The power of reed – The floating islands of Lake Titicaca

On the way back to mainland Puno, we stop off at the floating Islands of Lake Titicaca. These 2.5m deep reed floating Islands accommodate around 30 to 40 Uros descendants (a tribe that predates the Inca’s), is around 10m by 10m’s large in mass, each have their own president, and a ‘lawyer’ which is actually a rusty old hacksaw that the president uses to slice up the reed island whenever there’s an irreconcilable dispute between the islands inhabitants.

What happens when they don’t like their neighbours? They pull up their anchors and float upstream until they find neighbours that they can stand to live near.

This floating tribe uses reed for EVERYTHING – to build their island, their homes, their boats and watch towers, they even eat the reed.

T, as Chris picks up a piece of reed from the floating island’s ground – ‘Chris! why are you eating their floor?!’

Chris, casually chewing – ‘It’s ok, we can eat this’

Local guide, with the islands president – ‘No no no,’ takes away the bad reed from Chris and gives him a new cleaner looking edible piece.

T explains – ‘The reed they eat is fresh. The reed on the floor is a part of the ground that everyone, including the island’s live stock, walks all over and pisses on’

Chris, understanding – ‘Oh, I thought it was the same stuff they gave us earlier!’ then hungrily continues to chew on the new reed.

Why do the Uros people chose to live like this? Most of the villagers go to the mainland to work, then come back home to the island to stay. But if there is no work, this way they don’t have to pay rent or land taxes. They can fish in the lake, catch ducks, and hunt down eggs from the lakes wildlife, even keep chickens on their island.’

Amantani Island family homestay experience – Lake Titicaca

Arriving at the Amantani Islands we’re greeted by our local family that we were spending the night with. The Island, we were told, is inhabited by around 800 Quechua speaking families, has no electricity, and we were asked to bring gifts of food staples such as rice and oil, and stationary for the children. Sugar products were not recommended as the island has no dental care.

Previously before reaching the Island in a conversation with Hetal.

Hetal, in his British accent – ‘Bet this is just a set up tourist village where they pretend to be poor and primitive and when we leave they all go back to their modern homes with electricity and laugh at us.’

T, laughing and joking along – ‘Yeah, we bring these gifts of oils and grains, thinking we’re giving them survival consumables when all they’re thinking is “what cheap crappy presents?!” They’ll probably dress us up in traditional clothing and make us dance around a fire for kicks’

Cansu, Gemma and I greeted our new ‘papa’ and followed him as he lead us up the rocky hillside to our mud-walled home for the night. Carrying the gifts of shopping up this incline in high altitude while still feeling the nausea from the boat ride was seriously reminding me of the Inca trail. I realised that I had been scarred by the 4 day Inca trekking trauma and now any hilly walk that went on longer than a minute had become like a scary ‘back in nam’(Vietnam) war flashback.

Our lodging was cute. A small 4 single bedder room on the second story of what looked and felt like a quick barn conversion that would have failed the most basic of western construction regulations.

Gemma, seriously – ‘If I turn in my bed I’m going to go through the floor, best not to move’

The most memorable moment was dinner with our host family. Unfortunately, the boat ride had almost killed Cansu, the only spanish speaker of our little trio, and she was too unwell to join us for the meal of egg and rice.

Sitting in the low lit, tiny, combined family room, dining room slash kitchen, was a culture shock. It was so so basic and poor to my western developed standards, yet full of charm and cultural character, that I admittedly wondered ‘is this a set up?’

With Cansu out of action, Gemma only knowing to ask the basics like ‘what is your name’, and me knowing fuck all spanish, this dinner lasted for what felt like 4 awkward hours with 2 sets of English/Spanish-speaking language phrase books being flicked through and the only end result being semi successfully asking if our papa had any children. ‘yes, 4 children who are already adults who study on the mainland in Arequipa’

Exhausted from the effort of trying to communicate that single sentence and translate the response, Gemma and I decided to skip being dressed up in traditional clothing and save ourselves from dancing around a fire. The evening spent with our Papa, mama, and sister had been quality enough.

As we lay in bed listening to the loud heaving rain on the thin roof, fearful that it was going to cave-in in any second.

T to Gemma – ‘Is this the experience you came looking for?’

Gemma, wanting to turn to her side but terrified of the threatening creaks that each movement brought – ‘Yes.. I think it is’ laughing.

The next morning after saying goodbye to our ‘papa’

Gemma , with a look of ridiculous wonder on her face – ‘ When ‘papa’ said goodbye to you, did he grab your arse?’

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world (12,500 ft above sea level) and is the largest in South America bordering both Peru and Bolivia. The group was having an excursion across Lake Titicaca to get to the Tiquile and Amantani islands, a 4 hour journey from mainland Puno (Peru) in what seemed like a little tug boat filled with 25 people.

The scenery over the lake was fantastic, with a variety of water birds, fisher men and clouds in blue skies to watch, and the first hour went along smoothly while sitting next to Cansu discussing the political issues that Australians face.

I don’t know if it was the
bad karma from talking politics on a holiday, or perhaps the crazy driving of our captain combined with strong winds and choppy waves, but the second half of the journey found many people sea-sick and nauseous, including Cansu and myself. No longer could I look out the window and appreciate the scenery without needing to have a spew. In fact, Cansu did have a little spew out the window. Technically speaking, being in that state and hanging your head out the window to have a spew is NOT the same, and is much more considerate, than vomiting inside the boat, which spoke wonders of Cansu’s character 🙂

I sat there eyes tightly closed, being violently rocked, smelling and hearing the sick of everyone, wishing for a fast and merciful death. This was the kind of stuff Hell was made out of.

Recommendation – Never accept a boat ride over an hour-long without the adequate anti-sea sickness drugs.

My first tattoo – All you need is Love

It was the day after the Inca trail had finished and I was back in Cuzco, enjoying waking up in a nice bed with an actual roof over my head. My right side was stinging. I reached over to feel what it was, then remembered – oh yeah, I got a tattoo last night.

The day before.
Following Cansu to the famous tattoo parlour in Cuzco town, only for support, we were introduced to Kalin, the tattoo artist who was extremely charismatic, the way rockers are, and who came very highly recommended.

What was the deciding moment?
While sitting in the parlour lounge flipping through the portfolio with Cansu as she was trying to decide on her design, I had a strong sensation of deja vu, a memory of a dream that I’d had while I was back in Sydney. In this dream I’d already had this converstion with Cansu, sitting in this very parlour, and knew instinctively that this was always the path that I was meant to follow. This trip was always going to happen, and I was always meant to get a tattoo in Peru, right now, with Cansu.

Only having had a traumatic tattoo eyeliner experience to go by, I asked Kalin if he had any painkillers. Kalin laughed and said no – tequila perhaps?

I’m lying nervously on the tattoo table with the Chemical Brothers ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ blaring over the speakers as Kalin asks loudly in his thick Peruvian accent – ‘Are you ready Tiara?’

T, closed eyes and sang in time with the chorus – ‘Here we go!’

What did I get?
The one constant in my life, or should be, is Love. Love for people, family, friends, partner, pets, food, cooking, shopping, traveling and seeing the world, music, reading, watching TV – so I had Kalin tattoo on me the chinese calligraphy for Love in fiery red, orange and yellow.

It’s still healing, itchy and scabby, but you get an idea from the pic what it’s going to look like.

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

To my friends!

Spending Xmas in Bolivia – to be exact, I was in a taxi when the clock struck 12, with 4 new friends, heading to an unknown destination which turned out to be a terrific night!

Today, it´s christmas breakfast lunch and dinner at Olivers.

Wishing everyone a very merry Christmas (yesterday for Australia) = )

Miss everyone back home!!

Love you

The Inca Trail Day 4 – Hooray for Machu Picchu!

Day 4 – 8km, 3.10am start, we were told no stairs. They lied.

I really enjoyed this part of the trek. The end was near, the trail was foggy and mysterious, and I’d finally slept the night before, thanks to Hetesh, the doctor in the group who’d given me a Valium.

I was with Budd and Katan, moving at a fast pace, through the fog, around tight corners, up Inca stairs, through ruins, discussing our thoughts of the experience.

I was worried about what my reaction to Machu Picchu would be – would I make it through these 4 tough days only to get to Machu Picchu and be disappointed with an ‘ all this for a bunch of fucken rocks and grass’ attitude?

Thankfully, I am pleased to say that when I did eventually make it to Machu Picchu, I was blown away by these ruins, the second best I’ve seen. It was beautiful. The grass, the well placed rocks serving different primitive purposes, the background of clouds and mountains. The alpaca’s grazing. I spent five snap happy hours in this lost city. And now that the trek was over I was very very happy to have finished. Sure I smelt like a camel, and I was probably going to have knee-joint issue’s from the never-ending downhill Inca stone stairs. But it was an amazing unforgetable experience and I had no regrets. Now that it was over.

I learnt a lot about the serpent, puma and the condor, which represents the past, present and future in Peruvian mythology. 4 days of trekking and 3 sleepless nights had given me a lot of time to think about all the things I appreciated in my ‘normal’ life. I learnt that walking up 2000 Inca steps in 4300m altitude did not necessarily make me a better person. If anything it made me a slightly worse, meaner person on the second day.

I have a really great, comfortable, life back home in Sydney. And if anything the pain and discomfort of doing something this hard makes you really appreciate the big ‘easy’. And a good toilet.

Or as my best friend Dale put it ‘I guess sometimes you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone to really appreciate how much you enjoy being in your comfort zone and how being out of your comfort zone sucks goats testicular glands.’

Inca trail day 3 – Inspiring shit

Day 3 – 15kms, a mixture of up and downhill in an average of 3500m above sea level altitude.

There was no fucking around on the third day. I’d had a total of 4 hours sleep over the last 2 nights, I hadn’t been to the toilet in 2 days, (it was like my bowls instinctively knew that this was NOT the kind of environment it liked), and I was feeling highly nuclear.

Using the excuse of my fractured foot, I dumped 3 neurophens and continuously chewed on mouthfuls of coca leaves. Today my motivation was very serious – I had to make it to the next camp site to use the toilet.

Between the mixture of drugs and toxins in my body, I was hauling arse on the third day. Stopping for nothing except to take pictures every now and then to prove that I had actually been here. The views would have been quite spectacular, if a heavy fog hadn’t settled over the mountains making the background in every photo a white mystic screen that could have been anywhere really.

There was a section of the trek where I had passed everyone in my substance induced speed, and hadn’t seen or heard a soul for quite some time. I started to worry if I was going in the right direction? And if I wasn’t, would they send a porter through the mountains looking for me? And when the porter found me would they expect me to back-track?

At that moment Budd, an Aussy in my group, went flying past me using his hiking sticks as an extension of his arms, moving in tight synchronisation with his pace, like a well-oiled mechanical spider machine man.

T, relieved – ‘Hey Budd, glad you’re here! I thought I was going the wrong way’

Budd, zooming past me – ‘ Sorry, need to shit’ and disappears into the foggy distance.

I passed through the Runkurakay, Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarca ruins with only the thunderbox in mind.

When I finally reached the third camp site, Budd was already there having a beer.

T, panting – ‘Where’s the toilet?!’

Budd sends me in the wrong direction, and after another few minute of messing around and saying ‘banyos’ (toilet) 15 times, I finally had my reward – a clean toilet that flushed!

I join Budd with a beer.

Budd – ‘How’d you go?’

T, big smile – ‘I am no longer poisonous’ proceeds to get drunk.

The Inca Trail day 2 – Traumatised & broken

Day 2 – 11kms, uphill for 4 hours in 4200 metres above sea level altitude.

They say that the Inca Trail brings out your true self, and hours into day two as I struggled to find oxygen in this ultra thin air and lift one leg in front of the other, I realised that I wasn’t a very nice person at all, wishing hateful shit on anyone who ever said a good word to me regarding this experience.

I couldn’t believe that I had paid money to go through this torture. I was having all kinds of pathetic thoughts, like if at this moment someone would somehow mistake me for wilderbeast and shoot me, I could be choppered out of here, it would end my suffering, and it would be an admirable excuse to not finish the Inca Trail. Win/Win as far as I was concerned.

And what was with the big steps? The Inca’s weren’t a giant race?! If they were really innovative wouldn’t they have just built a tunnel path through the mountain?

At this point I couldn’t even be bothered to take any photos. I didn’t care about the ‘God-like’ scenery, it wasn’t impressing me as much as my arse was. To be honest, I didn’t care about anything anymore. I wanted to DIE. Or at least sprain an ankle and be back-packed the rest of the way to the lost city of Machu Picchu.

The dry grass down the sides of the mountain did look soft and inviting, I bet it wouldn’t be too bad if I just rolled 4200 metres down the mountain ..

If a porter offered to piggy back me the rest of the way I would shamelessly accept and pay big money for this experience. A less painful experience..

After a relentless morning of what seemed like millions of steps, and being in the potential heart-attack risk category, I see the first pass, accurately named Warmiwanusca, which translates to Dead Woman Pass, and is about another 100 metres of vertical Inca steps.

Oden, shouting from the peak – ‘C’mon honey, you can do it!’

Argh! Quads cramping.The pain. I wish these people would just shut up and let me die in silence.

I couldn’t believe it, I was so close to the first pass where the hardcore-fit people were waiting, cheering me on, watching me, and now my legs were cramping up and I was going to have to roll around and have a seizure in front of everyone.

With that scary image in mind, I pulled the final ounce of strength out of me and did a slow and steady, mechanically stiff robot up the remaining steps, collapsing to the dirt ground at the top while everyone cheered. Then sat up immediately, grabbing my lower abdomen in pain.

Amy, alarmed – ‘What is it?!’

T, wincing as whole body seized up – ‘My ovaries, cramping. Future babies dying.’

Lesson – Anyone who recommends doing the Inca Trail is not your friend and is a filthy liar who wants to see you broken.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – Day 1

The Inca trail was the main reason I chose to come to Peru in South America.

There had been many people, including friends, who had already done this incredible trek and had informed me of what an amazing experience it was.

Even Roy and Sue in their 60’s had completed this trail to the seventh wonder of the world, Machu Picchu. It was one for the bucket list and I was blissfully ignorant of how hard it was going to be.

First day – 13kms, mostly flat with the last 30 minutes vertical stairs at an altitude of about 3000 metres above sea level.

It was a 6am start at the hotel in Cuzco and all we could bring with us on this 4 day hiking experience was a 5kg bag for the porters to carry and a day pack that would be with us at all times.

British Gemma, who was a camping rookie like myself and quite the comedic pessimist – ‘I just don’t think I can do this. We’re going to be waking up at the crack of dawn, walking the whole day, then sleeping, then walking, then sleeping, then walking, and doing this for 4 days!’

T – It’ll be fine. But you know what my biggest fear is? Toilets. My biggest worry is not being able to go to a toilet when I need to.’

Gemma – ‘Well, I can’t even pee in the bush let alone do a number 2. I’m just NOT going to go for 4 days.’

T – ‘The imodium wont stop the farting.’

Gemma – ‘shit!’

T – ‘Exactly.’

We begin the trail around Km 82 along the Urubamba River, then start moving in a steady incline around the mountains. Nothing too dramatic, and we get to stop every 20 minutes to view Inca ruins with an explanation from the guide.

It’s not until the final 5th hour that we really get into the tougher stairs and steep paths with fewer stops.

Gemma to Cansu, (an Australian student studying in Chile), in between pants – ‘When we can breathe, we’re going to have a proper moan about all this.’

We make it to camp before dark, exhausted, with Gemma describing her first bush toilet experience as being ‘like a scene out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’, and though we may have different reasoning behind it, I could totally relate to this description.

Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Arequipa is located 2,380 metres above sea level with the main attractions being the Santa Catalina Convent, and the acclaimed ‘Museo Santary’, where you’re able to view a 500 year-old sacrificed virgin (mummified for 500 years of course) .

I, however, chose to use this time in Arequipa to visit the supermarket , twice, and spend time in my room appreciating having a roof over my head. And television. God I missed television.

Though it wasn’t all a total tourist fail, I did make an overnight excursion to the Colca Canyon, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and where there’s a good chance of seeing condors.

As I stood at the edge, looking into the canyon, I wondered if seeing the wonders of China and India in the last few months has made me hard to impress? Because, shamefully, my wow-factor was pretty low. Sure it was deep, and long, but it was disappointingly narrow. Girth must be important.

… and just when I thought the documentary would have been better, a couple of condors soured out from over the cliffs, their 3 metre wingspan displaying their absolute might and glamour as they put on an amazing flight show within a 50 metre radius of my head.

Unfortunately, my little Olympus tough camera could not capture how special the moment was, turning the magnificence of the largest flying bird into that of a dying bat falling from the sky.

Need a better camera.

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