Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Drowning our Sorrows on Lake Titicaca

*Warning... the first part of this entry is almost entirely commentary, so if you just want to see pictures, scroll down a bit.

After writing the last entry (cucarachas), I kind of went away with a slightly sour feeling... that the blogs overall had a more negative slant than I desired. On the other hand, I felt they´ve been an honest portrayal of what backpacking is... very different from a normal ¨vacation¨, it is often filled with risks, frustrations, miscommunications, and betrayals. As if to prove this point further, Puno (a small town in Peru) clobbered us with our hardest low so far.
From the beginning, it was an ugly town. As we stepped out of the bus terminal at 5:46 am after an all nighter from Cuzco, we were immediately immersed in a huge cloud of diesel exhaust, big even for Peru. Looking for a hotel, we were turned away several times and only had a couple very halfhearted options, so we decided to split up to do some serious searching (it´s hard to REALLY look for hotels when you have to walk around everywhere with your full luggage). Since I had the best Spanish and JooYeon had the most delicate hotel selection standards, we left the boys in an empty park with all of our luggage while we went door to door on every hotel-hostel-guesthouse possible.
Anyway, we finally gave up trying to find a ¨score¨and returned to the boys with a cheap but dirty option and a probably clean but expensive option. When we neared the park, the boys yelled something in Korean and Joo started yelling back and ran across the street without looking (which isn´t like her). As it turned out, the boys had been approached by someone who started asking them rapid questions and, being fairly innocent to the travelling world, they didn´t see the distractor´s co-conspirator sneak behind and snatch Kiwi´s Eastbay bag.

It´s hard to describe how important a bag is to a traveller. It´s like a turtle´s shell, or a lion´s teeth, or George Bush´s accent... they´re just not the same without it. LUCKILY, it was his second bag rather than his actual backpack, but it still had things like an MP3 player, his journal, medicine, and other things we´re not sure of (he still has moments where he goes into a panic looking through his other bag digging for something that might have been in the Eastbay pack). And to suffer that loss at the hands of a thief, and even one that could have been prevented if they had ignored the questioner instead of kindly responding... it absolutely destroyed any existing trust between our group and locals. We had already been robbed three times in smaller ways (not worth going into), but this was huge. I had never experienced such a loss in my 4 years of travelling, even though it was Kiwi´s bag. The other three began to look at everyone around us (especially guys and children) with scowls and treated them as potential thieves. I began calculating what percentage of the people around us were at least opportunistic thieves based on our four losses so far.

Anyway, after awhile things settled down within our group and it became a joke (although very gingerly as Kiwi was clearly suffering the loss double since he realized he could have prevented it). And we got on a boat headed for some islands on Lake Titicaca which was the real reason we had came to Puno in the first place. As soon as the boat pulled away from the dock, it felt like we were released from a spirit of anger and darkness hovering over Puno, and everyone´s moods began to relax.

Our first stop was on the floating islands of the Uros, ancient Lake people who pre-date even the Incas. Originally they survived entirely by using the reeds of the lake to build boathouses, and in more recent years have even used the reeds through a creative process to create entire islands with communities on them. It was a shingihan feeling (as Koreans say) to walk across the reeds, feeling that any step might send you straight down into the lake only a couple feet below you...

Next, we went three hours further to an island called Amantani where even the animals were excited to see us.

We were welcomed into a rustic candlelit dwelling by an elderly couple who hosted the four of us and two French travellers. The walks around the island were beautiful and the grandma´s cooking was astounding (at least on the way in... on the way out, there were minor complications with one anonymous group member)...

Kiwi went on a solo trek to the top of the island while the other three of us meditated on the gentle waves of Lake Titicaca (that is, when we weren´t interrupted by animals). And we felt it was an appropriate time to reinstate our beloved ¨Jump series.¨

...but by far the greatest experience was when the grandma walked into our room late at night with a pile of traditional island attire and told us to suit up to go dancing...

As you can probably guess from the video, we all had a blast on the dance floor with the islanders blowing their hearts out on traditional instruments, and the old-timers showing us all up!

That night was the hardest yet for JooYeon, as our beds were mounted on rotting bamboo and she had her worst yet run-in with IBBs. Throughout South America, we´ve had various experiences with bed bugs. But the problem is that, after awhile, you´re never really sure when there are ACTUALLY bed bugs and when there are just IBBs (Imaginary Bed Bugs). By the way, this isn´t just a JooYeon thing... all four of us have sworn to the existance of IBBs. Anyway, as I found out later, JooYeon crawled out of bed around midnight and simply sat in a chair, suffering through the cold winter air of the island until 4:30 am when I woke up and convinced her to come back to bed.
So, the next morning when we boarded another boat and cruised to our next destination, Taquile, Joo just slept beneath the deck while the three of us journeyed up the 500 rocky steps that greeted us.
More precisely, there was one happening that occured before we ascended. Both boys REALLY had to use the bathroom, and unfortunately, it was locked. Having suffered at the hands of another criminal, I think Kiwi felt (and was) fully justified in getting in anyway!

We were constantly amazed at the ingenuity of the islanders, using whatever was available to accomplish their purposes. For example, check out the hinges on this gate to an animal field (If you can´t tell, they are the back of worn sandals)...

Thanks to his break-in at the bathroom, the recently heartbroken Kiwi was as light as air and succeeded in performing the greatest Jump to date! And so goes the circle of life... ups and downs...


  1. Are you picking up any CD's of the music you hear? Mom

  2. Who needs CDs? We´re practicing on the instruments ourselves! :) Daniel

  3. So, you ready for a live performance when you get back? Mom

  4. We´ll play the instruments if you do the dancing!