27.12.2012 - 31.01.2013 18 °C
One thing has become painfully clear in the last two weeks – we will never be mountain people! Effects of altitude sickness generally kick in at around 3000m above sea level, but it varies for different people. The minimal oxygen in the air (up to 50% less than at sea level) has left us both suffering from headaches, nausea and tight chests, then add to that the aches and pains from hiking for four days – who said travelling is relaxing?! Of course we have seen some amazing things to warrant the discomfort and as an added bonus have made some great friends along the way too.
As our group waved goodbye to Cusco (3300m above sea level) and left behind the walking sticks and the socks that could not be salvaged, we boarded a bus to Puno (3800m above sea level) – a small town in south east Peru and gateway to Lake Titicaca. The lake is one of the largest, deepest and highest lakes in the world and sits on the border of Peru and Bolivia. It has a strong connection to Incan myths and in 2000 a temple was discovered submerged in the lake, believed to be between 1000 and 1500 years old.
On a sunny morning we jumped on tricycles in the centre of town to be delivered to the water’s edge for a tour out on the lake. All of a sudden it felt like we were in South East Asia! The 6 tricycle drivers that ferried our group raced through the streets of Puno, ducking and weaving in the traffic and occasionally bumping into each other. Getting on the boat was a welcome relief!
There are many islands to explore on the lake if you have time on your hands, but the ones we were headed for were close to shore and very curious: floating manmade reed islands that are home to the Uros people and need to be rebuilt every 25 years or so. They are actually quite surreal – you can feel the water soaking through the reeds as you walk on them, which is why it is a full time job to continually lay down dry reeds across the islands.
Each island is home to approx. 3-6 families with the total estimated population just a few hundred people. Most have moved to the mainland now, and children over the age of 12 are schooled on the mainland too. The women stay in camp to receive the tourist visitors and demonstrate handicrafts, whilst the men are out on the lake collecting yet more bundles of reeds to bring back and dry out. The reeds are used for everything - building homes, as a food and medicinal source and for handicrafts too.
It did feel a bit touristy taking a boat out to the group of 42 islands, each one set up for the imminent arrival of a boat full of tourists to whom they could sell their handicrafts, and the children were well schooled in the art of performing for the westerners! We played along and boarded a reed boat for a paddle out into the lake to take in the scenery with our fellow tourers before it was back to town for a well-earned afternoon off.
From Puno it was back to La Paz in Bolivia (3650m above sea level) where our eight day Geckos tour would end. The view of the city on approach is unbelievable – the city has an estimated population of between 500,000 to 1 million but the larger metropolitan area is estimated at just over 2million. As the city has grown the spread of buildings has scaled the sides of the mountains, creating an effect not dissimilar to the urban sprawl of Rio de Janeiro.
With a final night out on the town with our fellow Aussies and our token American, we ate and drank and talked of our plans for NYE: some were off to the Amazon, others to NYC and Buenos Aires, one to Cancun and our tour leader Gasbar home to Peru. For us and our new American friend Jamie, it was a night out on the town in La Paz! After a few false starts and a deluge of rain as we wandered the streets looking for action, we ended up at the bar in Jamie’s hostel drinking very strong drinks ($3.45 each!) with a crazy American man, a Dutch couple and the Portuguese barman as fireworks went off across the city and we welcomed 2013.
With 8 days left of our 270 day adventure it’s time to get back to sea level and dump the jackets…. Santiago is our last stop before home!