February 14, 2011 GMT
Peru Peru, Salut Peru

Jean had two wishes for this trip, other than the penguin thing.

* To meet an Andean woman wearing a "bowler hat"
* To have a conversation in Spanish with her.

To get to Bolivia we had to head back into the mountains and leave the desert behind for a few weeks. We had been warned that rain was expected higher up and within an hour of turning east rain clouds formed. A timely change into wet weather gear was accomplished on a flat open plain.

As it was to be a long day, over 600 kilometers, I had made the rare effort of booking ahead into a hostal, "La Casa De los Penguinos", in Arequipa. We were both grateful I had done this as the rain continued all the way up the curvy mountain roads to the city, which was experiencing more rain in two weeks than it had for four years.

The road from Arequipa to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca took us up over 4500 metres, wound past canyons and some high plains with lakes and flamingos. We even spotted two condors gliding over a gorge.

One of the effects of gaining altitude rapidly is the body starts to expel water and "comfort breaks" become more necessary. At the highest point of 4528 metres, while taking a photo, I had to have a wee (well it would have been rude not to).


With height gain came temperature loss and we were both happy when we came down to the shores of Lake Titicaca and a marginal increase in warmth.

Neither of us really wanted to stay at Puno, but the sensible thing would have been to at least see what was available. But being us we took the heavy load bypass and headed on the road towards Bolivia. It soon became aparent that there were not many hotels or hostals, other than ridiculously expensive ones or one down a wet dirt road which Jean did not want to negotiate. This did lead to a small contretemps and a bit of huffyness but we agreed to head back to Puno.

As I tore along the road I noticed a Hospedaje (guest house) on the shores of the lake, not even in a town or village. We decided to turn round and check if there were any rooms.

Not only did they have rooms, but they also had covered parking for the bikes and hot water, for only 20 Soles per night (about 4.50GBP).

The owner's son, Andres ('call me Andy'), greeted us and explained that the local village (just over the fields) was having its annual fiesta for the feast of "La Virgin De Candeleria", would we like to go and join in?

Am I allowed to say "It would be rude not to" twice in one entry ?

We unpacked, changed and piled into Andy's truck.

The village was populated by Aymara indigenous people. Andy is a Metzitso (mixed race), he grew up in the village and managed to gain an education eventually enabling him to find employment in a high position in the Peruvian Customs in Lima. He set up the guest house which his mother, a full blooded Aymaran, runs. Andy spends all his holidays working on the guest house.

The village football field had been taken over for the fiesta. A large tree had been planted specially in the middle and filled with balloons and baskets full of sweets and goodies. Two full drum and brass bands played while people danced around the tree.

As soon as we arrived we were handed beer and shown that should make an offering to "Pachamama". This entailed spilling some beer on the earth before partaking.

People kept coming over to ask where we were from and say hello, then have photographs taken with us.

We were decorated with ribbons, given a twirly pompom each and drawn in to the dancing, there did seem to be some particularly fancy foot work but we just shuffled along, and turned when whistle was blown.


While people danced, occasionally a man would pick up an axe and chop at the tree, this went on until the tree came down and all the children dived on it to get the goodies. Apparently the person who fells the tree has to organise the next years fiesta and pay for the tree and the stock of goodies, good job I didn't have a go with the axe.

The dancng then continued around stacks of beer crates.


One old gent took a shine to Jean and would not let her stop dancng, all the time singing "Peru Peru, Salut Peru"


The event wound down when a torrential downpour and lightening storm started, so we went back to the guest house to drink some more and talk. We were joined by Dieter, a German who had been staying there for 2 weeks off and on, so it was a very multi lingual conversation.

While I spoke to Andy and Dieter, Jean spoke with Andy's Aymaran auntie in broken Spanish (as it was not the first language for either of them), and so Jean fulfilled her two wishes.


Eventually the altitude and beer caught up with us and we went to bed, with a bucket of water for the bathroom as the water pump had failed. We had to stop Andy going and digging the pump up, as we were happy and didn't care.

The next morning we had breakfast overlooking the lake from the rooftop room before packing and leaving for Bolivia.


Posted by Bruce Porter at February 14, 2011 12:35 AM GMT

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