A Travellerspoint blog

November 3, 2016

Puno, Peru

sunny

On November 1, All Saints Day, we left Cusco and headed to Puno. To be honest, until we planned this trip, I had never heard of this city. Puno is located on the shores of Titicaca Lake.

G Adventures arranged our itinerary and on some tours the company encourages the members of the group to spend the night with the local people. The community paired with G Adventures is located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, a 90 minute boat ride from Puno.

Prior to going to the community, our group visited a small store in Puno. We were encouraged to spend about S/. 20 and bring some basic food to the host family. We brought rice, wheat, cooking oil and fresh fruit.

We then spent some time riding in a boat on the lake. We stopped and visited a small island made out of reeds and then went to a small town on the lake for lunch. We had prepared for the fact that the trek and Cusco were at high elevation, but I didn't realize that Puno and Lake Titicaca are also at high elevation. Walking for 20 minutes from the boat dock to the restaurant was tough because we had to climbup a steep hill.

Finally we reached the community that was hosting us for the night. It is simple to write about what we did, it is much more difficult to articulate how I felt about the experience.

Inviting wealthy visitors from affluent countries to stay with rural families in developing countries raises many questions. Does our presence help the families? And if so, how? Do we really gain an understanding of another culture by visiting for 18 hours? Did the families have a say in the whole visiting tourism program? Who decides how the money we, and all of the visiting tourists contribute, is spent?

Reflecting on our experience, the question I pondered was about happiness. The young mother at our homestay, Gladys, was 22 years old. She lived in a very modest home with few belongings. Gladys shared her home with her common-law-husband, her one year old son and her mother-in-law. Her home had electricity, a propane stove and basic kitchen supplies. Laundry was done outdoors, using a tap and a bucket. Gladys earned extra money by selling Peruvian items to tourists when she visited Puno once a week. She also helped her husband work on their farm.

So, is she happy? After thinking about this, I realized I can't answer that question because what constitutes happiness is different for all of us. I left the community feeling sorry for Gladys, but the more I thought about, I realized that although she may not have many belongings, she was surrounded by love. Her young husband praised her cooking and sewing skills. Her mother-in-law obviously doted on the baby and provided care for him. She had younger sisters living nearby.

I reflected on what made me happy and I concluded that my wonderful family brings me the most happiness. Of course there are other people and things that make me happy, but having a loving family is the biggest contributor to my happiness.

If nothing else, our visit to the small community on Titicaca Lake provided an opportunity for me to reflect on the many blessings I have in my life.

Posted by TKerrone 13:00 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

October 31, 2016 (Happy Halloween!)

Cusco

semi-overcast
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This is our last day in Cusco. After hiking the Lares Trek and exploring Machu Picchu, everyone in the group has enjoyed the opportunity to catch up on sleep, have hot showers, get laundry done and explore the city of Cusco.

Our hotel is located near the main square, in an area of tourist accommodations and restaurants. People use Cusco as a base to do one of the hikes to Machu Picchu, to book tours and transportation to Machu Picchu, or sign up for a variety of outdoor activities such as bungee jumping, kayaking or mountain biking. Stores sell camping and trekking supplies as well as souvenirs.

As we explored Cusco, we noticed that any shops had North American type Halloween decorations. We saw black and orange balloons and fake spider webs. A few store employees had painted faces. Outside one of the local markets, small, plastic pumpkins were for sale. Unbeknownst to us, we had inadvertently stumbled into Cusco on a special day.

We left our hotel at 6:15 as we were meeting our guide in the main square at 6:45. The sidewalk from our hotel to the square, a distance of about a km, was now full of children wearing costumes. There were lots of little girls dressed as Elsa and small bots wearing spider man costumes. Parents walked with their children down the street, then waited as their little ones went into the shops along the street.

The crowds continued to grow as we reached the main square, there were so many people it was difficult to walk to the other side. The focus of the crowd was on the hundreds of children and I loved watched the smiles on the faces of everyone we saw.

After dinner, we walked back to the square and the crowd had grown during the time we were away. By this time it was 8:30 and I was surprised that there were still so many small children, clutching their little containers of candy, walking around with their families. Our guide reminded us that the next day, November 1, was All Saints Day, and schools and businesses would be closed.

Leaving the square, we headed back to the hotel. The crowds were now too big to stay on the sidewalk, so the roads were closed. I forgot to mention th fireworks. We had heard fireworks the whole time we were in Cusco, our guide told us that Peruvians like to set of fireworks for any occasion and Halloween was definitely a time when fireworks were used.

As we pushed our way through the crowd to return to hotel, we saw more adults dressed in costume. We exchanged smiles with people and marvelled at our good fortune to have been able to be part of this giant party.

Posted by TKerrone 11:24 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

October 29, 2016

Machu Picchu

all seasons in one day
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Machu Piccchu is one of the new seven wonders of the world and after visiting this ancient site, I can understand why it was selected.

To reach the ruins you must first queue in a line to wait for one of the many buses that take visitors to the site. We had breakfast at 5:00 a.m., and left our hotel at 5:30. We walked about 10 minutes and went to the end of the line. It was pouring rain and the colourful rain ponchos worn by people standing in line created a colourful mosaic. We waited for approximately 45 minutes. Security personnel checked our bus ticket and passport before we were permitted to board the bus.

After a 30 minute ride up a narrow, winding mountain road, we reached the entrance to Machu Picchu. We had to show our passports to enter the site. It was still raining and we couldn't really see any of the ruins as they were covered in fog. G Adventures organized a tour for us and the guide gave us lots of interesting information, but it was wet and cold (kind of like being in Ireland again) and I found it difficult to concentrate.

Then, as the tour ended, the rain stopped and the skies cleared! We had a couple of hours of free time to wander around the ruins, we were told this is the final year tourists will be able to explore the site without a guide.

We decided to hike up to the Sun Gate, a 45 minute walk uphill. Unfortunately, when we reached the top, the ruins were hidden by fog. Fortunately, on the way down we finally had a wonderful view!

One of the touristy things to do before leaving Machu Picchu is to stamp your passport with a special Machu Picchu stamp. Of course we stamped our passports! We then boarded a bus back to the town of Aguas Calientes where we had lunch.

I should mention that Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu town, appears to be created solely as a place for tourists to stay when visiting Machu Picchu. Every restaurant appears to have a wood fired pizza oven and we had pizza last night, it was excellent. Other than restaurants and hotels, there are shops selling rain ponchos, coffee, and every type of souvenir you could possibly want.

After lunch we left Aguas Calientes and boarded a train heading to Ollantaytambo. The train was very nice! Once we reached Ollantaytambo, we boarded a private bus for the drive back to Cusco. The plan is to spend three nights in Cusco. We get to explore the city, have our laundry done (very important after hiking the trail), and catch up on sleep.

Posted by TKerrone 18:28 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

October 29, 2016

Lares Trek

all seasons in one day
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We did it! Don and I successfully completed the Lares Trek. I have added some pictures and a few comments that may help to visualize what we experienced along the trail.

Don and I were physically prepared for the hike, but the altitude made walking uphill difficult, and for one and a half days we walked uphill! I'm not absolutely certain about the distances we covered or the heights we reached, but I do know we walked 9 km the first day and camped at about 3800 m. The second day we were on the trail for approximately 12 hours, covering a distance of about 21 km and the highest elevation we reached was 4800 m. The final day was a relatively easy 5 hour hike as it was all downhill.

We spent two nights camping in very basic tents. Prior to starting the hike, we rented sleeping bags and mats. These, and our duffle bags of extra clothes and supplies, were carried by horses and donkeys. All of our meals were provided and although some of the others complained, I thought the food was good, maybe because I was so hungry after all the physical exertion. For example, on the second day we were given a cheese sandwich, a piece of cheese between two slices of white bread. This basic snack tasted wonderful.

The hike ended with lunch in a small village. We had the opportunity to thank the porters and cooks for everything they did to make the hike successful. We also thanked Joel, our guide. Joel worked really hard to ensure that all eight of us successfully completed the hike. Two of the hikers had to have some assistance in the form of riding on a donkey for part of the hike. These two women were thrilled with the help they received and were proud to have completed the hike.

The Lares Trek is just one hike available to tourists who visit Cusco and Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is probably the most well known trail and three members of group did this hike. It is a day and a night longer and finishes at the Sun Gate in Machu Picchu. After we completed our hike we were bused to Ollyantaytambo. From there we took a train to Machu Picchu city. I was so happy to be in a hotel room, clean and dry, especially as I listened to the rain fall at night. Two nights of camping was enough!

I am so proud of Don!

Posted by TKerrone 10:10 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

October 24, 2016

Cusco to Ollantaytambo

all seasons in one day
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We are in the small town of Ollantaytambo (isn't that a great name for a village?). Ollantay was an Incan prince and tambo means village. Tomorrow morning we drive for about 3 hours to the town of Lares, where we will begin our trek!

The day was very busy, we saw several sites. Perhaps our guide wanted to wear us out so we will sleep well before the trek. The first place we visited was a lookout above the city of Cusco. Our guide, Joel, told us a bit about the history of Cusco.

The next stop was to a women's weaving cooperative, sponsored partly by G Adventures. The women prepare the wool and then dye it, using only natural dyes. The wool is then woven into beautiful sweaters, hats, scarves and gloves. There is a school and a medical centre in the community. Providing an opportunity for women to create goods to sell is a worthwhile endeavour, but I couldn't help but compare the lives of the women in this community with my life. These women are weaving goods to sell to tourists, which is hard work and in comparison, I have the resources to travel to their community to buy their goods. In addition, the men from the community are rarely there as they have jobs as porters, carrying goods for the privileged people who travel to Peru to hike the trails to Manchu Pichu.

We then drove to some Inca ruins, located about 3400 m above sea level. Our guide gave us a brief history about the ruins, but one of the objectives of the visit was to have us climb several stairs so we could see how we managed climbing at that altitude. Don and I managed quite well, I find going up easier than he does and he finds it much easier to go down! The major bit of excitement was one of the Australian girls managed to get lost. Fortunately she had a phone and was able to call her friend. Everyone, including our guides were concerned, but with lots of calls back and forth she walked down the mountain to the nearest small town and the bus picked her up near the village square.

The next stop was lunch. We went to a restaurant that is also sponsored by G Adventures and we're served an amazing meal of traditional Peruvian foods. There was soup, quinoa, stuffed peppers and potatoes.

Finally we reached the village of Ollantaytambo and we went on another hike and saw more Incan ruins. The town reminds me of a ski resort. There are many tourist, all wearing name brand hiking clothes. There are many shops selling everything from water to rain ponchos. And everyone is walking in the streets, excited to be exercising outdoors.

We are as ready as we ever will be for the hike. We start the trek tomorrow, Tuesday, and spend Tuesday and Wednesday night camping on the trail. On Thursday night we stay in a small town near Machu Pichu and Friday morning we will see this site. We will be back in Cusco on Friday. I can't wait to begin this adventure.

Posted by TKerrone 18:50 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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