Uros Islands & Lake Titicaca Homestay

Well… this adventure is quickly coming to a close. I can hardly believe that a month has flown by already.

The past few days have definitely filled up our cultural quota for the trip. A couple days ago we took a boat to the floating Uros islands on Lake Titicaca near the Bolivian border. These islands are made completely out of reeds and are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We stopped at one such island and visited a traditional home. It’s hard to believe that people actually live like that. If they have a disagreement with their neighbours, they just lift up the anchor and float away to a new destination. Crazy!

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After that we continued by boat for 3 hours to Amantani island. We were greeted at the port by our homestay families. All of the various tourists were divided into groups of two or three and assigned to a family. Our mama was named Inocencia and she was the sweetest woman in the whole wide world. She led us up the mountain (the hiking just never ends) to our home away from home.  We helped her make lunch by peeling and splitting peas which were later used for soup. The food was amazing. It’s hard to believe that their rustic little cocinas can produce such delicious food. We had quinoa soup with potatoes and cheese for lunch; a very traditional meal. Our Spanish 101 class came in quite handy at this point because our family didn’t speak any English and it was nice to at least say a few things to them. We then met with the rest of our group to hike to the top of the mountain. The timing wasn’t ideal because it started to rain just as we got to the top of the mountain but we got our mandatory photos and then hurried back down.

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Our home stay

Our home stay

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Laura wasn’t feeling her best so she opted out of the hike so when I got down the mountain I went to look for her. I wasn’t able to find her so I decided to hide out in the little community store and make friends with a Swiss couple and some Israeli guys. I totally lost track of time and didn’t even realize that not only had the storm worsened but it was also now pitch black outside. Fortunately, my mama came to get me and guided me back to our casa with her incredible night vision. I literally couldn’t see one step in front of me. When I got back to our room, Laura was waiting for me. She had also been hiding out at a neighbour’s house and got lost in the rain. But once again, mama Inocencia saved the day and guided her home as well.

Dance Party

We had dinner later that evening, which was delicious once again and then our mama came and dressed us up in traditional clothes for the evening fiesta. We walked over to the community center where we all danced around to traditional music. Fortunately, we all brought flashlights for the walk home. After crawling back through the little hobbit door that I banged my head on several times we had quite a lovely sleep under layers of alpaca blankets. It was definitely more comfortable then I thought. We even had an outhouse, which was better than I had expected. However, it was hard to use in the dark of night. Laura and I ventured out together and held the flashlight for one another. It was a little awkward since it felt like a spotlight was being shone on me at my most unflattering moment, but you do what you gotta do. Just another one of the comedic moments that we’ve come to appreciate during this trip outside our comfort zone.

The next morning we had breakfast in bed… we felt pretty spoiled. Then we said goodbye to our families and loaded back into the boat for an hour boat ride to Taquile island. We hiked up yet another huge hill to the top of the island where we hung out in the main square until lunch. We were all amazed at how lovely the day was after the torrential downpour the night before. The views of the lake were seriously stunning. Lake Titicaca is apparently the highest navigable lake in the world but I don’t always believe everything the guides tell us… sometimes they seem to exaggerate the facts.

Taquile Island

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After lunch we took the 3 hour boat ride back to Puno. Laura and I sat on the top of the boat with some of our new friends and thoroughly enjoyed the sun and the fresh air. Although, I’ve been careful to bundle up since I burned to a crisp on the hike to Machu Picchu. Even though it’s winter right now, the sun is still intense during the middle of the day and my poor neck and nose are paying the price.

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Puno

We are now preparing for our last epic bus ride back to Lima. After about 20 hours on Cruz del Sur (apparently the best bus company ever) we will be back in our beloved Miraflores and getting ready to come home to Canada.

I’ve had the most amazing journey and now all I want to do is plan my next trip back to South America. The mosquitoes may have left me alone this trip… but the travel bug has latched on and doesn’t show signs of letting go anytime soon.

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The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

Well… I’m finally back to civilization/Internet and it’s time for an epic blog… so brace yourselves.

After our time in the jungle, Laura and I flew to the former capital of the Incan Empire… Cusco. We had a whole day to wander around and explore the beautiful city. We visited the Temple of the Sun and did some damage at the local markets. As the gateway to Machu Picchu… Cusco is definitely a bit of tourist trap. We were hassled everywhere we went… hey lady… eat in my restaurant… do you need to book a tour?… would you like a manicure or pedicure? I’ll give you the best price… or our personal fav… the massage mafia. Literally every other person seemed to be offering massages. We saw a fellow tourist wearing a shirt that said No gracias and couldn’t have agreed more. Aside from that… I would have loved to spend more time in Cusco but with only a month to travel… we pressed on.

Cusco

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We began our Lares Trek with G Adventures on May 22. With our day packs and a small duffel bag each, Laura and I met our wonderful guide Gladys bright and early at 5am. We then began picking up the rest of our group members who were spread out from Cusco to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. Our group was 15 and we had 2 guides, Gladys and her assistant Pedro. We spent the morning busing to the village of Callca where we picked up some food at the local markets to give to the local children throughout our hike. We then continued on to Lares town. It just so happened to be the town’s anniversary that same day so the streets were all closed off for a big parade. We began our trek there and hiked for about 4 hours to get to our first campsite.

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Most beautiful location for a "toilet" tent ever!

Most beautiful location for a “toilet” tent ever!

Since we decided to do the Lares Trek instead of the more famous Inca Trail, we were able to hike through local villages and interact with the locals. This was such an amazing experience. The children were absolutely precious and I couldn’t get enough of their grubby little faces. We all bought bread and packages of porridge to hand out instead of the sweets that rot their teeth. It’s a hard life in the mountains and because of the elevation they can’t grow much of their own food so bread is actually quite a treat.

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Also, the Lares Trek allowed us to hike without the throngs of other hikers that you find on the Inca Trail. We so enjoyed our solitude and the scenery was breathtaking… or maybe that was the altitude… haha! Anyways, our camp the first night was all set up by the time we got there thanks to our amazing porters and horseman. We had llamas and horses to carry our duffel bags and equipment so that was always amusing. The sun goes down early in the mountains (around 530 or 6pm) so we quickly needed to bundle up for the freezing nightly temperatures. Some local village women brought over some of their handicrafts as well as beverages, and just like that we had our very own bar in the middle of the Andes. Our group began to bond over my deck of cards until dinner.

Our Lares Trek Group

The food was always amazing! We usually had warm soup followed by a main dish that usually included rice and chicken… and of course the local delicacy coca tea. For a self-declared city girl… this whole tenting in the middle of nowhere thing certainly took me out of my comfort zone. I almost froze to death the first night even with four layers of clothing, a toque, and a thermal sleeping bag. I think I probably got about 20 minutes of sleep the entire night. Our 6am tent service couldn’t come soon enough. Our waiter, Miguel, brought us coca tea and bowls of hot water to help us defrost which was quite wonderful. After a wonderful breakfast in our meal tent… we started the hardest part of the trek. We hiked uphill for 4 hours and about 600m before finally reaching our highest point on the trek at 4400m (14700 ft) above sea level. Once we had reached the pass we hiked down for another 40 minutes to our lunch stop for the day, which was beside a beautiful lake. At this point I would like to brag about how well we did. Laura and I were the 4th and 5th people at the camp and the three that beat us go trekking through Nepal regaularly and so forth. With my asthma, the extreme altitude, and general lack of cardio, I was quite proud of myself… and I’ve actually learned to enjoy hiking. I feel like I can accomplish anything now

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Can you spot me?

Can you spot me?

The rest of the day was a downhill hike to our second campsite. By now, everyone on the trek had become fast friends. We had a wonderful and ecletic group made up of 6 Canadians, 7 Brits, 1 Norweigan, and 1 German. We were all hoping for another village bar but nobody came. So one of our wonderful horseman went into the next village and picked us up some rum and coke. We then spent the whole evening in the meal tent playing cards and trying to stay warm. At dinner that night I somehow managed to dump my entire plate of uneaten food onto the ground… but I’m blaming that on the altitude.

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Our second night was much better than the first. Our camp was in a more sheltered valley and Laura and I drugged ourselves with gravol so that we would sleep regardless of the cold. It worked like a charm. Our third day was mostly downhill again and we ended our hike (35km in total) at lunch time. The rest of the day was spent busing/training it to Aguas Calientes which is the nearest city to Machu Picchu. There was unfortunatley a mix up at the train station and Peru Rail had double booked us so our group didn’t make it onto our scheduled train. That meant we had to spent a solid four hours at the train station while we waited for the next train. Fortunately, I once again had my trusty cards.

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On day 4 of our trek, the day we had all been waiting for had finally arrived. Most of us decided to wake up at 340am to queue for the first bus to Machu Picchu. We waited at the bus station for over an hour and made it onto the 530am bus. We arrived at the entrance to Machu Picchu just before sunrise and once again lined up to be in the first 400 so that we would be permitted to hike to the top of Huayna Picchu (the iconic peak in the famous photos of Machu Picchu) because they limit the number of hikers per day to 400. We then entered Machu Picchu and spent the next 30 minutes taking photos and standing with our jaws open. I’ve seen some pretty spectacular places in my life, but this takes first prize.

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Then, because I hadn’t already hiked enough, we began hiking the extremely steep Huayna Picchu. I powered up the mountain once again and made it about 45 minutes. The view of the ancient city from the top couldn’t possibly get any better. The hike down was actually quite harrowing. It was nearly a sheer rock face at times and there were moments when I wondered if I would ever make it down. But, of course I did and I have the stamp in my passport to prove it. Our guide Gladys then gave us a tour of the Incan ruins and that concluded our Machu Picchu experience. It was totally worth the extruciating pain I am in today. My legs have never been this sore before but at least it is a constant reminder of how lucky I am to have experienced such an amazing place.

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We are now in the city of Puno and tomorrow we are leaving for a homestay on the floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca.