PUNO AND LAKE TITIKAKA
A lot of people have told me that they think Puno is boring and there’s not much to do there. I can agree to a point, but there are a few interesting things to do in Puno that most people ignore. Me and Chris arrived from Cusco and after lunch at Mojsa (“delicious” in Aymara language, and a personal favorite) with a view of the colonial cathedral, I took him to see the Yavari, one of the steamboats that navigated Lake Titikaka since 1870.
The Yavari was abandoned and it was nothing but a piece of junk when it was found by their current owners, a society of Peruvian-British people who bought the ship from the government and decided to recover it. Now Yavari looks more like a jewel and it’s almost ready to go. The wood in the cabins is original, some of the furniture and the tools like the binoculars, the sextant, the compass, the captain’s wheel, but most importantly the motor, which is today considered as the world’s oldest motor still at work. If I remember well 80% of the boat is original. The crew are the guides and there’s no entrance fee but a 5$ donation is recommended. Another way of supporting the Yavari sailing again is by staying there. One of the cabins is now a B&B and for 45$ you can spend the night at the ship with breakfast included! The view is beautiful there not only for the lake itself but ‘cause on the duck there are totora reeds and is possible to see wild guinea pigs and many ducks and grebes, or Wilson’s Phalarope, a common migrant from North America. At sunset it’s quiet a sight.
So who said there’s not much to do in Puno! And you have also the Dreyer Museum, you can visit Juli (one hour away) and its many temples, or go to the House of the Corregidor, next to the church, and check the beautiful and unique handcrafts or enjoy what is the best coffee of 2010, Tunki, from Sandia, at the jungle of Puno (yes, Puno has a jungle!).
Next day we leave for the lake. People from all over share our boat: Canadians, Dutch, German, Peruvians, Australians, etc. The weather is sunny and perfect to go and visit the Uros people, the floating islands people. While Ruben, our guide who is actually from the Uros, explains to the group how they make the islands, I sneak away to watch Plumbeous Rail and Yellow-winged Blackbird. I look for Titicaca Grebe without luck. This bird is endemic to the lake because its flightless.
I spend some time talking to an old man. He shows me a postcard of a man rowing a reed boat. He says it’s him 20 years ago. I don’t believe him but I buy the postcard to take pictures of him. There’s not many elders left among the Uros and Mr. Martin is 80 years old. He also says he was born in the Uros by a “partera”, a women who receives and helps children at their birth. I think that I would love to research and learn more of their history and also do something for the sanitary conditions in which they live, that to me look very scarce.
We take a ride on a raft to another island, the perfect moment to tell my story of Thor Heyerdahl and how he got from Huanchaco to the Pacific islands, proving that there could have been contact between ancient peruvians of the Mochica or Muchik civilization and other cultures of the Pacific who, curiously enough, share similar face features, musical instruments, vegetables and legends. I love this story and though the most of the archaeological world dismiss this idea as a possibility I sympathize with it. Why do ancient American (by American I mean from Alaska to Patagonia) cultures are so underestimated? So the Fenicians could travel the world by boat 1000 years before Christ but in South America we couldn’t? What does that mean, that we were waiting to be discovered by the Europeans, quietly and without any curiosity for the world out there? Or perhaps too busy warring everyone and sacrificing everyone ‘cause we were too savage, the barbarians the Spanish thought we were? I ask, who turned out to be the barbarian here? Even the Spanish admitted it, just read the chronicles. Luckily not all of the invaders were barbarians, as I’m sure not all the locals were so rational as the Spanish say they were.
We continue towards Amantani island, where we will spend the night with a family (Felicita, Sebastian, Guillermo and Nely). Along the way I start talking with Diana, from Germany. She lives and loves Mexico and that thing in common gets us talking. Later the guide places her and her dad with me and Chris on the same family house. The house is simple but lovely. I love Amantani island. It looks like a huge monument of fertility with all of its Incan and pre-Incan terraces and its 2 temples on top of each hill: Pachamama temple, and Pachatata temple. Our guide tells us that today is a special day as they are celebrating a ritual of “payment” at Pachatata temple. When they “pay” it means they pay their respect and what they think they owe to Mother Earth (Pachamama) in order for her to be good to them with the harvests. But we arrive ready for lunch, so after meeting our families we get installed in our houses and lunch with them. Our hostess is Felicita, a woman easily on her 50’s but very active and as most her fellow islanders, easy-smiling. Her children are surprisingly young: Nely is 12 and Guillermo must be 10. Her husband Sebastian is playing with the musicians up at the Pachatata temple. We see them coming down around 5pm, when we are about to go up to the archeological site, once the celebration is finished. The 10 communities on the island participate.
The celebration itself consists of a “pago” performed by the “pakos” or elders who set a woven mantle and on it they place the best products of last year’s harvests: Fava Beans, Corn, Potatoes, etc. The purpose of their asking to Pachamama is that she produces a good harvest this year too. The temple is simple, a square walled rock structure that, inside, guards a sunken terrace with furnaces on the walls, and 2 sets of stairs to access it. The doors of the temple are closed to visitors and only open when these celebrations take place. The doors, as well as the stairs behind them, are aligned with the sunrise and sunset. The view from up there is amazing, we are at 4100 meters of elevation and we can spot the Carabaya mountain range and the Royal mountain range, on Bolivian soil. This is an ancient celebration that takes place since before the Inca was around, meaning perhaps more than a thousand years ago, the Marriage of the earth (Pachamama) and the sky (Pachatata), the prayer for rain upon the harvests.
At dinner we finally meet with Sebastian and Chris asks “what did the colorful flags you were waving when coming down the mountain meant?” . The following is one of my favourite answers of all time: “The colours of the flowers of potato: yellow, white, pink, red, orange, purple…a rainbow”. And this is what I love of Andean people, how simple yet insightful they can be. True Andean people are like that, there’s no trick behind what they say. If they want a favour they will ask for it, if they don’t want anything from you, they just won’t talk to you.
We stay chatting with Sebastian about the first settlers of Amantani, who didn’t come so long ago. During Inca times the island was exclusively a ceremonial site apparently.
The night sends us to sleep with a lightning storm under a full moon. Simple, yet beautiful sights. What else can be asked.
Well, maybe one more thing…for those of you looking for a nice place to chat and listen to good music, Positive bar is my advice to go to, where Carlos and Harold will be your guests.
I’m sad to leave Puno just 2 weeks before the carnival of la Virgen de la Candelaria, a 1 week party where, speaking of beer, more beer is consumed during that week that the rest of the year in all of Puno. But the most interesting part are the parades, the dresses, the dancers, the “comparsas” going through the downtown spreading the fun. It’s Peru’s largest carnival and thousands of people come from Cusco. Bolivia and even farther places, to dance for the Virgin of La Candelaria, a Spanish adaptation of a deity of the lake, just like Virgen de Copacabana. I’m happy at least I saw a parade practicing on the street, and I almost lose my ride to the airport. Bon voyage.