Sun, Skulls and Sacrifices.

31 01 2009

Slowly the headaches began to subside and my joints began to ache less. Thankfully, being in Baranco, One Hostel is about a 5 minute walk from the sea. As my strength began to return I would spend most evenings watching the sun set into the water, and the surfers cramming in a last few waves before darkness fell. Baranco has a much more authentic feel to it than Miraflores; it is far less touristy and retains much of the area’s original charm and character from when it was the Capital’s seaside resort. It is scattered with Old Mansions and bars clinging to the clifftops, buzzing with artists and intellectuals. Claire and I found a wonderful bar right on the sea front, where we could sip a cold beer or Pisco Sour and watch the sunset from the comfort of large leather sofas; it was bliss! As always the sea air did wonders for my constitution (as did Claire’s cooking and tlc), and finally I felt well enough to continue on with my South America adventure.

There a few things I wanted to do in Lima though before we left; I wanted to visit the Water Park and also the Catacombs! The first day I felt well enough we had a big picnic tea in the hostel, Frances and Gillian joined us (both whom provided great company and DVDs during my recovery – so thank you!) – we covered the table in plates of food – we even had egg mayo sandwiches! We followed this up by paying a visit to one of Frances’ friends who owned a Bakery. It was on the way to the Water Park, so it seemed very rude to say no… furthermore there was zero chance I was going to pass up the opportunity of cake now I was on the mend!

Berta’s cakes was the final piece in my recovery (http://www.dulceriaeltaller.com/) Not only were the cakes heavenly, but she was also a fantastic host. Once we had eaten our share, we caught a taxi to the Circuito Magico del AguaParque de la Reserva. If you have been to Vegas – think the Bellagio: the park is full of amazing water fountains, with the centre piece being a water show set to music with video clips of Peru played on the water itself. It also has the highest water jet certified by Guiness records at 250 ft. Some of the fountains you are free to run around in, something we took great joy in doing, getting soaked to the skin in the process. It was innocent care free fun at its best, and a great way to celebrate being back in the land of the living.

The next day we booked a bus onwards towards Lake Titicaca, our next destination. As the bus wasn’t till the evening we said our sad goodbyes to everybody at One Hostel and after dumping our bags at the bus terminal, we headed to the San Francisco Monastery. Just up from the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio de Gobierno (both worth taking a look at), the San Francisco Monastery is wonderful seventeenth century construction, that has stood the test of time fantastically. Tour runs daily, and I definitely recommend taking one. Not only do you get to see the Library and central courtyard, but you also get go down into the Church’s vast crypts; only discovered in 1951, they contain the bones of over seventy thousand people. There was decidedly eerie feel to the place.

Afterwards we still had some time to kill, and I was also keen to the watch the first of the Six Nations rugby matches, so we headed across from the Monastery to a small eaterie that was incredibly popular with the locals. After a brief battle with translation we managed to negotiate a table at the back and control of the remote control. Over some food and a couple of cold beers, we passed the afternoon watching Wales v Scotland, whilst repeatedly trying to explain the rules, and that it wasn’t American football, to group of old boys who had joined us.

It was finally time to catch the bus out of Lima and onwards with our journey. To avoid a relapse we decided to make one last stop over in Cusco, before heading onto Puno and the Lake Titicaca. We had enough time for last meal at Jacks before hitting the sack and catching the early bus on towards the border.

As on the way into Peru, this leg of the journey was terrible. As the number of people on the bus began to deplete, so did the comfort and safety levels, until three buses later we found ourselves in a rickety old mini bus held together with duct tape, with our bags held onto the roof by old fishing nets. As I pulled my trout smelling bag off the roof in Puno, I was praying we had arrived in time to catch the connection across the border… we hadn’t. To make matters worse, as we were paying for our connection for the following day, the ATM decided to have a snack and swallow Claire’s debit card; so were now down to one source of funds for the remainder of the trip…mine.

After much haggling we managed to negotiate a taxi into town and found a cheap hotel for the night. In between checking in and heading out for dinner, the sky’s had opened and rain was lashing down over the streets of Puno, putting a slight dampener on the marching band that had been parading around. However, not being able to ignore our grumbling stomachs any longer, we had to don our anoraks and head out into the elements.

Puno was once the capital of the region and served as the main port of Lago Titicaca and important stop on the silver trail from Potosi. Four hundred years later however, it is a tad run down, and has suffered noticeably from the recent droughts. We were only here for one night though and our aim first and foremost was to get some food.

Arriving at Pizzeria del Buho looking like drowned rats, we quickly tucked into some delicious pizzas washed down with a couple of local cervezas. We then headed across the road for an equally delicious hot chocolate, before tiredness kicked in and it was time to hit the sack. On the way back to the hotel though we were repeatedly attacked; unable to hide our gringo status, numerous locals, young and old took great glee in soaking us in shaving foam and water balloons. This was our first, but by no means last experience of this kind – Carnaval was approaching!

Our bus the next day was booked with Tour Peru, it was a far cry from our experience the previous day, and before we knew it we were across the border and back into Bolivia once more. Arriving in Copacabana, we wasted no time heading down to the port and catching a boat out towards the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), where we planned to spend the night.

Lake Titicaca, or Lago Titicaca, is the largest high altitude body of water in the world. Making our way across its sapphire blue waters, we chatted freely with a group or Uruguayan lads about our travels, mentioning our experiences of their home country. They assured us that we had gone to the wrong parts i.e the capital, and promised us, if we ever decided to go back, that they would change our perception of their country. We agreed to discuss this further over drinks later that evening.

Lake Titicaca has always played an important role in Andean Religion: the Inca’s believed that the creator god Viracocha rose from its waters to call forth the sun and the moon to light up the world. Thus the two islands are named Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna.

The area around the lake is the heartland of the Aymara people, who despite centuries of domination, first by the Incas, then by the Spanish, have maintained their language and culture. To this day they still continue to cultivate the maize on the ancient terraces that span the surrounding mountainside, and grow barley, potatoes and quinoa on the fertile plains. Every you look you will find herd of llamas, alpacas, sheep and cattle. Time has not robbed these people of their identity or heritage, and this is something very unique to this part of the world, particularly so in Bolivia. This I feel has a lot to do with the current President, Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, who is making sweeping reforms to give rights back to the native tribes.

The Isla del Sol is about 12km northwest from Copacabana. It was once considered one of the most important religious sites, but is now a relatively quiet island, populated still by the Ayamara people, with settlements dotted over the island, interspersed with mysterious ancient ruins.

All the boats make their way their first stop at Yumani, on the on South side of the Island. It was here that we wanted to spend the night, however we planned to get off on the North, at the northernmost settlement of Ch’allapampa, and walk the four hours back across the island; a walk which we had been told would afford us the best views of the Island and also meant we could visit the Sun Gate which I was especially keen to do.

On the second boat that took us across to the other port at Ch’alla, we met three girls from the UK who were planning on walking the same path as us, so we joined up and set off together. After a shaky start, where after a mistranslation we ended up getting slightly lost and attempting to climb a sheer rock face, we found our bearings (and a very helpful local child who showed us the right way…) and headed off towards Ch’allapampa. It was about an hours walk to Chicana where the ruined Inca complex was situated. The sun was starting to set, but I figured we still had enough time to make the walk before it became pitch black. The boats had taken longer than expected. However it was hard to be too worried. The island itself was beautiful; there was a strong Mediterranean feel to the place. The secluded beaches, cerulean waters and hilly landscape; it was hard to think that we were in the middle of a lake –the water stretched to the horizon in every direction. We walked past numerous tiny settlements and had to repeatedly get out of the way of a stray donkey or cow that was meandering along the path: it was very tranquil.

Eventually we arrived at Chicana, and spent some time walking through the rambling interlinking rooms and passageways that were purposefully built around the Sacred Rock: the spot where Viracocha, the creator god, is believed to have created the sun and the moon. As with the Inca trek, there was a mysterious air to the place, and it was easy find yourself transported back. Nearby there was also an Inca sacrificial table- it was like something out of the Chronicles of Narnia.

The rest of the walk continued in the same vain, we walked, we chatted and we soaked up the beautiful surroundings. Sadly we missed the sun setting into the water as we didn’t make the viewpoint in time, but it was great none the less. However we were still an hours walk away from where we planned to spend the night, when the sun finally had its last encore and left the stage for the day. We completed the last section of the walk in thick darkness, thank goodness for head torches which I thankfully had remembered to pack!

Finally we saw lights ahead, and we knew we were almost there. By this point we were all starving so first objective was to find a restaurant to recharge and share a bottle of wine or two before bed. The restaurant we eventually settled on promised us “chef’s trained at Bolvia’s top food college and organic food”… we were too tired to be sceptical and headed in to order.

Over two hours later our food arrived, all cooked ‘fresh’ by one woman. I assume my trout must have been caught fresh; sadly though my veg was clearly from a tin and there was also a side order of hair which I don’t remember ordering. However I was hungry and wolfed it down, minus the furry garnish. After dinner, we checked into the same hostel as the girls: thankfully they had room as it was late and we were very tired and achy. It had been a great day though and I had survived my true first bout of exercise since the Amazon.

We were due to catch the ferry back in the morning, however due to forgetting the one hour shift in time since crossing the border we very nearly missed it. It was pouring with rain as we checked out and quickly headed down the authentic inca stair case (La Esclaera del Inca) that leads down the hillside to the port. As with Machu Pichu it was incredibly steep and at times I came very close to full backside over breast in our rush to catch the boat. It must have been the magic that is supposed to come from the natural springs on the Island, or simply Bolivian attitudes to time, but the boats were late so we were ok. Nobody could work out which port the boat was due to dock in, and it was an amusing sight to behold to watch everybody run from gangway to gangway in the hope of being on the right one and securing a spot inside the boat. On this day we were fortunate.

We made it back in time to catch our bus onto our next stop – Sucre.

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