So I bade a fond farewell to Peru yesterday and crossed over the border into Bolivia. Peru was my home for 3 whole weeks, but I’ve barely scratched the surface. For one thing: I’ve experienced the desert and the mountainous regions; but not the rainforest areas… yet.
There’s been some most excellent experiences: flying over the Nasca Lines; visiting Machu Picchu; hiking Colca Canyon; taking a boat trip on Lake Titicaca (to the floating islands of Uros and the island of Taquile); plus the obvious flora, fauna, native and architectural encounters along the way of course.
Also, a few disappointments unfortunately: missed the Islas Ballestas (and seeing the cute penguins), due to bad weather; missed the Inca trail and Huayna Picchu, as you need to book months in advance. Not so much a case of bad planning on the latter; but rather no planning what-so-ever. I’m a drifter at heart… see what comes my way. ;o)
Since Peru is below Ecuador and the equator, it’s winter here. Between 9am and 5pm-ish it’s been generally pleasant, weather-wise. (I’m still acclimated to the Central American temperatures I experienced earlier in the year). But, first thing in the morning and later in the evening, (shower-time basically), it’s been freakin’ icy. Plus, it’s only gonna get worse. Until I’ve been southward down the west coast and northward on the east coast… finally passing the big-boned bit of the planet again that is.
No wonder all the locals (particularly the Quechuas and Aymaras) are so layered up. Was odd to my european eyeballs at first, compared to their traditional dress. But having lived it, even for such a short time, I get it now. (Also, why you see some hippy types wearing ponchos. They’re not just arty tossers… they’re freakin’ freezin’)! ;o)
I like to keep costs down as much as the next backpacker. But cold showers and draughty rooms are no joke. It’s times like these I envy the llamas and alpacas. At least they’ve got jumpers on. Mind you, I don’t envy the fact that alpacas are considered quite a delicacy here. And as for guinea pigs (cuy)… I’m glad that being 2 months meat-free gives me an excuse to politely decline. (I was sat next to an adventurous couple in an Arequipa restaurant one evening, when the waiter checked whether they wanted the head left on).
Many of the cities I experienced had their aesthetically pleasing centro historico. But otherwise were quite busy, run down etc. I guess it’s the people that often make a place endearing. History-wise: I was blown away by Machu Picchu. Really… never has my gob been so smacked. Nature-wise: there was Colca Canyon (arguably the deepest in the world; they battle back’n’forth with Cotahuasi Canyon) and Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America. (Still experiencing the latter as part of it falls in Bolivia).
Culture-wise: I think the island of Taquile and the floating islands of Uros were hard to beat. The latter (Uros) were a real oddity. As the name suggests: a host of mini-islands, constructed from reeds. Funky to see. One meter of reed roots, cut in blocks and lashed together. Another meter of reeds layered on top (in alternating directions). The whole thing anchored down, so it doesn’t drift. Plus, each island has reed houses, reed furniture, the works.
Provided the small clay cooking vessels and accompanying fire are suitably shielded; they avoid setting the place ablaze. Then an island can last anywhere between 25 and 35 years, before they need to make a new one. The people have lived like that for ages. Avoiding their enemies… and more recently, their taxes. ;o)
Felt spongey to walk on… as if you were gonna fall thru at any moment. Plus, we got to take a short trip in a reed boat. I’m sure some of the presentations were tailored for the tourists. But in general, you’ve gotta believe they’re committed to their way of life and their traditions.
As for Taqulie, it was a picturesque little island, where we were assured that the traditional dress wasn’t worn… just for the tourists. And frankly I believed it. The men knit, the women weave, there are no pack animals on the island (because it’s so dry they’d be hard to feed). Plus, there too, traditions seem to be very much alive. Marital status is signified by clothing rather than a ring. The colour of the hat and pom-pom for the men; the colour/size of the pom-poms on the women’s scarves. (Tho’ the cynics would say: they’re removed more often than the ring).
Knitting and weaving are a big part of their culture from an early age. With people being judged on their skill as part of the build-up to marriage. The women weave brightly coloured belts for their husbands; plus an under-belt, so to speak, worn as a support whilst doing heavy work. That particular belt contains the wife’s own hair, (woven in with other materials of course), as a sign of her devotion. (You can spot the newly weds by the fact the wife has short hair).
Our guide was quick to point out that there was also no such thing as divorce amongst the Taquile people. They’re monogamous and mate for life. I don’t think it had anything to do with being good Catholics either. Most of the indigenous people in Peru seem to preserve their traditional worship of Pachamama (mother earth) in parallel to any Catholic beliefs they may or may not have.
There are apparently only 3 Pachamama rules (or commandments) btw: don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t be lazy. When you see the old people of Taquile carrying a load better suited to a mule, you can see they take the latter seriously. I found it interesting that there was no mention of tho-shalt-not-kill. But I guess in the earliest tribal days, war was a matter of fact. (Much as it is today). So at least they were being honest/realistic about it.
Plus, I guess the 3 rules they do have, makes you a decent member of your own society. So, as long as you don’t steal your neighbor’s soul-mate (or take liberties with her and lie about it)… I guess there’s no need for any killing within the tribe. ;o)