If asked to list my top 50 favorite breakfast foods, lamb would definitely NOT be on the list. Leaving our hotel in Ayaviri on Sunday morning, we must have passed at least a dozen restaurants, all advertising Kankacho. Hmm, what is that, would it be a good breakfast?
Enquiring at one restaurant, we were told that the food was listo (ready). So I guess we felt listo for anything. Inside, we sat at wood tables and requested one Plato each. A woman prepared two baskets lined with brown paper, then opened a large cloth bundle, the kind PeruvIan women carry on their backs. Aha moment. A specialty of this area, the food had been prepared somewhere else and carried to the restaurant this morning. She served us warm meaty bones of lamb, 3 small potatoes and a side of Ahi chili. No utensils. The meat was tender and perfectly spiced. And surprisingly it made a pretty good morning meal. Although my lips felt greasy for the rest of the day.
Our stomachs satisfied, we ventured on. Just south of Ayaviri we turned west onto P124, a gravel road leading to the Tinajani Canyon. There we camped two nights at a farm owned by Vicente Paloma. There was a flat grassy area for parking, a covered picnic table and the typical red brick baño with a flush toilet, sink and cold shower.
The Tinajani Canyon is small in area but still impressive. Pink and grey rock walls towered over us on two sides. Some formed sheer walls, other rock formed unique towering shapes.
Both days were sunny and we hiked on trails, one of which took us up past several caves. Each cave had a sign indicating positive energy or a place to pay respect to Pachamama, Mother Earth. We ended at a flat rock mirador, looking out over the steep drop and across the valley to more rock formations on the other side of the canyon.
Vicente and his wife have five children, now all living in big cities, while he and his wife carry on with farm life. Vicente’s wife was doing the laundry in the creek the day we arrived. Clothes were spread on the rocks to dry. Each afternoon she took the 30 milk cows out to the hills, stayed with them for several hours, then brought them home before supper.
The cows were ornery beasts, and she managed them by throwing rocks at first, and then ended up running after them to get them rerouted in the proper direction. The 3 dogs went along for fun, as they were no help at all in herding. The dozen llamas came home each evening on their own, walking up the driveway in an orderly manner, with heads held high as if to say, “we are much better behaved than the cows, thank you”.
From the canyon we continued on P124 which would loop us around to meet up with the main highway of P3. Not far along the canyon we came to an area where the Puya Raimondii cactus grow on hillsides.
Extremely tall and straight, the cactus is dried and used as wood since there are few trees in this area. We drove for hours, up and over hills and through wide valleys. We saw few other cars all day. There were a scattering of farms, and herders with their cows or sheep.
Lunch stop was egg salad sandwiches beside the river, next to an abandoned water-driven mill.
About 10 miles before the town of Lampa, a woman waved us down for a ride to town. She carried the typical cloth sack, so heavily loaded that I could barely lift it, a pail of eggs nested in layers of straw, and a plastic handbag. Sitting in the lawn chair behind our seats, she promptly fell asleep. At Lampa, we dropped her at the square. She offered to pay for the ride, but I asked to take her photo instead. She readily obliged and when she saw herself on the phone screen she exclaimed “muy bonito”.
Lampa is a beautiful little town with a gigantic Catholic Church imposing itself over the flower garden square. Pink buildings line the side streets, and friendly people, many dressed in business attire, gave us welcoming smiles.
We soon joined up with P3 at the city of Juliaca. A disaster from beginning to end, the city was one construction filled street after another, holes in the streets the size of VW bugs, or ledges with 1-foot drops…. on to rocks. Topping this was that most streets were lined with piles of garbage, yellow and blue bags now torn open by dogs and strewn across the roads. It was a slow grind through the city, testing our patience to a frazzle. Mental note- never return to Juliaca.
Just an hour passed that nightmare, on a surprisingly good highway, we reached our destination of Puno. After a long day of driving, we were still in for more trouble. Maneuvering Vanna through narrow streets and tight turns was no easy task. We had booked the Casona Plaza hotel on Booking.com and the narrow one ways had us going around in circles like that little metal ball in a round plastic maze. Frustrating!
So when the car in front of us attempted to park on the left side, across from a wide white truck parked on the right side, all politeness went out the window. I got out, stomped over to his open window and said in very bad Spanish, senor you can’t park here, there is no space for us to drive up the street. He shrugged and replied that it was the fault of the white truck because it was so wide. In the universal language of exasperation, I threw out my hands with palms up. “What are we to do”, I demanded. He moved.
Tourists gravitate to Puno because of its location, sprawling down a mountain side to the shore of Lake Titicaca.
Like Cusco, it is an easy city to navigate on foot, has many decent restaurants, and has a friendly happy vibe. Lake Titicaca, at an altitude of 12,500 feet, is said to the highest navigable lake in the world which is debatable, but by volume it is the largest lake in South America. Unique islands within the lake are a major tourist attraction. Boatloads of tourists go out every morning, with choices of 1 or 2 night stays on some islands.
We decided a day tour was enough for us.
We arrived at the port at 7:45 AM. There were plenty of boats, all tied together in a row. To get to our boat, we had to jump across the back of ten other boats. Boat hopping, a new experience. Not safe, but people offered their arms as I jumped along. Our boat, the REAL CLASS, was like all the others, with blue cloth bus seats on the inside, an outdoor sitting area at the back, and a ladder to climb up top. Unlike the other boats, ours was pretty slow.
Our first stop was amazing. We hopped off the boat onto one of the Uros floating islands. We were greeted warmly by all 20 of this islands inhabitants, who are known as the Uros people.
The entire island is hand built, using the reeds that grow in the lake. Houses, chairs, tables, you name it, are also made of reeds. The surface was spongy, like walking on a pile of straw, and when a boat came by, the whole island rocked gently.
We sat on reeds rolled into benches while the island leader gave us a informative talk about their lifestyle. He demonstrated how the island is constructed, using massive chunks of reed root, tied together, with an overlay of cut reeds. The large chunks eventually grow together and form the island. A new layer of cut reeds is added every 15 days in order to keep the surface dry. The whole thing is anchored using rope and sharp sticks.
There are about 60 Uros islands and some have community buildings that are shared by all the islanders. There is an elementary school on one floating island, while older kids boat every day into Puno. The Uros embrace technology such as solar power, motor boats, and radio. While they eat fish as well as the juicier parts of the reed, ( it has calcium) they also purchase quinoa and rice from the city. The leader joked that they could play soccer but not basketball. No bounce.
Another 2 hour boat ride took us to the island of Taquile. About 1 mile long, the island has 3000 inhabitants separated into 6 small communities. Completely different from the Uros, these Aymara people maintain a strict traditional lifestyle. Clothing and hats depict marital status. A single man wears a red and white cap, a leader wears a multi colored hat, and a married woman wears a black skirt. Divorce is not allowed. Men knit their own hats and it is mandatory that boys learn knitting from an early age. Women do not knit.
From the water, the island rises steeply to a ridge, then another step descent to the water on the other side. With terraced pastures for cows and sheep, and small vegetable plots of corn, potatoes and quinoa, it is tidy and tranquil.
There are no police as there has never been a reported crime.
We were there for lunch and for some reason the restaurant had to be at the very highest point on the island. The climb from the dock took us at least an hour.
The food was delicious. Quinoa soup, trout, omelet, rice, beets and potatoes with a fresh salsa on the side.
None of these island people, the Taquileños, spoke with us. At various times during the walk our guide gave us information. It was very interesting , but it was quite a different experience than with the Uros people.
Our guide chatted with 2 elders, paid the tax per person that is allocated to set foot on the island, we ate at the restaurant and left. We were shown the hats that the men knit, but there were no demonstrations. Later I learned that the Taquileños had tired of outside tourist companies taking the greater share of the money, and so have formed their own tourist company. A tour with them delves deeper into the community lifestyle.
But all in all we were happy with our day.
Next stop Colca Canyon