It wasn't the easiest night but it was better than we thought. There was no heating and the temperature gets down to freezing but we had loads of very heavy blankets each. I did have to wee in the night which was more akin to being on a campsite and dragging on my jeans and shows but I coped. Breakfast was homemade local bread and jam with coffee or Muna tea. It's not really tea but "mate" as they call it or an infusion of the muna plant in hot water - actually very tasty. It was then time to be off for the next Island.
The home stay was a great experience but not an easy one. We're glad we did it but wouldn't do it again.
An hour later we arrived at Tequile island. This was different, maybe a little more advanced as there were shops and restaurants on the island. We were dropped on one side of the island and had a long but not too steep walk up through the community where we could see them using the pre-Incan terracing to grow their vegetables. We stopped in the main square to see their knitting displays and then headed on to our restaurant for lunch. Alexander had arranged for us to go to a place with possibly the most incredible view of any restaurant on the planet. We were outside on the top of this hill and all sat on one side of a table looking out over the lakes and the Andes. The trout we ate had been caught that morning and everything was perfect.
After lunch it was down 500 steps to the other dock where our boat was waiting to take us the 3 hours back to Puno.
We must take this opportunity to thank Alexander for looking after us so we'll. It would have been so much harder without him.
Back in Puno we wandered around the market and then had pizza and Pisco Sours for dinner in a nice local place.
After another 3 hours in the boat we arrived at Amantani Island, one of the largest on lake Titikaka. Apparently the locals live in 4 communities and the home stays rotate through these communities to make things fair for them. These communities are in varying degrees of advancement and we were told that our were on of the more advanced. Ayway, there were a group of locals waiting for us and our group leader, Miguel, allocated us to our own family.
The 4 of us and Alexander were taken off by a man (sorry, his name was too complicated for me!) to their house about a 10 minute walk up the hill. The house was very basic on our standards with a small open courtyard with a toilet (manual flush by way of bucket!) and a kitchen and a room or two for them. Up a flight of concrete steps were two rooms for us and another of their bedrooms. Our rooms were spotlessly clean with twin beds in each. There was a single light in each powered by a solar charged battery. We settled in for a few minutes and were then invited down for lunch with the family. We sat at the table with Alexander and the father while the mother, Francisca, arranged the food with her daughters. They had 3 daughters aged 20, 14 and a very cute 4 year old called Yasmin.
Lunch was a tasty but simple meal. Soup first with a fiery salsa to stir in if you wished followed by a plate containing 2 types of potato and some vegetables. They were very friendly and welcoming and we held conversations though our smattering of Spanish, through hand gestures and with alexanders help.
It was then time to meet in the village square to go for a walk up the hill on the island, Tatapapa, to see the sunset. I found the walk very tough having a bad cough from the dry air and then the general lack of air. We started at 3820m and finished at around 4200m and there was a string of locals selling drinks and wares all the way up. The view at the top was great and we could see across the lake to the Bolivian side.
When we got down we had a beer at the bar in the main square and then went back to our house for dinner. Dinner was soup (a different soup) followed by rice and a diced vegetable stir fry type dish. By this stage Tilly and Yasmin were playing amid hoots of laughter and jane and Francisca were best friends, talking knitting patterns. Jane learned how to knit with 5 needles at once with the wool going over her shoulders - quite impressive!
The evenings entertainment was a Fiesta at the village hall. It was all a bit too touristy as we had to dress up in low costumes to get in which consisted of a poncho and knitted hat for Joe and I and a skirt, blouse, corset and head scarf for the girls. Not the comfiest but it was fun. We did have to smile when they said that if we came back before the fiesta ended at midnight that there would be no toilet light as they were taking the battery up to use at the party. Imagine anything like that happening back home!
The Fiesta was fun and there was a live local band (including panpipes), lots of dancing and drinking beers.
We were met first thing by Alexander, our friendly guide for the next two days on Lake Titikaka. He had arranged for 3 rickshaws - those tricycle taxi things you normally associate with India. A distinct lack of planning led to Jane and I being in one, Joe and Tilly in another and Alexander in the third. There was a lot of grunting and groaning from our driver/cyclist as we weaved in and out of the the heavy, fast moving rush hour traffic. The main road to the harbour is straight but downhill and we experimented in finding the terminal of a rickshaw with 2 large British tourists and a little Peruvian driver.
On arriving at the harbour we were shown onto our boat which was a bit like one of those pleasure cruisers on the Thames with comfortable coach seats and an upstairs deck area. We soon headed off for a one hour cruise to get to the floating islands of Uros. Alexander explained about how they made them and how these people lived on a mud and reed made island floating on a lake that is 15m deep at that point.
We met Norma and her family who showed us their handicrafts which were very beautiful. We bought a baby mobile and a small rug to hang on the wall.
We then had a short trip on a Kon Tiki type boat (the one Thir Heyerdahl made to go across the Pacific) across the lagoon between the floating islands.
What I liked was that we were actively discouraged from just giving money or tipping for being shown something. If we wanted to "give" them anything then we should buy some of their handicrafts which were very good. We then set off for Amantani where we were to stay the night with a local family - quite a scary prospect!
We were picked up at 9 by a mini bus with just a driver and another English family of four from Surrey. There were 17 seats so tons of space which meant we could spread out. It was a bit of a coincidence that the daughter of this family, a year 5 teacher, knows a speech at language therapist at the school Beth works out so they must know each other - small world!
It was a long drive but very interesting. We saw herds of literally hundreds of llamas and alpacas and flocks of flamingos. There were small groups of Vicuña by the side of the road and all with a backdrop of this erupting volcano. We peaked back at 4900m before dropping down to 3800m in Puno on Lake Titicaca, the highest we'll have slept at so far. Titicaca was the birthplace of the Incas and and also something to do with Hiawatha but I don't really understand that as Hiawatha was an Indian chief up in North Dakota. Maybe it's something to do with Longfellows poem as he wouldn't have had google maps to check out his geography in those days.
Didn't arrive till quarter to three having had to survive on a single chocolate hobnob so we were all starving. Had some lovely home cooked pizzas in a local pizzeria washed down with a couple of beers.
Its Sunday and our first real day off. My day started off a little earlier than planned looking after Joe with his head down the toilet. No idea if it was food, altitude, altitude sickness tablet or any thing else but it only lasted a few hours so nothing serious.
Jane and I went to breakfast at 8.20 to find them clearing things up as everyone else at the hotel had left early to do other things. All was not lost as they sorted us out with everything we needed. We spent the morning relaxing, catching up on this blog with internet that was slower than the old dialup. Tilly cooked herself alive in the blistering UV's so we wee able to use her as a room heater when the sun went down later.
After lunch Jane and I went fora walk along the Colca river and ended up at Yanque village square and had romantic ice creams from the freezer that Noah originally used on his ark many millennia ago.
Late afternoon there was an interesting power cut - not an expression I thought I'd ever use! The power in about half our hotel and half the village dropped down from 240v to around 100v which meant that most of the low energy light bulbs tried to fire but couldn't and the room heaters didn't stand a hope. Luckily the power company sorted things out mid evening or it would have been a very cold night.
There was a scary bathroom moment in one of the rooms (I'm not allowed to say which one as the girls as embarrassed) where the toilet blocked and the second flush, instead of clearing the offending article, filled the toilet to the top and more, resulting in a very damp and unsavoury floor. Fortunately it was mid morning so house keeping were straight round to sort things out.
Another early start and we were off with our new Spanish friends to the Colca Canyon to see the condors. For many years Colca claimed to be the deepest canyon in the world but now another canyon in Peru has been found to be a few meters deeper. Although it is technically twice as deep as the Grand Canyon it is measured from the top of the volcanos around it so the deepest point you stand at is 1200m to the valley floor which is quite a bit less than the Grand Canyon. Having said that it is absolutely stunning.
We stopped a couple of times on the way to see some really touristy bits like local dancers and stalls selling tat but it all helps the local economy so what the hec! We went through a tunnel that was hewn through the rock with no light at the end and lots of dust so was really eerie and how the driver saw his way we have no idea.
When we got to Condors Cross the world and his wife had already arrived and their aunts, uncles and cousins were still to come. It was a bit offfputting to start with but once the condors started flying we forgot all that and were just mesmerised by the beauty of this bird. They are 1m long and have a 3m wingspan with the head of a turkey and eat carion like a vulture. They can sniff out dead meat from a long way off so we had to protect Joe.
There were one or two to start with but as the teamperature and updrafts increased we saw 10 in the air at once - around 20% of the total population in the valley. It was a really inspiring sight and one that neither us or the other 8000 people with us will ever forget.
On the way back we stopped at a small village with the now typical stalls selling Alpaca wool clothing and other tourist tat but at least it's another way to bring money to the local community.
Back in Yanque we went for a walk and ended up in a a small local cafe for lunch. The meal was the set menu Del Diaz and we each had soup and a plate of rice, potatoes and meat together with a big jug of juice. It was simple and tasty although it could have been hotter - something we're starting to get used to as water boils at around 85c. The total bill was just £6 - that's total not each!
At 3 we went on the daily 3 hour guided hike arranged by the hotel. We wandered along the canyon edge and then dipped down towards the river - spectacular scenery. When we were still a couple of hundred meters above the water we came to a metal rope bridge and anyone who knows Jane will know about her love of heights. It was wide enough for Joe and I to go one each side of her which helped but she managed it, crying every step of the way. That night she even had a nightmare about it so it was a really traumatising experience for her. To be fair It was a really ong way down!!
We walked through pre-Incan terracing and Incan ruins and it was a fascinating walk, ending up at the same hot spa we'd been to the day before which was a great way to end the day.
An early start and we boarded our deluxe minibus expecting a bit of a long boring day. How wrong we were! We picked up a Spanish family of four from their hotel and headed of with our driver Jose Luis and guide Marcie. I think the whole journey can be summed up in one short word - Wow!
We drove up through the volcanos overlooking Arequipa into stunning scenery and Jane closed her eyes on the scary bits. We saw llamas, Alpacas and Vicunas by the side of the road and at one point we were as high as 4910m which is a awful long was up. We stopped was Inca tea which had coca leaves along with various other vegetative matter and was actually quite tasty.
We saw the erupting Sabancaya volcano which we affectionately called chimichanga. It was so cool to see a plume of ash coming out of the top of a volcano and we thought it would be just the best to die in a volcanic eruption.
The road came steeply down to Chimay where we had lunch and then on to our hotel, Killawasi Lodge, which just has to be one of the most relaxing hotels on the planet. After a rest we wandered down to the local natural volcanic spa and par boiled ourselves in beautiful steaming hot water. It was freezing getting out as when the sun drops over the mountains the temperature quickly drops from 22 to sub zero!
After a taxi back (it was uphill and cold) we had great Pisco Sours and dinner in the hotel with Tilly shivering the whole way through despite having on 4 layers and a coat. Managed to stay up till 8.30 and I slept for 10 hours which is completely unheard of for me!
Woke up feeling a bit rough so I took it easy at breakfast. By the time we got back up to our rooms things had regressed a bit but nothing half a pack of Imodium couldn't sort out!
Set out to see the pinnacle of the holiday - Alpaca World aka Llama Land. It was free entry and there were some alpacas and other camelids (get me eh?) but it was a bit disappointing. I'd read a blog saying we had to say hi to a little un called Colin but, despite calling his name out loudly, he ignored us. The gift shop was great if you wanted to spend £100 on a scarf.
After a wander, nature called, so I had to return to the hotel. The big cherry on the cake, by the way, with Peruvian toilets is the pipe work is really small so toilet paper has to go in a bin by the side of the loo. This is really quite special and needs no more description.
The last site we had to see was Juanita, the ice maidan. She was a human sacrifice to the mountain gods by the Incas about 500 years ago. She was buried in a shrine at the top of a volcano and froze solid. In around 1995 there was some earth movement and she slid part way down and was found. Now you can see her near perfectly preserved body in a museum that is kept frozen. It was a bit morbid but still an interesting experience.
For dinner we went to a specialist potato restaurant which was great called Hatunpa. You can choose either 3 or 7 types of potato that are sliced and the you choose the topping. Joe had Alpaca stew and I had a simple vegetarian salsa (still not ready to risk more that that). It might not sound much but it was simple, very tasty and a good price - around £3.50 a plate. For the first time since I was only 4 years old I drank camomile tea while the girls polished off a bottl of wine and joe had a beer.
Went for another wander and spotted a balcony bar overlooking a large inner courtyard. Joe managed to find some stairs to get up their and we found our first place that had a real wine selection and some craft beers that weren't just' same old' pils. Tilly had a local orange wine which she didn't like as it was a bit sweet but jane isn't fussy (it was wet and had alcohol in it) so she necked it after drinking her own Pisco sour. My beer was pretty good although at £3.50 it was more uk prices than Peruvian. We looked across the courtyard and in the other side was a model doing a photo shoot on the balcony, standing on the balcony wall wearing 6" heels with a 20ft drop beside here - obviously very dedicated or very stupid, not sure which.
Perhaps it's time to say something about altitude and Arequipa. We are at 2300m so not really high enough for altitude sickness but you can still feel the effects. There is always 20.9% oxygen but the higher you are means there is less air. At 2300m there is only 77% as much air as we're used to so you feel a bit breathless. Walking up a flight of stairs at more than a slow pace makes you breathless for example. Add to that the very low relative humidity at around 25% and you're also very dry so need to drink at least 2l of water a day which means we're all up 3 times a night for a wee. The locals drink coca tea (same stuff you make cocaine from) which tastes pretty rank and you didn't even get a high in the process. Nearest taste is red bush tea but quite a bit more bitter. One of the other effects of altitude is you lose your appetite which is something I never believed could happen to me.