Blas area of Cuco called Jack's Cafe. Later in the afternoon, Diane and I toured through the big Cathedral on the plaza.
|Inca foundations on Spanish buildings in Cusco|
In the evening, we had a nice stroll around the old town - down cobbled streets, under pleasant streetlights and among the hustle bustle created by the mix of fascinated tourists, working people on their way home or our to dinner and school children trotting along to some sort of function or another. We ended up at a nice restaurant off the Plaza de Armas called Tupananchis. There we sat next to the window and had a great meal of causas (little pillars of potatoes with differing toppings), alpaca, Peruvian red wine and a dreamy desert. Behind us sat a large group of German tourists, clearly having a good time. As we ate, a few children came up to the window and inevitably tried to sell us something from the other side of the glass. The only thing that works to get them to leave you alone is to ignore them.
|Cusco Plaza de Armas at night|
Anyway, not much later that evening, we ended up at a place on the plaza called Mama Africa. This was a typical nightclub. As we sat sipping our Peruvian beers, we speculated that a couple shady guys sitting at the bar might actually be pimps for a few of the "service" staff. Who knows. I will say that a couple the waitresses seemed a bit over the top friendly. Another interesting thing was that while we sat there in a maybe 1/3 full club...all of a sudden a big pack of people came walking in all wearing some sort of wig. Yep. Wig party. Turns out these were recently accepted students to the Kellogg Business School. As they told the story, as a class they were given some options of places around the world to go to "bond," and Cusco was one of the choices. That's why they were there. As for the wigs? Well, even really smart people can have bad ideas.
The night got late and we called it...walking back though the nighttime Cusco streets bathed in street light glow. The next morning we had a few hours to kill before our flight to another part of Peru to continue our trip. We used the time to finish up our shopping spree, say our goodbyes to friends Josh and Kevin and to have a stunningly delicious ceviche lunch at Limo. Soon, we were back at the hotel and into a car headed to the airport for our next destination - Lake Titicaca.
That's right...Lake Titicaca. You read that right. Titicaca. That's the name of the lake we visited. Giggle, giggle, laugh, laugh. Yes, it is a funny name. But, it's ancient and translates to "Rock Puma" as many locals have said the shape of the lake resembles a puma chasing a rabbit. Pumas are another traditional sacred beast in Peru along with Condors.
OK, now that we got that out of the way, I can also tell you that the lake is at 12,000+ feet (higher than Cusco) and the highest "navigable" lake in the world. This means there is no other lake in the world higher in altitude that is also deep enough to enable "vessels" to ply its waters - vessels being large ships. It's also a huge, huge lake...and very pretty. Our thought was that after 10 days hiking through the Andes, it would be good to spend some down time at the lakeside and relax.
Following a few hours on our last morning in Cusco, we packed up our stuff and headed to the airport where we took the short 45 minute flight to the airport at Juliaca - the nearest one to our final destination. Juliaca is not a city you'd want to stay in as a tourist. It's large, dirty and without any real tourist or historical attractions. It literally was built around the airport and today serves as a trade center.
By prior arrangement, we were picked up by a driver and a local contact named Omar who drove us from the inner city of Juliaca out to the lakeside - and much nicer - town of Puno. As the sun set, we made our way through the Juliacan streets choked with cars, carts, moto-taxis, pedestrians, stray dogs. As we moved along in our nice private vehicle, we could see into each shop or dwelling we passed by - seeing what was up with the locals all along the way through town. We also noticed that on every block in this city, there were dentist offices - each with its own clever sign advertising dental services on offer. Diane asked Omar about this and he said that, yes, many, many Peruvians went to dental school with the thought that they could make a good living only to find out that the market is flooded and they cannot make enough money. He further said that the signs we saw were for actual businesses, but there were many more who either moved to another city or country to practice or just quit to become something else.
|View from our hotel room in Puno|
Our drive to Puno lasted just about an hour and a half. By the time we arrived at our hotel, the Libertador, it had been dark for an hour already. This big, white hotel is part of the Westin chain, and sits on a peninsula just outside Puno - situated so on one side you can look back at town and on the other you look out to the lake. We checked in and went to get dinner at the dining room on premises. It had been a long day and we had no desire to go into town. Funny enough, as we were checking in, we ran into the same German tour group who had been at the restaurant we had eaten at the night before in Cusco. We talked for a minute and went on our separate ways.
For the first of three full days in the Puno area, we decided to just relax, go into town for lunch, see the sights and go back later for diner. However, we had thought that as part of the "relax" portion of our stay at the hotel, we'd have access to a pool and pool deck, spa, nice gym and related facilities. We were wrong. Nice though it was, the hotel had none of those things. So all of a sudden, we had a lot more time to kill on our hands than we originally thought. This was primarily filled with extended shopping and walking around Puno town. Arriving in the sunny afternoon, we toured around the main plaza, went into the cathedral, strolled down the pedestrian streets, hung out at another plaza where we saw a kids parade and perhaps the aftermath of a wedding and just generally indulged in people watching.
We also took in the city's Coca Museum. Yes. The coca leaf is quite important in the tradition of the Peruvian culture. Dating back many centuries, the affect of chewing of the coca leaf for its stimulant powers, its utility as a medicinal substance...and related reverence of it for both those properties...made possession and distribution of the leaves a duty only for those in power or control - tribal or village leaders, shamans and similar. He who has the coca leaf (and it was always a he) shall be respected.
Oh, and just for the record...yes, the coca leaf is where cocaine comes from. But, making cocaine requires a complex process of extracting a specific alkaloid from the leaf and processing it in certain way. And apparently that "business" is still going strong because we learned that Peru is the number one producer and exporter of the raw coca leaf.
While there is a stimulant affect of coca in tea, candy or chewing the leaves, it's not a"cocaine" like affect. None the less, after learning from the various displays, one thing we came to realize was that our earlier attempts to chew the coca leaf in Cusco were not done properly. More specifically, we should have jammed a whole wad of leaves in our yappers and not just three or four. No wonder we were unimpressed.
The other thing the museum had was a pretty good collection of wild and traditional costumes that the locals have come up with over the centuries and wear in annual festival parades and celebrations - complete with a video to explain it all. What this had to do with coca was never explained nor evident. But, it was kind of interesting to learn about the different festivals, what each costume represented and why it was created.
More walking around, a rest back and the hotel and dinner back in town rounded out or first day at the lake.
After that, we boarded our boat again and struck out for an actual island way, way out in the lake called Taquile Island. The attraction here is not only the view, but also the traditional town and culture of the people on the island. Sure enough, as we approached the island, we could see a massive white capped mountain range on the horizon. We quickly learned that this was Boliva on the other side of the lake. Docking, we walked uphill to the town square. Every 50 yards or so, we'd pass under a traditional rock gateway or encounter girls and old women selling local handcrafts. Up at the town square, we took in the view again, and also looked around at the various shops - all offering island-woven hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters and other items. Lets just say, we went Christmas shopping in August. Next, our little day-trip tour group went to a local restaurant for a nice lunch of fish and frijtes.
|View on Taquile Island|
|Pre-Inca tombs outside Puno|
On the way back to Puno, our group stopped at a typical Peruvian homestead...complete with housing, a courtyard, kitchen, llamas, and of course a pen full of "cuy." One last dinner in Puno and then back to the hotel. The next morning we were on our way back to Juliaca airport for our flight to Lima and, ultimately, home.
Lima and then Home
|Sunset over the ocean in Lima|
All and all though, not too bad! By 9 p.m. it was time to head back to the airport. We boarded our flight - first class seats! - and lifted off for home. After a three hour layover in Atlanta, we were on our way to Seattle.
And that was it folks. Trip over. What an adventure. Physically challenging, natural beauty the likes of which we had not seen, ancient culture explored, Machu Picchu visited, new friends made and a new culture experienced. Will we go back? Hard to say. Peru is like so many other places we've been...yes, notionally, we'd love to go back. But will we? Probably not...or not soon. There are just so many other new places around the world to go. However, I would say that our appetite is whetted for more South American travel. We've discussed going to Buenos Ares and Patagonia in Argentina, as well as Rio and the Amazon in Brazil. Those would be high on our list now because of our experience in Peru. We shall see!
Thanks to everyone who has read my posts about the trip. Soon, I'll do one more post that aggregates links to all the posts in this series, as well as the related photo set on Flickr so everything is all in one place long term.
NOTE: All pictures in this post were taken by Marc Osborn. No use of these pictures for any purpose is permitted without advanced written permission from Marc Osborn.