A Travellerspoint blog


Lake Titicaca - making ourselves at home on the water

My tour in Peru included a visit to some islands on Lake Titicaca, culminating in a homestay.

We were given a list of things to bring, including a gift of useful food (rice, oats, fruit, veg...) and had a little time to prepare ourselves.

Lake Titicaca is the largest high-altitude body of water in the world at a mere 284m deep and 8500m square kilometres. What does that mean in real terms? It means that once we left the Puno shore, it really did feel as though we were at sea, not on a lake.

Our first stop was to one of the Uros Floating Islands. These are man-made islands, built from reeds. We were greeted by island inhabitants, invited into their homes to try on national dress, offered handicrafts for sale, and went on an a short ride on their 'Mercedes Benz' (a large boat made from reeds.

We then made our way to Isla Taquile, where the big attraction is that men have to impress a lady by knitting her a hat. If she reckons the hat isn't good enough, a woman can send the man away, in one fowl 'must-try-harder', he must go away and practice and try again when he has improved.

Finally we made our way to Island Amantaní where we would stay for the night. First there was the football match against local boys and then we met our hosts for the night and next day. Before heading 'home', local men and women in traditional dress performed a dance, dressed us up in traditional attire (I had 4 skirts on!) and we had to try and copy the dance. I'm sure we looked fairly ridiculous and may have butchered the moves, but it was pretty funny.

Kat and I made our way to our host house, having been warned that everything may be extremely basic. Turns out, Kat and I had our own bedroom and bathroom (albeit with a self flush system) - pretty swish! The house was more a collection of rooms added over time, as and when necessary. The kitchen was a small room, with an old school stove - fire below and a collection of pots to make everything in.

We were entertained by the middle granddaughter, a very confident 11 year who lives on the mainland, her younger brother of 8 and their cousin, also 8. Whilst their Grandmother, Aurora, speaks primarily Aymara, the kids only spoke castellano, which meant I was able to play mediator and we could all communicate!

The first game up was hide and seek, which unfortunately only lasted a single round since there was only one hiding place in the whole room. Pretty sure they loved it anyway.

Conversation turned to ghost stories with all the kids convinced they'd seen ghosts. It wasn't until dinner that the conversation got really weird, with one of the boys describing an alternative version of the Teletubbies where Tinkywinky decapitates Po. It was one of those moments where I was convinced my Spanish wasn't as good as I thought it was, but he repeated the story and I do believe I understood correctly.

The next morning, my vegetarian gluten free breakfast consisted of...5 boiled potatoes and a boiled egg. I'm not complaining, I was very full. In fact, I didn't finish all the potato, it was a bit much really so early in the day.

Our 'work' consisted of us watching Aurora milk the cow and us following whilst she herded the sheep. I managed to help by tying up the sheep in the field so they couldn't escape. We then helped to clear hay, or dried reeds, from another field. It wasn't hard core farm work, but it did give a glimpse into their daily lives.

It was a little sad knowing that Aurora spends most of the year alone. Her children and grandchildren live on the mainland; the kids spend their summers there helping out but none of them speak the native Aymara, so the language will die out with Aurora's generation. Who knows what will happen on the island? As more people leave and those who stay open their homes to tourism, the culture and traditions are bound to change. We'll have to wait and see.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 18:38 Archived in Peru Tagged lakes tour altitude Comments (0)

The thing about the Inca Trail is...

all seasons in one day
View Tour of southern Peru on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I have met a few people on my travels who have said they have no desire to do the Inca Trail, or even go to Machu Picchu since both are too touristy and they do not wish to do what everyone else is doing, just because it's everyone.

I respect their opinion, and I even understand the sentiment in some contexts. For example, I have never read or seen any of Twilight. I may well thoroughly enjoy it, but it got a bit too popular, a bit too quickly and I have never been interested enough by what I do know to follow through.

Our society is quick to become obsessed with something, be it books, films, songs, theatre, fashion etc., which is a little different, exotic, maybe even a little bit naughty, but ultimately not particularly good quality. Once we get the impression that everyone loves it, herd mentality kicks in and we tend to want to get involved.

I suppose that for some people, the Inca Trail and/ or a visit to Machu Picchu is to them, what Twilight is to me. The thing about the Inca Trail though, is that it's nothing like the Twilight series, and Machu Picchu is not at all like the ever-present Team Edward vs Jacob debate; no, they're genuinely impressive.

Let's start with the Inca Trail. It's a 42km hike during which you reach 4,200m above sea level. The views change each day as you climb higher, heading into sky jungle territory, and each corner you turn brings a new spectacular photo/ enjoy the moment opportunity.

There are a lot of trekkers, but they're friendly, and the people I found myself bumping into, were willing to keep you motivated when you're flagging and vice versa. It felt like a community, especially on day two on the big climb to Dead Woman's Pass.

Then there's the wonderful porters. They really make it possible for you to trek in relative comfort and enjoy the trail. They carry (officially) 25kg, but often more, they go ahead of the group so that they can set up the kitchen tent and start preparing lunch/ dinner ready for our arrival, and put up our tents, which they carry for us. For them it's an additional source of income, they smile the whole way and even offer support and encouragement to those who need it, even though they're carrying a good 5 times the weight that we are and speak predominantly Quechua.

And then there's the fact that you pass a host of Incan ruins along they way, still in tact after all this time. Then there's the minor fact that at the end of your hike, you climb Machu Picchu and reach the Sun Gate for the first glimpse of the now classic photo with the ruins and Huaina Picchu behind. The ruins are vast, and in impressive (reconstructed) condition. Yes there are a lot of people, but it didn't ruin it for me. BesIdes, you can escape the mob if you find the right spot.

It's not that there aren't other impressive hikes/ mountains/ group experiences. There are. All of that exists elsewhere in Peru but there are reasons why Machu Picchu is one of the modern Wonders of the World.

If you've decided that it's not for you then by all means, I wouldn't want to pressure you into going either on the trail or to the ruins.

But if you're not sure if the crowds ruin it, or if you'll enjoy it, or how into ruins you are, I would urge you to sign up if you can. There are other treks if you are too late for the Inca Trail, or even the train if you're short on time or are physically unable to trek (thinking you're too unfit doesn't count!).

Just please don't write it off simply because 95% of your Facebook friends have already been.

Unlike so much of pop culture that often gains popularity without truly deserving it, I 100% see why the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu have become as popular as they have.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 18:06 Archived in Peru Tagged machupicchu hike trail inca Comments (0)

Where on earth did the last month go?

View A week in Bolivia & Tour of southern Peru on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I left Huanchaco just before Christmas and we're now on the 21st January, so the questions are: where on earth did the last month go? What have I been doing? And why haven't I written like I said I would?

I'll start with the last question first. I haven't written like I said I would because frankly, I've been having too much fun. Simples.

The past month has been a whirlwind of meeting new people and seeing new places; I've left Peru, travelled through Bolivia and now I'm in Argentina!

I had a day to myself in Lima before I met the group for the G Adventures Andean Discovery tour. Having spent two months exploring the north of Peru independently, I must say I was a little unsure about joining a tour - would the schedule be too rigid? Would I have a good group?

The schedule was fairly intense at first, moving from Lima to Paracas to Ica to Nazca to Arequipa to the Colca canyon, back to Arequipa and into Cusco all within the first week. I got to take the flight over the Nazca lines, see a condor fly extremely close by in the Colca Canyon and be in Cusco for new year. All jolly good stuff.

We were a group of 18 plus our guide, and I can honestly say it was a great group; diverse in character, background (kind of...there were a lot of Aussies!), likes and dislikes and life experience. Mainly I spent of lot of time laughing at something (or someone) or other.

A lot of group bonding went on on the Inca Trail. We had an exceptionally fast walking group and I spent most of my walk near the back of the group, taking my time to take in the scenery, either being encouraged or encouraging others to keep going. Apparently I was still plenty ahead of schedule every day so I'm pretty chuffed.

(I'll write an additional post dedicated to the Inca Trail at some point because it is rather spectacular, and the whole experience deserves more than a paragraph.)

Post Inca Trail we had a couple of nights more in Cusco before heading to Puno; from there we went on a tour of some islands on Lake Titicaca culminating in a home stay on one of the islands (this also deserves a dedicated post so watch this space!).

We had a great schedule overall. We missed some places that I would have preferred to have experienced, which was a shame but also part of the gamble of a tour. Equally, we did some things (like the Inca Trail or home stay) that were simply less stressful because everything was pre-arranged, which allows more fun to be had!

In the end though, the group made the tour. Had the gang been rubbish, I might have gone off and seen the places I think we missed. As it happens, our group of 18 participants, was always interesting to be around and totally worth hanging around for.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 17:59 Archived in Peru Tagged ruins tour inca Comments (0)

A child is for life, not just for Christmas

View Tour of southern Peru & London - before the off! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

Much of my volunteering in the last month was centred around Christmas, be it Christmas crafts, party bags or throwing a party for the kids. As I walked around Huanchaco this week I kept bumping into kids from school and NAFE who were queuing to receive a present from some organisation or other, or go to a Chocolatada (hot chocolate and panettone party).

I realised that many of these kids had received 3 or 4 presents and been to at least the same number of Chocolatadas in the run up to Christmas.

It's lovely, it really is. Everyone loves a party and who says no to a present?! But I am struck by just how many companies come out of the woodwork to do something nice for the kids at Christmas, when all year round, many of these kids don't have food every day, enough money to go to school, and hardly any have running water.

I know it's not as fun, but what about giving school supplies? Food for the family? Collecting the money to pay for clean water?

I would hate to deny these kids the joy of celebrating Christmas, it's not my place to and I also gave the kids a party and presents. Just imagine though, what if they got one present and party but could also afford to go to school? Imagine how many Christmas presents they might have one day if they have an education.

I don't how to redress the balance but it does seem necessary to me that organisations don't just think of the kids at Christmas. They need help and support all year. After all, a child is for life, not just for Christmas.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 08:23 Archived in Peru Tagged children parties presents charity huanchaco Comments (0)

Bye for now Huanchaco

View London - before the off! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

My two months in Huanchaco flew by so fast, it's hard to believe I'm back in Lima for the next part of my adventure.

I ended up working on many different projects, which meant I got to see even more of Huanchaco life than otherwise. As I mentioned I spent a month teaching at two schools in towns just outside of Huanchaco. It wasn't always easy, the mixed age classes and lack of help from the teachers made it challenging but for the most part, the kids made up for it (and when we had things like the rain simulation!). For the end of term we took 4 of the oldest kids from one school who had done their homework, to the cinema - it was one girl's first trip to he cinema! At the other school, we brought the cinema to the kids, plus so much food we were giving it away at the end.

I then took on the role of interim coordinator at NAFE Peru for a few weeks. This is an NGO who provides after school activities for local kids and on Sundays, a big lunch. I was responsible for organising volunteers and activities for Monday to Friday, and since it was the holidays, we opened mornings and afternoons. We had 40-50 kids nearly every morning and afternoon, which was slightly crazy but in our minds, a big success.

This role involved visiting many of the houses to talk to the parents and certainly gave me an insight into their lives that I wouldn't have otherwise.

Many of the kids at NAFE have very little in life, but are so full of love that it's difficult not to like even the harder to manage kids. Our Christmas party was chaotic with 90 kids, but it was a joy to see them enjoy themselves and I was sad to say goodbye (whilst also slightly relieved when it was quiet again!).

The other project I ended up helping with was getting Otra Cosa started with a database. They already knew they wanted to go for Salesforce, so I put on my former professional hat and helped them prepare and apply for the non profit grant, and then with the initial set up. I may not have cracked the system before I left, but hopefully they're in a good place to continue to build the database and make it truly useful for them.

I met some great people here. I know I'll see some of them again (I have some new places on my travel hit list now!) and the others I'll remember fondly. I'd like to go back and visit Huanchaco again some day, I don't know when, but it would be good to revisit when I can.

For now though, I'm in Lima and about to join my tour of the south for the next 3 weeks.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 08:01 Archived in Peru Tagged children parties school teaching huanchaco otra cosa nafe Comments (0)

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