Wow, I can't believe it's been a week since I've written. So much has happened. Classes for my TEFL certification were kicked off on the 19th and it's been busy every since. We have classes from 9-4 on Tuesday through Thursday. Monday's we teach mini-lessons to actual English learners to volunteer to attend our sessions. I did my first one today and taught "how to make a simple origami box'. The instructions may be simple to you and me, but if you don't speak English it is very confusing. I am glad to have the first one behind me. BUT....more importantly is the trip I took with Andrea Thurau to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Check out the pictures on my flickr page to the right...
OMG it was quite an experience. We left on Thursday night at 10:30 PM on an 8-hour bus ride to Puno. We arrived there around 6 AM on Friday. We were brought to a hotel, Joya de Titikaka, to rest for a bit and have breakfast before going to the boat for our first stop on the floating islands of Uros. There are something like 62+ different floating islands. The islands are made from totora reeds and are anchored in the shallow area of the lake among the reeds. Walking on the islands felt like you were walking on a squishy sponge and the reeds were damp from the water seeping upwards from below. They have to continuously add more reeds to the island since the ones underwater eventually rot.
After leaving the Uros islands, we continued for about 2 hours to the island of Amantani. This is where we were spending the night in a home stay. As we got out of the boat someone from each of the hosting families met us at the boat and we followed them to their homes. These people are of Quechuan ancestry and speak both Quechua and Spanish. Our hostess was named Norma and she had 2 young girls, Noelia (9) and Natalie (5). The accommodations were very rustic. The house is built around a central courtyard. The bathroom and kitchen are on the bottom level and the bedrooms are upstairs. Our bedroom was comfortable enough, but had one bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. There were no outlets or any other amenities in the room. The kitchen had a dirt floor, no fixed cupboards or appliances. There was a two burner gas stove on which Norma cooked the food. There were many calendars from different businesses hanging on the walls, and one of those old sticky flycatchers spiraling down from the ceiling. There was no running water in the kitchen or bathroom, but there was a spigot in the courtyard. The toilet was a toilet bowl base with no seat and no running water. There was a pail of water with a pitcher that you scooped out to "flush" the toilet. This same pail of water was all there was to wash your hands...no soap either. I'm talking basic - one step above an outhouse!
After lunch of quinoa soup and fried cheese (YUM!), Norma brought us to meet the rest of our tour group to climb to the top of Pachitata - Father Earth. At the top of the mountain are Pre-Incan ruins of a temple to Pachitata. The climb was tough since we were at about 4,000 meters (~13,100 ft). The view from the top was spectacular. Alejandro, our guide told us to collect 3 pebbles on our walk up the hill. Once we got to the top, we had to walk around the ruins 2 times and then make a wish on each stone and place it into the crevices of the ancient wall. From the top you can see Peru on one side and Bolivia on the other. You can also see snow capped mountains in the distance. Its just a beautiful sight! We stayed on top to watch the sunset, but unfortunately cloud came in to obscure some of it. Silly me had forgotten to bring my regular glass, so I had to be led down the final section of the trail to the house. Unfortunately for me, I was also feeling a bit of altitude sickness and once I got back to our home stay, all I could do was drink a cup of tea and fall into bed.
On Saturday, we had breakfast with the family and then left the island for an hour boat ride over to Taquile island. The wind was whipping up some waves and many folks, including me felt a bit nauseous. Alejandro gave me a cotton ball soaked with alcohol to smell. This helped to relieve the nausea, thank goodness.
When we arrived at Taquile, many of us in the tour group were feeling a bit fragile, but there was no time to rest. We had to hike up the hill to the Town Square which sits at the top of the island. It took me 90 minutes to make the climb with a few stops to rest, look at the view, check out the cows and sheep, etc. We were in no hurry. Taquile is a much more pretty and green island than Amantani, which is mostly brown. There is farming on both islands, but the Taquile farms seemed to be more healthy.
Once the group all got to the Town Square, Alejandro brought us to a restaurant where he explained the traditional dress of the Taquile people. After the talk, we had a wonderful lunch of pan-fried trout, fried potatoes, beets and rice. The Peruvians seem to serve white rice for almost every meal! The trout was the best I've ever had! After lunch we headed across the mountain top to descend on the other side. On the final descent, there are 540 steps to go down to reach the lake and the dock where the boat was. I'm not taking regular, evenly spaced steps. I'm talking about rocks placed along the slope to lead you downward. There were a few "landings" along the way, but not many. Once we reached the lake we had a three hour boat ride back to Puno. We were dropped off at the same hotel and were given the room for the rest of the day so we could shower and rest before our overnight bus ride back to Cusco.
A little about the bus....it was a really comfy bus with seats that reclined almost all the way. Both Andrea and I settled into the seats to sleep for the trip back to Cusco. When I got back to the apartment I realized that my iPad had been stolen while I slept on the bus. Silly me, I had placed my backpack under my seat which made it easy for the people behind me to get to it and steal the iPad. I'm disappointed for sure, but it would have been a lot worse to lose money, credit cards, passport, etc. The people who stole it won't be so happy to realize it's the first edition of the iPad. I hope they don't get any money for it! Luckily I had set up the "where is my iPad" program and sent a signal for it to be erased. Then I promptly changed all of my passwords to prevent them from getting into any information from my iPad. Lesson learned: keep your backpack on your lap or between your feet at all times. Dang that stung a bit!