We saw a great deal in two weeks, but I’m certain there’s much more to see. We stayed in lovely modern hotels and ate fabulous food in touted restaurants, but the countryside offers historic sites and traditional culture that’s extremely appealing as well. There are many more ruins than Machu Picchu to see, salt flats, shamans, hat makers, textile weavers, llama reserves, wonderful cathedrals, lakes, the dramatic Andes, and tiny towns lost in time. It was our first foray into South America, but I hope not our last.
Lake Titicaca’s name amused me in grade school, but I had no idea where it was located. Now I know it shares borders with Peru and Bolivia, is said to be the highest navigable lake in the world at elevation of 12,500 feet, and requires an effort to see. It is the largest lake in South America, and not an easy place to live when high winds, cool temperatures and intense sun work on its surface. But the Uros people have chosen it as their home for centuries.
An hour-long boat ride from the Peruvian town of Puno will lead to a cluster of Uros’ floating island homes, made of cut buoyant reeds which grow in shallow portions of the lake. The islands can be anchored or moved as necessary, and are augmented or replaced regularly. Walking on them is like walking on a water-bed the size of a football field. A typical island belongs to an extended family, and may include reed boats, watch towers, and other reed creatures to help differentiate and identify them.
The Uros can get needed supplies from Puno, and they have a few solar panels on the islands to generate a little power, but for the most part the islanders make a living showing their homes, reed boats and crafts to tourists. Their population is dwindling, and in another generation may be gone altogether. As challenging as their circumstances may be, we were glad to see them working hard to keep their unique traditions alive.
If you like sophisticated malls full of the latest fashions, gadgets and a vibrant night life, or prefer country markets with handmade goods and foods, Peru can satisfying your cravings. Lima offers dramatic coastal views and lovely historic squares along with your Starbucks latte and Patagonia sporting goods, while further down the street and up in the mountains it’s all about textiles, textures, fresh-baked pastries and organic vegetables. Your will be treated to a visual feast wherever you go.
We chose Peru for our pre-Christmas adventure this year, and it didn’t disappoint. One travels to that lovely country for many good reasons, but Machu Picchu has to be at the top of the attractions list, so I’ll begin there.
We did our best to prepare for the elevation and expected climbs, and ended our visit feeling a sense of accomplishment (while admitting we should have done it at least 10 years earlier.) The details of Machu Picchu’s history, its centuries in hiding, its re-discovery and astonishing architectural and astrological achievements are too much to recount here. Suffice it to say, no matter the photos you’ve already seen, it still offers surprises in person. Sometimes it’s hard to even process what you’re seeing!
I wasn’t prepared for how extensive the site is, nor how tall and broad the ruins themselves are. One can meander among them for hours. Weather can change by the minute, and alter the mood on the mountain as it does. There are steps rather than stairs; few railings, high rises, narrow footholds, jarring drops, climbs requiring rest along the way. There are few guard rails; one can walk to edges and peer over in astonishment. Llamas graze on the terraces. Was it a “spiritual” experience for me to be there as I’d heard from others? No, but it was a wonder.
Visitors are limited by time and number these days, and it’s a good thing. We were there at the beginning of the rainy season, which can mean mud slides or clouds which can limit views. As you can see, we were fortunate, except when we learned on departure that a bus strike had begun since we entered the site, and shuttle busses were no longer running to return us to town at the base of the mountain. Yes, we walked down. No, I don’t want to do that again.