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Vicki’s Travel Diary

Monday, 17 Mar 2008

Location: Peru

MapWEEK 9: LAKE TITICACA - COLCA CANYON (PERU)

It was another very relaxed immigration process as we crossed the border from Bolivia to Peru, again we simply walked across and had our passports stamped. No questions on how long we intended on staying or where we were going! We arrived in Puno, on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, and then took an afternoon boat ride to the Uros Islands. They are also known as the "floating islands" because they are quite literally floating on Lake Titicaca. There are about 40 of these islands, which range in size, but seem on average to house about 30 people. The Uros people have been inhabiting these islands for hundreds of years. To build an island they use the dense roots of a reed that grows in the lake and anchor the roots with sticks to the lake floor about 15m below, then they continuously add dried reeds to the top layer which acts as the island. They also build their huts and boats from these reeds. The islands last about 30 years, and then the families must move on and build a new island!

We then headed to Arequipa, about 6 hours west of Puno. From there we organised a 3 day tour of the Colca Valley and Colca Canyon, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The Colca Valley has pre-Incan (at least 600 years old) ruins and the terraces they built for cultivation are still intact and being used today. We spent the first day travelling to the Colca Valley and stopping along the way for photos of Llamas, Alpacas and Vicunas (which produce the finest natural fiber in the world, but all is exported to Italy for clothing production!) and then spent the late afternoon at the hot springs. It was an early 5am start the next morning so that we could get to the Colca Canyon in time to see the Condors as they only appear in the early morning and late afternoon. It was always a risk we wouldn´t see them given that it´s the wet season, but we were lucky. Initially we only saw one condor and unfortunately we had a camera malfunction as it flew past us only a few meters away! We had all but given up on seeing more and were driving away from the Colca Canyon, when our driver spotted many more condors. Unfortunately so did all the other tour bus drivers, so began this mad dash towards the condors with buses trying to overtake each other on a narrow mountain road all in an effort to get there first! But we did get some great photos and we also took a short video of a condor in flight, which we´ve uploaded to this website.

After watching the condors we had an action packed afternoon back in Yanke, one of the small villages in the Colca Valley. There are 7 of these tiny villages which were created by the Spanish when they conquered the area during the 1500s, as they wanted to move the natives from the highlands to gain control over the area. There is still however evidence of the native´s civilisation prior to this, and we hiked to a pre-Incan village on the hillside above Yanke. Unfortunately our tour guide only spoke Spanish, but we managed to pick up a bit plus there was a German girl on the tour who spoke Spanish and English so translated for us! Interesting was the natural water stream running through the village, which the villages built using rocks as a base and which ran from the water source way up higher in the mountains all the way down through the village and down below through their crops. Also amazing was a family grave in the village which had been opened and you could see bones and evidence of the ritual of narrowing and lengthening of the skull that these people endured at birth. I found it quite unbelievable that I was looking at pre-Incan human bones at least 600 years old, with no security controls or presevation measures. I guess that´s the untouched beauty of South America, I wonder how long it will stay like this?

We travelled back to Puno yesterday to catch the Andean Explorer train from Puno to Cusco, a first class train ride through the mountains. After another early start this morning to board the train by 6.30am, we were informed at around 7am that due to strike action the train was cancelled today! But they have assured us it will be running again tomorrow. We need to get to Cusco by tomorrow night to commence the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, so fingers crossed the train runs tomorrow!