Driving from Puno to Cusco, Peru

This is a very common site at almost ever hotel I stayed in. There’s a pot with hot water, instant coffee, various bags of tea and a bowl of leaves. Cocoa leaves, actually. And everyone drinks cocoa tea, chews the leaves–grandmothers, children….but especially tourists who are feeling the effects of seroche–altitude sickness. It’s only mildly stimulating and seems to have a lot of minerals and micro-nutrients. It’s not cocaine. It’s just cocoa.
This woman turned out to be from Atlanta! We knew many of the same areas of the city. I enjoyed talking and lunching with her and her husband. She said something very interesting about finding balance in relationships. Imagine that there are 10 people in your life that you’re close to–family, friends. At any one time, four of them won’t be happy with something you’ve done. Four is normal. You can’t please them all. Try not to piss off more than 6 at a time, though.

This will just be photographs. I spent a lot of time on buses during this “Grand Tour” of Peru, but it’s a great way to see the countryside. The drive between the cities of Puno and Cusco is roundly 390km (240 miles), but the road is good and the bus was comfortable. We even had hot drinks and a bathroom on board. Unfortunately, there were no cold drinks, as I found out when I asked for a soda. Room temperature is considered “cold” in these parts. No ice.

And here we have one of many statues of someone holding a head.
Some of the many pre-Inca civilizations in the area.
Pueblo of Pucará Or Pukara, depending upon who you talk to. There is a museum and archaeological ruins at Pukara. Pukara is famous for the sale of toritos or bulls made of ceramic which adorn the roof of homes in Peru. The word for bull is toro, but these are small, so they are called toritos–little bulls. Most homes have tile roofs with two bulls and a small cross between them on the top of center of the roof. It’s to bring good luck.
This is the center of town, and by far the largest building.
Leaving town, it was flat with mountains in the distance. This is the altiplano.

There are some small gardens, but it’s mostly a grazing area for cattle, sheep, lamas and alpacas.

The towns are very small, just a few buildings along the highway. I rarely saw a person.
The small towns don’t have a lot to offer.

It was a relief to finally go over a river. Water is scare here.

This is very similar to the road side altars in the USA. Usually the spot marks where someone has died.
Traditionally dressed women. Often their hats seem too small. I don’t know how they stay on. And everyone carries things–even children–just like this, wrapped in a colorful blanket.
It’s dry and there are few people, but I’m impressed that the entire area has a sidewalk. I couldn’t get a sidewalk in my Atlanta neighborhood!

At what is presumably the highest point along this road and conveniently about half-way, the bus pulls over, as you leave Puno region and enter Cusco region. A roadside sign indicated we were at 4335 metres above sea-level! The only visible purpose of this stop, however, seemed to be the rows of stalls of souvenirs being sold. Why this spot, aside from an arbitrary point where the two regions meet, I do not know.
According to the website DangerousRoads:
“Abra la Raya is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 4.350m above the sea level located in Peru. The pass marks the divide between the Puno and Cusco regions.
The road to the summit, also known as Apu Chimboya, is called Carretera 3S. It’s asphalted. With such a high summit altitude the road can be closed anytime due to snowfalls. The zone is prone to heavy mist and can be dangerous in low visibility conditions. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. The climb is simply terrible, with a notorius lack of oxygen that tests the organisms and a high degree of steepness. Most people feel altitude sickness at around 2,500-2,800 meters.” Whoa! Glad I didn’t know all that at the time!

This is possibly the highest point in Peru–the boarder of Cusco and Puno “states” (called divisions, here).
This woman sold me a sweater. I’ve been using a ratty old one for quite some time, but now have a new red, patterned sweater of baby alpaca.
Almost as soon as we enter the division of Cusco, it got greener. We started descending too, so breathing was easier.
It’s spring planting time here. And some of these fields were cultivated by tractors. Up to this point, the fields were small and worked almost entirely by hand.
Look how clean those fields are. they probably are already planted in potatoes. There are over 3,000 varieties of potato–most for Peru and surrounding Andean countries.

There were many more people, too. And nicer houses…..
…though they weren’t all occupied.
This is a school and it’s very large compared to the ones we’ve passed the last few days.

But there’s always the mountains……
….and always churches.
Side roads are dirt, even in town, but the highway the bus was traveling on was quite good.

Virtually every small town had “signs” like these in the side of the mountain. A guide told me that they are usually businesses, churches or schools.

This shepherd is bringing his flock of sheep up the side of the mountain on a narrow footpath.
Another Seventh Day Adventist church. Hummmmm.

I saw at least three fires this day–probably cleaning land. One was very out of control. In an area with little water, a fire that gets out of control is a huge issue.

Taquile Island, in Lake Titicaca, Peru

Our first look at Taquile Island. You can see from the terraces that this is heavily farmed. It is early spring here, so planting is just starting.

Taquile (Spanish: Isla de Taquile; Quechua: Intika) is an island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca 45 km offshore from the city of Puno. About 2,200 people live on the island, which is 5.5 by 1.6 kilometres (3.4 by 1.0 mile) in size, with an area of 5.72 km2 (2.21 sq mi). The highest point of the island is 4,050 metres (13,287 feet) above sea level, so climbing to the top left me breathless! The inhabitants, known as Taquileños, speak Puno Quechua and Spanish. There are no cars and I didn’t even see a bicycle! Though, since the ground is so uneven and there are so many stairs, a bike might not be very helpful.

I took a boat on the all day excursion around Lake Titicaca. Mine is the farthest from the end. Notice how you have to walk over three other boats to get to the small dock.

In 2005, “Taquile and Its Textile Art” were honored by being proclaimed “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. It is the men who do the knitting, however. In fact, in order to marry, a man must make his own hat to prove he can weave and support his family.

The blue water looks clean, but pollution has been a real issue.

Taquileños are known for their fine handwoven textiles and clothing, some of the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. Knitting is exclusively performed by males, beginning in early boyhood. Women spin wool and use vegetables and minerals to dye the wool to be used by the community, however. Women are also the weavers of the Chumpis, the wide belts with woven designs worn by everyone in the community of Taquile. In preparation for marriage, a woman will weave a belt for her new husband that includes images of all the things they want for their lives together.

And now we start climbing to the top of the island. This is the highest I’ve ever been, and the air is THIN. I really wanted to grow a third lung. I made it to the top, but had to stop and catch my breath several times, hence the photos!

Taquileans are also known for having created an innovative, community-controlled sustainable tourism model, offering home stays, transportation, lodging for groups, cultural activities, local guides and restaurants. I’d like to stay a week here and see if I enjoyed the peace or went crazy! Ever since tourism started coming to Taquile in the seventies, the Taquileans slowly lost control over the mass day-tourism operated by non-Taquileans. Taquile community have their own Travel Agency Munay Taquile has been established to regain local control over tourism.

Lots of sheep as well as plants.

Taquileños run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla, (Quechua for “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy”). The island is divided into six sectors for crop rotation purposes. The economy is based on fishing, terraced farming (mostly potatos), and tourist-generated income from the approximately 40,000 tourists who visit each year.

….and chickens.

The majority of the inhabitants of Taquile are Catholic. They adapted this religion, harmonizing Andean religion with the syncretic Christian culture. The mother earth (Pachamama), the principal Andean deity, directly controls harvesting and fertility; the island is home to four Apus, Andean mountaintop deities. People make several offerings to these deities each year, and they offer three coca leaves prior to each activity or trip. God is present throughout the year in the festivities. The two Catholic churches are in Centre and Huayllano; a Seventh-day Adventist church is located in Huayrapata.

Yeah, still climbing….see that guy in front of me, hidden behind the large sack? He passed me, carrying a load I’d have had trouble with a sea level. And the man had to be old enough to be my father. These folks are in good shape and have actually developed lungs that can take in much more oxygen. Many have barrel chests to accommodate the extra lung capacity. Color me jealous!

Taquile has a radio station and is equipped with generators. Islanders have elected to use solar panels to generate energy.

Flowers and trees on the Island include Kolle, the tree used to roof the houses and for firewood, the Cantuta flower (the national flower of Peru), the Chukjo (used as detergent), and Muña, used as natural medicines.

I thought this arch meant I was near the top. Not so.
These plots are worked by hand. There are not tractors, cars or motorbikes.

This arch wasn’t at the top, either. Still going up!
Finally! The town square!
You can tell by the red and white hat that this is a single man, heading off to hoe his garden. He was the only single man I saw.
…and the view from the top is almost worth the climb.
The church.
Want to know how far you are from home?
The sign says Men’s Weaving–Unisex. Yes, the men are the weavers here.
Inside, you can buy just about anything you want made of alpaca. We quickly learned that EVERYTHING is marked “Baby Alpaca” which is the highest quality wool. But you have to be careful. Some places mix synthetic fibers to make what the guides call “Maybe Alpaca.” But I honestly think the quality here was very high.
An example of the men’s colorful hat and wide belt.
Main Plaza
Married women wear black.
I wanted a photo of the boy, but he was very shy.

We follow our host to lunch..but wait! More climbing?

Lovely views from the spine of the island.
This leads to the port on the other side of the island. Our boat will meet us at the bottom after lunch. But we are warned there are about 350 steps down. NOW, you warm me?!?

Here’s our host for lunch. We’ll be eating in his back yard. You can tell he’s married by the fancy, colorful hat.
This photo is from the gate of our host’s property. What a site!

You’d think it was the ocean, right? We Lake Titicaca is about the size of Puerto Rico.
The tree in the back yard grew tumbo, a common Peruvian fruit I’d never heard of before I came here.
A nice canopy, good food and a view of the lake. What else could you as for?
These sisters from Canada were a hoot!
Quinoa soup is a common first course here–tasty and grown locally. This was also has some squash. I love it.
Here’s something you’ll see served often in Peruvian restaurants–trout. No, it’s not native to the area. In fact, this Smithsonian article explains how it got here: “The North American lake trout came to South America with the blessing of Uncle Sam in the 1930s. Peruvian and Bolivian officials at the time saw the lake as an economic opportunity, and they reached out to the U.S. government for help. The United States responded by sending M.C. James from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Fish Culture to Lake Titicaca.
James studied the area during the winter of 1935-36, a very short period, and then made a very consequential recommendation. He suggested—for reasons not clear today—stocking the lake with North American fish.
There were a small group from Japan, though they did speak some English. One of the women had these crazy nails!
After dinner we were served munia tea–a type of local mint. Though this was the first time I saw it, I heard a lot about this plant later. It discourages insects, so was used to help preserve both stored food and bodies!

The village of Maca, Peru

Approaching the village of Maca. Pretty sure most of the town fits in the frame.

Between the visit to the Colca Canyon condors and a late lunch in Chivay, we made a half hour stop at the village of Maca, Peru. It’s small. There’s not much to see there, except their rather impressive old church.

The town square includes several painted sculptures.

I found this Washington Post article about the area:

After the Spanish conquered the Colca Valley in the 16th century and grouped its scattered residents into 24 towns (17 of which survive today), the outside world left it alone for another 400 years. The region came to international attention only thanks to a National Geographic expedition led by Robert Shippee and George Johnson, whose 1934 article about it was headlined “A Forgotten Valley of Peru.”

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the area got a major road connecting it to Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city, 100 miles away. Previously there had been little contact with the rest of the country, with goods transported by mule or slow truck. Today, it’s a stunning four-hour drive from the city, past bare volcanic plateaus and snow-capped peaks. At 13,800 feet, a cafe serves fresh coca tea for altitude sickness. Most of the area is a preserve for vicunas, graceful, long-necked animals related to llamas, which graze on the parched grass near the road. The land becomes greener as you descend into Chivay, the regional capital in the south of the valley.

It’s hard to imagine that the valley once needed such large churches, or so many of them. The roughly 70,000 people who lived here at the time of the Spanish conquest could have filled them, but the structures clearly demonstrated power as much as religion. Initially covered with murals, they grew almost oppressively Baroque as the empire became richer. In the restored church in Maca, for instance, a massive gold altar glints with mirrors. To Inca farmers, the churches must have looked like spaceships.”

This is apparently a scene from a local dance where the wife carries her husband. No idea why he’s wearing a mask.

Depiction from another local dance

This is clearly the center of town–the restored church.
Inside, there is an amazing amount of what appears to be real gold. Also mirrors. There isn’t much electric light, so I suppose the mirrors help with illumination. Or let you fix your hair and make up.

Just in front of the church’s door, you can see the mountains surround village.
…but tourism is the draw here.

You can even buy—or rent for a photo–this traditional costume.
For a sole, you take a photo with a baby alpaca.
And there’s that volcano, again.

Day tour of Arequipa, Peru

First stop on the tour was Carmen Alto–a high point overlooking the Chili River Valley. It’s called in Spanish a “mirador,” a lookout point.
This is the awesome volcano Misti from the overlooks balcony. This is a great tourist spot–with a cafe and gift store. They even have a zipline. I may come back to try that! Originally, it was just a farm house (and it’s still surrounded by farms).

Yesterday, I took what turned out to be a private tour of the city–just me and a young guide named Stephanie. She was pretty nervous so this must have been one of her first tours. Her English was better than my Spanish, and we managed to communicate.

At the bottom, you can see the Chili River. And yes, it’s cold. In fact the Quechua name for the river is spelled similarly and also means “cold.”
To the right is Misti, an active volcano. Her last eruption was a very long time ago, but occasionally you can see smoke rising. The last serious earthquake was in 2001.
To the right are the dormant volcano chain called Chachane.
This is Casa de Retiros de la Luisa, a religious retreat center, surrounded by terraced farms.
In the far distance, the upper right hand corner of the photo, you can just make out the dormant volcano chain Picchu Picchu. “Picchu” is a Quechua (KET CHU WA) word that means “mountain.” To make a plural in Quechuan, you just say the noun twice.

I also found a short video of the area:

Chachane mountains and the terraced farm land below.
These cows only seem to have a fence on three sides of this triangular piece of ground. The far edge for them is just a cliff!
A display of Peruvian items. at the top are three fruits and vegetables: Tumbo (also called Banana Passionfruit) Papaya de Arequipa (a small, sour papaya of the area) and Macha (a small potato like vegetable that is used only in small amounts). the last item doesn’t seem to be related to the green tea-like drink. I clearly need to investigate more.
To the left is Cat’s Claw and to the right are powered preparations of Macha.
To the left is Una de Gato (the herb Cat’s Claw) and to the right are Coca leaves, which also have small “stones” of ash to be taken with them. Yes, this is legal in Peru. Yes, I bought some. No, I haven’t tried them, yet. I also got some Coca candies, which tasted like horehound and had no effect.

I didn’t buy the Cat’s Claw, but after reading THIS, I will: “With a lengthy history dating back to the Inca civilization, Cat’s Claw has been used as a traditional medicine in the Andes to treat inflammation, gastric ulcers, rheumatism, dysentery, intestinal complaints and wounds.
The tribes of the Amazon have used this woody vine as a general tonic to promote good health for 1000’s of years – a tonic that can be used to bring anyone back to health. Its reputation as a “cure all” now seems to be validated by modern science, with numerous studies on the plethora of active compounds shedding new light on this ancient herb.
A recent study showed that Cat’s Claw significantly elevated the infection fighting white blood cell count in adult men who supplemented with this herb for 6 months. Researchers also noted a repair in DNA – both single and double strand breaks.
Its effect on the immune system appears to be two fold, with the ability to both boost and dampen immune response, depending on what is needed. Hyper immune responses can be contained, whilst a weak immune system that allows disease to advance undeterred is strengthened by supplementation with Cat’s Claw.”

This is the front of the Yanahuara District church, Church San Juan Bautista, in Yanahuara with it’s Peruvian Baroque facade. I actually live in this neighborhood, so I’d found it the day before. It’s the highest point in the city, so basically, I just walked straight up from my house.
The church was constructed from sillar, a pearly white volcanic rock, in 1750. It was closed this Sunday afternoon, but I’d seen a wedding there the day before.
This is one of the “teaching tools” for the natives, to help them understand Christianity. Latin and Spanish was spoken inside the church for the Spanish, but outside the mass was in Latin and Quechua.
This is the overlook from Yanahuara Plaza.
One of only a few olive trees in the city, but it doesn’t bear fruit.
Next we drove back to the Plaza de Armas–the central square of the old city of Arequipa. This is the cathedral of Arequipa, which is along one side. I’ve tried three times to visit it, but it’s been closed each time. Better luck next time.
This is a close up of the clock on the cathedral. There’s a bullet hole just inside the number 9. This from Arequipa Travel: “Arequipeños like to think of themselves as being separate from, and superior to, the rest of Peru, and much of Arequipa is very traditional and regional. It is even possible to get an Arequipeño passport, although this is no more than regional pride. However, the independence of the city is reflected in its history, which has often opposed itself to directives from Lima. In 1950, students from the Colegio Independencia school went on strike to protest again central government policies. In a march in the Plaza de Armas the police opened fire on the students, killing many. Signs of this are still visible in the clock face of the Cathedral, where a bullet hole from the shooting can be seen.” My guide assured me that Peruvians are quick to go to fight when needed.
We were supposed to go inside the Inglesia de Compania (church of the Companions of Jesus/Apostles), but it was closed. This is from the nearby cloisters, now a public square with shops.
A close up of the details pillars and arches. Remember, this is an seismically active area. Arches are not only decorative, but strong in an earthquake. It’s not always enough, though. This area has been re-built a few times. The last big quake was in 2001, an 8.4 on the Richter scale! The earthquake occurred at the boundary between the Nazca and South American plates. The two plates are converging towards each other at a rate of about 78mm per year. At least 74 people were killed, including 26 killed by a tsunami. At least 2,687 were injured, 17,510 homes were destroyed and 35,549 homes damaged in the Arequipa-Camana-Tacna area. An additional 64 people were missing due to the tsunami in the Camana-Chala area. Landslides blocked highways in the epicentral area. Many of the historic buildings in Arequipa were damaged or destroyed, including the left tower of the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa.
This is the students’ cloister–much plainer, so they wouldn’t be distracted from their studies.
An exterior door of the Iglesia de Companias shows St. James fighting the Moors, with mermaids below.
Plaza de Armas, facing the basilica of Arequipa.
A lovely church garden, on my way back at the end of the tour.
And here’s what the chef recommends at Dimas Restaurante: Carpaccio of alpaca (thinly sliced, air dried alpaca meat), Grilled salmon and Lomo Saltado–a popular, traditional Peruvian dish, a stir fry that typically combines marinated strips of sirloin (or other beef steak) with onions, tomatoes, french fries, and other ingredients; and is typically served with rice. The dish originated as part of the chifa tradition, the Chinese cuisine of Peru.

We also visited the Monastery of Santa Catalina, but I’ll post those separately.