A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

South America Part II: Puno and Lake Titicaca

After Lima, which sits at sea level, we flew to Juliaca/Puno on Lake Titicaca which stands at 13,500 feet above sea level. Melissa and I have never felt so awful! We had altitude sickness as hard as you can get it before you die. I'm pretty sure. Our joints hurt, we had the deepest most painful headaches and I was vomiting. We took coca homeopathy, drank coca tea and went to bed. We didn't get up, except to throw-up, until the next day.

Melissa and I made ourselves leave our hostel and see some sites even though we still felt awful. We walked to the Plaza de Armas and slowly made our way up the steps of the cathedral. Walking inside we sat down to rest. We stayed so long they started Mass around us. Ha! One thing I do like about the Catholic church is that you can walk into any Catholic church and follow along because they are all the same. I find such beauty in liturgy and communal prayers.

After Mass, we had enough energy to walk outside the church and then sat on the steps trying to decide what to do next. While we caught our breaths and tried to not concentrate on our pounding heads, an older Peruvian woman approached us with a fabric bag slung over her shoulder. She sat down and began to show us all the alpaca knit items she had made. Since being in Peru we had encountered many homeless beggars and always struggled with what to do. Now, we had a woman who needed money and had goods to sell. This was a perfect partnership for us. And it was cold so alpaca knit socks, mittens and hats seemed like a good idea.

Back in the 1800's, the Yavari ship was shipped from England to Peru. It took 6 years for it to be carried to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The ship was used to ferry people across the lake for many years and then was deserted and it fell to ruin. In the 1980's it was found and restored. While it doesn't take passengers anymore, you can visit the Yavari. Melissa and I thought this would be a low activity. It would keep us active but not require too much strength. A local woman on the boat was surprised we had come from Lima the day before. She told us when she comes from Lima she has to stay in bed for 2 days! We understood that need!

Besides seeing Lake Titicaca, I had wanted to see the floating islands. The Uros people lived near the Lake and when the Incas came they moved out onto the lake to save themselves. They created villages made of reeds that floated on the lake.

There are local ways to get to the islands and there are tourist ways. 99.9% of the time I would chose the local way. However, I was so sick i didn't care how we got there so we went the easy way, the tourist way. It turned out to be very informative. They showed us how they cut the dead reeds and build their villages. They told us about their lives of fishing and knitting on the islands. And, of course, they tried to get us to buy their crafts and take rides in their reed boats. I had had enough of tourism at this point so Melissa and I got back in the boat we came in with a British girl and a Colombian woman. Everyone else fell prey to paying for a ride across the water in a reed boat.

We made friends with the Colombian woman and soon she was calling us her daughters. We told her we were coming to Colombia in 2 weeks (my Spanish has slightly improved and I kept holding out two fingers saying dos semanas) and she insisted we stay with her when we get there. She told us she loves to cook and she will feed us well. Then with a big smile she said, "Mi casa es su casa." This made us all laugh and nod our heads. It's great to make connections when you travel.

On our last day in Puno, Melissa and I decided to go to Sillustani up in the highlands above Lake Titicaca. These are pre-Incan funeral pyres and burial grounds. By this day we were feeling a little better and actually enjoyed our trip there. It was a hike up to the structures and the sun was hot though the air and wind were cold. My new alpaca sweeter kept me warm and it felt good to be active. It was an interesting place to see.

We were miserable in Puno due to altitude sickness so I don't feel we can really be objective. We tried to like it there but I can't say either of us are antsy to ever go back. I will caution EVERYONE I meet who wants to go to Lake Titicaca - NEVER go straight from Lima. Stop in Arequipa for a few days and gradually make the climb higher. I never understood altitude sickness before. Now, I can empathize with anyone else who has the misfortune of experiencing it.

While the place wasn't amazing to us, once again we met some wonderful people who showed great kindness and perhaps pity on us. For these hospitable Peruvians I will always be thankful. And for our new Colombian friend, I look forward to time together in Colombia!

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled upon your blog planning our own trip to Peru for June. We're flying into La Paz and although I was counting on some time for acclimation, I'm rethinking our idea of doing a walking tour of the city on day 2 after reading your experience with altitude sickness!