March 15, 2006 GMT
10th Mar 2006 - Puno, Peru (Lake Titicaca), boat trip to Islas floatantes de los Uros

0 kms by m/c,

We had chosen Puno as a stopover as it is close to the traditional Titicaca sights. The floating reed islands of fame. Several firms offer tours, but one in our hotel was the same details and price as another good one so we booked here. We had breakfast - bloody poor again, even in a 3 star place, and then got picked up for the boat.

There had been a huge storm last night and the remains of the hail were all about and the surrounding hillsides were a little white. Not a great start, and a promise of continuation. Another annoyance was the fact as we waited on the boat a guitar and pan pipe guy came to serenade us. Really bleeps me off this milking a waiting crowd. Anyway I'm hardened enough not to pay, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. It's that trapped feeling I think.


A grey start to the boat ride to the floating islands

We set off for the islands and in all honesty it was quite apparent early on that what we were visiting were little more than islands set up for tourists.

Having said that it was still interesting in the same way a living museum is. You know the folk at Beamish Museum (in Northern England) go home on a night, but they still give a good show during the day. I'm not saying the people here go home away from the islands and change and you might see in a bar later, just not entirely real.


Tight bound reeds, the basis of many things

Whatever the reality, we still saw how the islands work and how the people live and it was quite interesting. The water was about 18m deep, the reed island about 2. The construction is simple but effective and lasts about 25 years but maintenance is every 8 months.

There was evidence of blue plastic sheeting and corrugated tin under reed roofs and lets face it, who could blame them.

Along with the information is the 'opportunity' to buy local goods. We can't be too harsh as this really is a way these people survive now, it is their life.

We also had the chance for a ride in a 'real reed boat' and although again a tourist thing, we did it anyway as when else would you get he chance to sail on Titicaca on a reed boat ? We weren't expecting an invite from Thor Hyadal so paid our money and went! And it was fine though obviously a bit crap.


Traditional boat

The weather had been a bit unkind to start, but let off the rain by later and even slightly warmed by the time we left.

If I was honest, I'd say it was a let down, and not something really worth making a point of doing. But, at the same time it's the nearest you';; get to seeing the lifestyle so I guess you can't knock it too much. There must be better ways of seeing the more genuine thing though, but perhaps that might not be so nice either, maybe the sanitised version is easier accepted.


Traditional (tourist) boats and reeds

We were back by lunch and decided to have a wander around the 'local' scene. There are stacks of tourists here, and the thoroughfares of the main streets are busy with them, move a few blocks away, as anywhere, and they disappear.

We're always a little cautious of the possibility of robbery or theft in these 'markets' but if you go empty handed there is little or nothing to fear. The draw back is there are no pictures to relate the images we see, except in our heads of course which is the main thing.

The market covered all spectrums from vegetables to meat and fish to clothes and all types of strange things. The veg looked great, particularly the several types of spuds on display. The meat, not surprisingly, looked less appetising - Chick feet in garlic anyone? Maybe a dried sheep’s head? The fish showed the limited choice for such a huge expanse of water. Trout isn't here, that's bred for the tourists (and nice it is too), but only four types of fish for sale. Some little pudgy tench like fish, small semitransparent sardine like things, a Mackerel like thing, and then the very excellent Pejerry. Even they look pretty small and disappointing, but fortunately taste excellent. None of the fish is of any size though, strange in such a huge lake. (I'm sure you all know it’s the highest navigable lake in the world?)

A couple hours of interminable internet to pass on these wonderful details and catch up on news from home and the afternoon was complete. Just time for a nibble for tea and bed with the huge question mark over us of what the weather will bring. Undoubtedly we are in a colder area now, bloody chilly of an evening, and although out of the wet season mainly for Bolivia, it seems like it gets pretty wet in Peru often at this time of year. We'll see in the morning.

Saturday 11th March 2006

Puno to Cuzco

398 kms

Well I guess we got lucky again as the weather was fine, grey, threat of rain, but fine. Negotiating the glass door, sofas and sliding carpets with the bike was fun but easy enough, just imagine asking to have your bike put in the lobby of a hotel in the UK!

I guess a few folk wonder how I cam manage to get so much information typed and mailed on a regular basis? Well it's all down to carrying my very handy Palm Tungsten T3 PDA (like a miniature computer basically} and a small folding keyboard. The two together pack up as small and light as a paper notebook. The battery allows for a few hours typing, and it is either recharged by plugging through 12v to the bike, or from a USB at the internet cafe. Internet is absolutely everywhere. We only found two villages without it on the whole trip I think, astounding. And it’s like that throughout most of the world now, developed or undeveloped. As for the quantity of words, well, you'll just have to believe me when I say we sit and I type of an evening in our room with a beer and this is just scratching the surface. There are so many things that happen, that don’t make it into mails that sit as memories for us, no really!

We were saying goodbye to the bright dark blue waters of Titicaca today and returning to the hills - but ironically dropping a few 10's of metres by end of day. Leaving Puno my quest was to find some half reasonable octane fuel. Although fuel costs more here it is harder getting above 84, there is 90 but you have to search. The road out was a mix of OK and long sections made up of hand laid patches that jarred for kms.

The next major town, I forget the name, is a hell hole, really is, and recognised as such. As ever there are no signs indicating which way anywhere is, and roadwork’s had streets dug up to add to the confusion. I am slowly getting the hang of the naming of the streets and can sometimes gauge the way to the centre and try and figure out from there.

It’s a peculiarity of South American countries that virtually every town has the same street names - varied in each country. They are based on battles, heroes, important days etc. The main ones run to the Plaza de Armas or similar - their town square and after a while you can get the idea. If it was the UK they would be I guess, Trafalgar, Agincourt, Montgomery. And various dates I can't think of. Imagine every town in the UK having those streets and some variants, weird eh? I know we have plenty of say Long Streets, but not quite the same.

Anyway, this place is grim town and the sooner we were out the better. At least if you ask people they are helpful and direct you the right way, and so we eventually got out.

Another surprise in Peru is the railway lines are used, well to Cuzco anyway. In many SA counties the lines are left in place but long since derelict, today we came across trains three times, a record. I guess the route Puno Cuzco is one of those 'great railway journeys' and hence the reason. We came upon an unmanned crossing later in day were the train was passing and we stopped and gave the train drivers a return wave and even had a minor horn blowing contest. Our replacement horn may be louder than a car, but was no match for the train, good fun though. Mainly western faces in the rather attractive looking carriages.

Our route took us from the lands adjacent to Titicaca into rolling hills that gradually gave way to higher occasionally snowcapped peaks. It looked like Mongolia or somewhere and the adobe house changed with the landscape. Larger than those in Bolivia, but still based around a small courtyard and thatched roofs, very African.


Thatched farm further along route


And another

The road climbed to about 4300m before falling away the other side towards Cuzco and the Sacred Valley and a complete change of vegetation.


The road from Puno to Cuzco, near high point

Even high, high, on the hillsides were fields or terraces and everywhere was heavily productive with lush verdant greenery abounding. The houses also changed from thatched simple dwellings to more hacienda styled houses and farms. Now looking far more characteristic of Spanish colonial architecture.

The sudden change was quite a surprise. I guess it comes from the long historical connections to Inca society and earlier were the whole society was based on production and ensuring supply = demand.

We came across a wonderful historic sight shortly before Cuzco itself (there are many and we wanted to get there so didn't stop to investigate all the options) an Inca gateway and wall. Very impressive and grand and worth a wander around.


Inca wall and gateway Nr Cuzco

We had narrowly missed being soaked earlier, one of those happy occasions were we donned the full waterproofs to the sound of thunder, but then had to take them all off 20kms later as it warmed, and it was following us so we were off.

Just before Cuzco itself. At a village police check point a policeman stood out and motioned that we pull in. Bugger, going to do me for speeding I thought. But no, a brief discussion on where we were from and then to his business. He asked if we had an English pen? We did, but only biro, but that was what he was after. Producing one and passing it to him he was obviously going to keep it and wished us all the best and waved is on our way. Cheeky beggar!

Arriving in Cuzco it was obvious the place is based on heavy antiquity and a nice looking place. Sadly virtually our first vision was the dirtiest tramp / dropout I think we have ever seen, stooped , grimacing with his hands in his open flies while watching some young children on the opposite pavement, not the best introduction!

It got much better soon after when we stopped with the blackening skies closing in all around, when we were approached by Jeff. Are you English he asked? Have you met Chris and Liz yet? No but we're here to. We had received a mail from them saying they were here and would we like to meet for a beer or two. Last saw them in Ushuaia. How spooky eh, more spooky as Jeff runs 'Norton Rats Tavern' here in town. A regular biker’s bar and overland travellers hook up point that is hard to surpass. Happy chance meeting. He recommended a hostel around the corner that had safe parking and couldn't have been more central, and was only round the corner from the bar too!

Remarkably it was where Chris and Liz's bike was, though they weren't. Chris's Mum was over visiting so they'd gone to a better place to be with her. They were due at the tavern though so we knew we could go there.

We had only enough time to unload before the heavens opened, so very lucky. Casa Grande is relatively basic, but it a great old building, brilliant location, and friendly staff, what more could you want. Friends and a bar? Sorted!

We went to the Tavern and had a burger and a few beers and then Jeff appeared and we sat and had some great discussions on biking and travel and had many things and places in common. On the walls were some pictures from Kent Custom Bike Show in 1985 that almost exactly match one I’d taken. A motorcycling home from home.

Chris and Liz walking in a little later and we all sat together and got stuck into some heavy bike talk and drinking. Several Piscola's and sours later it was 2.30 in the morning and we all had to split.

Great night, great people, and a bloody great place, Norton Rats Tavern should not be missed.
It´s here

We are lucky now as we can gain from Chris and Liz's experience here to find the things we want and need.

Posted by Simon McCarthy at March 15, 2006 05:43 PM GMT

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