Occurred May 28 to June 6, 2014
Written by Roxanne
What would you buy if you had an extra $550? Maybe tickets to the Rider game, and new iPad, pay your bills? Well, we bought a 10 day tour through Peru and Bolivia with our $550 each.
Well let me tell you about our tour.
Our tour started with being picked up at our hostel at 6:20am and being transferred to the bus station to catch our touristic bus to Puno (this bus is supposed to be more comfortable and have Wi-Fi).
On route we had a number of stops. Our first stop was at the small town of Andahuaylillas which is 40 km southeast of Cusco. It’s one of those places where there isn´t much to do or see except for that hidden gem that makes the trip well worth it. The purpose of our stop was to see the church of San Pedro Apostol de Andahuaylillas or more commonly referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of America”, which was built on top of a sacred place of the Incas. The church was built by the Jesuits in the 16th century. Outside the church stood three large crosses. The streets leading to the church were lined with vendors selling knickknacks and weavers making blankets. Len paid to take one weavers photo.
Our next step was at the Wiracocha temple. It is believed to be built by the Inca Wiracocha in honour to the Superior God, Apu Titi Wiracocha. Externally it is 92 meters long (302 feet) and 25.25 meters wide (83 feet). We spent a lot of time looking around this site, and enjoyed walking on the actual Inca Trail (even if it was only for a few metres).
We had a 10 minute stop at La Raya Pass, because the altitude was so high (4388m or 14,232 feet) to take in the sites and do a bit of shopping. It was cold out so I picked up a scarf for $10.
We made it into Puno and were dropped off at our hotel, the Hostel Margarita. We were given 2 rooms. We should have realized that we weren’t going to be too comfortable when the hotel clerk was wearing a winter coat when he came to unlock the door to let us in. We got to our rooms; they were so cold that we gathered in one room, wearing our winter coats waiting for the rooms to warm up. When they didn’t get any warmer, Len went down and rented heaters for us; however, they didn’t warm the rooms much and we had to wear our toque to bed. No one had a good night sleep.
We were picked up at our hotel and shuttled to a waiting boat on Lake Titicaca (the highest elevation navigable lake in the world at 3820 metres about sea-level). The boat took us to the Uros Islands. The boat ride was less than an hour and we soon found ourselves weaving our way through the 50 floating islands before we pulled up to one. We were invited onto the island and when we jumped out of the boat and onto the island it felt like jumping into a bowl of marshmallows. The island was so spongy and the reeds made it a bit difficult to walk on, but the people from the island were walking barefoot and without any problems. The Uros people living on the island gave us a presentation on how the reed islands and reed boats are made and invited us into their homes. They dressed us up in traditional clothing which is colourful and very heavy. The island women took us by reed boat to a neighbouring island where our tour boat was waiting. We had so much fun on the little island.
From Uros Islands we continued by boat about 3 hours until we reached Amantani Island where we stayed the night with a local family. Our host was Flora and her mud house was at the top of the mountain. Our room had 3 beds was very dusty and cold. There was no flush toilet or running water. Flora brought our meals up to our room at meal time; the meals were very traditional with a variety of potatoes on our plates. Supper was a bit difficult to eat for us. I’m not sure if it was the food that was served or the fact everything was so dirty that we couldn’t eat. In the evening the community put on a welcome party, a Fiesta, with live music and dancing for us. The altitude had made me sick and the kids were tired, so Len was the only one that went to the party. Flora made a special tea for me and provided traditional clothing for Len to wear (a poncho and a hat) at the party. There was a mariachi band playing at the fiesta and Len got to attend his first ever Fiesta, drink some local beer and did a little (traditional) dancing with Flora.
From Amantani Island we boated over to Taquile Island where we toured the ruins. It was a steep climb up the mountain to the village. On the way a sweet young boy was picking twigs from a plant and handing them out. He instructed us to smell them and it would help us breath better as we slowly climbed up the mountain. The men of Taquile Island are famous for their intricate weavings. It was so common to see men walking around chatting amongst themselves and knitting. The men of the island are the knitters; not sure what the women do. From Taquile Island we returned to Puno by our wooden boat. The scenery on Lake Titicaca was amazing. When we got back to Puno, we returned to our cold non cozy room at the Hostel Margarita.
Today we were picked up and transferred to the bus station heading to Copacabana. Our guide for the day picked us up at the bus station and quickly took us to see the Cathedral Virgen de la Candelaria. We didn’t have much time touring the cathedral since our bus was almost 2 hours late. One of the things that makes Copacabana unique is that outside the Cathedral Virgen de la Candelaria a padre performs daily blessings for vehicles. People come from all across the country and other South American countries to get their cars blessed. People decorate their vehicles with colorful flowers and other decorations and park in front of the church and wait in line for hours for their turn. Once the padre blesses the vehicle, the owners stand around celebrating by drinking beer or Champagne and then get in their car and drive away. The streets leading to the Cathedral are lined with vendors selling flowers and champagne and all kinds of souvineers.
After our tour we quickly had lunch and were off to hop on a boat again on Lake Titicaca to take us to Sun Island. Our guide for the day was amazing; he encouraged us as we climbed 182 very steep steps to the fountain that is supposed to grant eternal youth and has had flowing potable water as far back as the Incans and even before that. We all took our turn drinking from the fountain. It was some of the best water we’ve ever had. I don’t know if we’ll have eternal youth, but the cold water was very refreshing after the climb. From there we continued to climb up toward the Polkokaiana ruins, a mysterious Inca’s palace. While on the way we passed a traditional wedding taking place so we stopped to watch for a while. We were told that weddings take place over three days and that there is a lot of food and alcohol consumed. In case you are wondering, no, the bride did not wear white.
Once back in Copacabana we boarded the bus to La Paz, arriving at 9:30 that night and checked into the Hotel Sagarnaga.
We had a free day La Paz, we slept in and got a late start to the day. Once up and showered we went out exploring the area. Noah became very interested in a local traditional wood instrument called the Quena (much like a recorder). He shopped around and bought one for himself hand made by a local musician when we were in Ecuador. At that time the man was kind enough to give Noah a quick lesson on how to play it. While exploring La Paz we happened across a small music shop where the owner also gave music lessons on local traditional instruments, including the Quena. Noah asked if it would be possible to have a lesson in how to play the Quena. So we spoke with the owner of the music shop (Maestro Augustin Alonso) with our best broken Spanish and arranged for Noah and Aurora to have music lessons in his studio. We also bought from Augusin, Quenas for Noah and Aurora and Noah also got another wooden flute instrument. Noah divided his lesson into two halves learning to play both of the instruments. It was a wonderful unplanned spontaneous travel experience for us all.
Later in the day our guide picked us up to take us to the bus station so we could board the night bus to Uyuni, Bolivia. This marked the first time we have had to walk across a boarder. A little nerve racking when everyone is talking to you in Spanish and you have no clue as to what they are saying.
Whoever said a night bus was comfortable is wrong. The seat may recline and there may be a footrest that pops up, but it is by no means comfortable.
Once we arrived in Uyuni we had to track down our tour operator. Once she showed up she took us to the travel office to wait for the jeep to arrive. We waited almost 2 hours. We were tired, grouchy and had to use a bathroom. Once our luggage was loaded into the jeep and after we picked up to two other members of our tour we were off. Our first stop was off to the train grave yard. This is the place where trains go and rust away. It was such a strange sight. The trains looked like they were frozen in time, still on the tracks, and slowly rusting way. Sure glad we had our tetanus shots because it was fun playing on the rusty old trains.
We continued on, bouncing up and down in the jeep as we made our way to the Salt Flats. It wasn’t long before the landscape began to change. There were no roads, just an open field with mountains in the distance. From desert browns to beige and then everything turned white. We were in the salt flats. It was so white and bright that it was almost blinding. We stopped to take some fun pictures and Aurora scoped up some salt to take home before we jumped back into the jeep and began heading on to Isla del Pescado (Fish Island), which is the only island in the middle of the salt flats with giant cactuses and other plants and birds that are endemic to only that Island. At this Island we had a picnic lunch and began walking around the island until we found some salt blocks/bricks that were just begging to be played with. They had already been constructed into various small forts/walls and shapes, so we took many of the pieces and made our own structures and spelled out Bolivia 2014 on the salt flats. From there we continued to drive through the Flats until we arrived at Puerto Chuvica village where we spent the night as a salt hostel. The entire hostel was made of salt blocks, including our beds. Aurora played with the young girl that lives there until it got too dark to play outside.
Day 7 & 8
Our tour of the Salt Flats continued on to the coloured lagoons (blue, red, green, brown and grey) the geysers, the Pink Flamingos, smoking volcanos and rock valleys that are worn down by the wind. We arrived back into Uyuni in time to catch our bus back to La Paz.
Arrive back in La Paz in the early morning and check into our day room at the Hotel Saganaga to freshen up and have a sleep. We planned to do a bit more sightseeing in La Paz but the 3 days in the Salt Flats had worn us out. And it was at this time that we realized that we had forgotten our camera on the bus. Len tried to track it down, but it was gone. Not only was our camera gone, but our pictures, including a memory card from Aurora’s camera, that had pictures dating back to Regina were all gone. (The pictures from the South America postings are from Noah’s camera or from my phone.) We were heart broken.
We caught our bus back to Cusco at 4:30 pm. It was our last night bus! It was a very sombre trip back to Cusco as we kept thinking about all the pictures that were gone. Our pictures of Cusco, our bus tours, our pictures of Machu Picchu, our pictures of the Salt Flats. All gone!!!
Arrived back into Cusco at 5am and grabbed a taxi to the airport to catch our flight to Lima where would spend the next 4 days.
For tens days we were on the move. We had a guide with us everyday. We were do well taken care of. Our meals were great. The people we met were wonderful. The sights were beyond anything we could have expected. We couldn’t have asked for a better time. Besides losing the camera there was only done real down side. But you’ll have to read tomorrows posting to find out what.