Inca Ruins and Lake Titicaca

In the 100 years or so that they were the top dogs of the region the Incas were prolific builders. All through Peru, especially in the Sacred Valley, you can hardly walk 10 steps without tripping over some sort of Inca ruins. They were amazing builders creating terraces, temples, forts, roads and all manner of other buildings on steep slopes. All this without the aid of machines or modern tools.

To see more, we headed to Pisac a small town with impressive terraces topped by a fortress in the hills above. As it was Sunday: market day, the ruins were crazy busy with tour groups. It has hard to park on the zigzag road approaching and once inside we had to play dodge the guide as their groups clumped around them blocking the narrow paths. We understand they aren’t always that busy and the ruins themselves were impressive.

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After lunch we headed into town and the market, which were strangely quiet after all the buses above. Most of it was tourist stalls full of alpaca jumpers but in the heart of the Plaza de Armas we found the normal market jostling full of indigenous ladies in their bright skirts and hats. We came across two large communal ovens, where people bake empanadas and bread. At the second we came across Steve watching the World Cup Final. Lucy was most taken with the guinea pig castles they had tucked in the corners. Straight from your own castle into the oven! We didn’t dwell on that one too much with her.

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We enjoyed the gentle beauty of Tinajani Canyon so much last week that we decided to stop there for the night on the way to Lake Titicaca. The banks that were filled with families last week for the dance festival were now deserted and Steve got his much desired afternoon of solitude in the Canyon. Even more so, as Mum took the girls off dam building in the meandering stream and we took off to the steep slopes of the canyon sides. It was breathtaking, in both senses! We are fit and acclimatised but we usually hike the speed of a 5 year old, so the sense of freedom left us almost running up the hills but at nearly 4000m it left us panting hard.

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Apart from a few scattered homesteads and the one “tourist complex”: 2 ponies, a toilet, a one room museum of scarily stuffed animals and a lady serving lunch from her kitchen; that we’d stayed next to last time, the whole valley was deserted. We crossed the stream so we could park up next to a red sandstone cliff. A charming man ambled up after a while to say hello. Initially we thought he had terrible tooth decay then we realised his mouth was full of chewed up coca leaves? Although it can be processed to make cocaine, here coca is very commonly used as a mild stimulant and to combat the affects of altitude. Pointing to his official waistcoat he told us was the caretaker and we were welcome to stay the night, he then disappeared. Reappearing a few hours later as we were cooking on a campfire it seemed he had now been chewing whole sacks of coca, that or drinking moonshine. He was now all over the place! He was vaguely looking for something that belonged on the end of a rope but he’d forgotten all of his Spanish and was now speaking only in very slurred Quechua, so we never found out what it was. Once we’d persuaded him not to climb into the truck, stir our dinner or sleep under the truck steps he eventually ambled away once again. We spent the night snug and warm with the 5 of us sleeping in the back of the truck. The extra body heat helped as the temperature outside dropped to -8 degrees.

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Another 4 hours drive south brought us to the funerary towers of Sillustani, where a pre-Incan civilianisation: the Collas, housed their dead with belongings needed for the afterlife. Looking bizarrely like huge Starbucks paper cups, they stood out impressively against the blue cloudless sky.

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As a child in the 80’s I had a book: “The Children’s Book of Houses and Homes” all about how people lived all over the world. It probably has a lot to answer for! I remember being fascinated with, amongst other things, people living on reed islands in Lake Titicaca. We’d been warned that it was very touristy but Mum was keen to see them too having learnt about them when she was a child too. So the following morning we set off on a ferry from the town of Puno to visit them. There are 87 different islands, each only 20m or so across. All anchored up near to each other in the reed beds on the lake. It was amazing to see, every 12 days or so they add a new layer of spongy reeds to the top, as the bottom layers rot in the water. Their huts, also made of reeds have a wooden frame, so they just lift them up when they need to add a new layer of reeds below. Originally it was a way for the Uros people to avoid the more aggressive groups on the lake’s shore. About 5 families live on each island. It was touristy but not very crowded. Without people visiting the Uros people probably wouldn’t be able to afford to live on the islands with money from just their fishing and they would rot away. It was also well organised with each small boat visiting a different island, to spread around the income from tourists before we were taken on a reed boat to a central island. It was weird walking around on the spongy reeds and the girls had fun building different figures from the reeds.

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The “President” of the island explaining how the island is constructed

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The layers of reeds that make up the island

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We are not leaving Lake Titicaca just yet though, we are heading to Bolvia tomorrow to see the other side.

6 thoughts on “Inca Ruins and Lake Titicaca

    • It was pretty basic, so think it was just for lights. I can’t believe they cook straight on top of the reeds with just a soggy bit of reed to stop the whole island going up in flames.

  1. Loved reading this! Can’t remember if I’d told you that I was in Bolivia back in 1993-94. There used to be a British pub on the shore of Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side. You might look for it, though I can’t promise you that it’s still there. Are you planning to drive down the Yungas Road between La Paz and Coroico? It’s terrifying and exhilarating!

    • No I didn’t know. Were you backpacking? Any tips on where to go? We are off to the jungle for 10 days now then Sajama, Sucre, Potosi, salar de Uyuni before headings east to Paraguay. We’ll be missing the Yungas Road, I’ve seen enough scary roads recently to avoid them if we can. Unfortunately the pub was gone but we did eat some delicious trout overlooking the lake. Love to all.gx

      • I moved there with an old boyfriend who had joined the foreign service.* Your itinerary sounds perfect. And hearing that you had trout from Titicaca sent my taste buds back 20 years — wonderful stuff!

        I continue to be so, *so* impressed and inspired by your family’s adventures. Karl’s leading a college class in Cuba next January, and the boys & I hope to join in for part of it. Sometimes I get bogged down thinking about niggly, pedestrian details [such as arranging my work schedule around it & organizing the travel for us (which isn’t insignificant with our US passports, given that we aren’t officially part of the educational group from the college)]. But your news and pictures give me perspective.

        much love to you!
        kate xoxo

        * Long story — next time you and Nan and I get together for coffee I’ll tell you about it. 😉

        • Sounds interesting, defiantly you are on! (but with those sort of stories a bottle of wine might go better;) how long did you live there? La Paz seems very interesting but I have to admit it wasn’t a city I fell in love with.

          I hope the trip to Cuba comes together. I know for US citizens the issues are a huge pain. It’s a beautiful country though, so well worth the hassle.

          How is work going? Are you still working a probationary period? Are you still having to study a lot or is it just case studies etc?

          Lots of love
          Gx

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