Posts Tagged ‘lakes’

(February 2009)

I catch my first glimpse of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest commercially navigable lake, and my senses awake to its beauty. The feeling of awe sinks as the bus makes its way down into Puno. The city looks drab and dreary and as my impressions are taking shape I’m startled by the sight of a woman in a brightly-coloured, flamboyant dress and matching bowler hat. Her presence seems so at odds with the mid-morning hour and the blandness of the streetscape. By the time we reach the bus terminal at the foot of the port I can see and feel Puno’s bustle and energy.

Puno is the folklore capital of Peru and the Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria, which takes place during the first two weeks of February, is in full swing. It combines religious processions where conservatively dressed people parade solemnly up and down the streets carrying statues of the Virgin with the more vibrant and larger processions of beautifully costumed dancers and marching bands. This starts small in the mornings and continues, gaining momentum and people, well into the nights!

I booked a half-day tour to nearby Sillustani. The funerary towers – chullpas – date from the Incas but are remnants of the Aymara-speaking Colla tribe. The location on a peninsula in Lago Umayo is starkly beautiful. After exploring the site we made a stop at a nearby village and were invited into a family’s homestead. The adobe buildings and outdoor cooking area speak of a very simple existence yet the welcoming cows statuette at the entrance, ginuea pig pen, llamas, flower garden and friendliness of the family conveyed a sense of well-being and comfort.

The following day I was off on another tour. This time to the Uros Islands. There are about 50 islands, which are home to approximately 2,000 inhabitants. The islands are constructed out of reeds, as are the houses and boats. The reeds rot and need to be continually replenished. The islanders’ ancestors wanted to avoid war and conflict with the Collas and Incas and thought the Sacred Lake, Titicaca, would make an ideal home. It is fascinating that they still choose to live on the lake, which houses a hospital and a couple of elementary schools.


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                                                                                                                                                            Cuenca is in Azuay province and has a population of appromately 400,000. I stayed at Hostel El Monesteria, which provides wonderful views of San Francisco market, the famed blue domed cathedral, and the mountains. The view from my window overlooked the monestary’s urban agriculture courtyard and, to my surprise, I saw nuns chasing pigs.

There are many Indigenous people although they seem to be outnumbered by the Mestizo population. Women vendors walk around with large wheelbarrows of fruit and tiny scales. Hats are an essential element of the Indigenous wardrobe and I checked out the hat shops and a museum. Cuenca is home to the Panama hat – yes, they are made in Ecuador. Something else I noticed all over Ecuador is that children wear school uniforms. It seems each school has its own uniform.

The Museo del Banco Central is wonderful. This was the third ethnographic collection I had viewed and makes me want to see more of the country. The museum has several shrunken heads from the Shuar tribe in its collection. The Shuar shrunk the heads of murders – woman, children, and whites/mestizos were considered inferior and not subjected to the practice. By the way, head shrinking is against Ecuadorian law!

I booked a hike to Cajas National Park, which turned out to be one of my most satisfying days in the country. Adrian, our guide, was exceptionally knowledgeable about the plants, flora, trees, and birds in the park – Cajas guides require a special license. First, we stopped at the three crosses where legend and custom dictate that you place a rock on one of crosses for a safe journey. The ancient Canari people crossed through the park to trade on the Pacific and parts of the road are still in existence. We hiked at a leisurely pace at 4200 metres above sea level for a few hours, venturing around a mountain and a couple lakes. There are 232 lakes in the park, mostly small. We went through a forest of amazing trees – they seemed so fluid and organic and possessed a richly coloured, thin, flimsy bark.

Prior to the hike we saw a llama herd in the hills (they were very curious about us) and a couple of llamas near the road. According to Adrian, this is unusual, as was the clear, bright day. After lunch we went for a shorter hike at 3200 metres. The trees, vegetation, and birds at this lower altitude are different. It’s greener and we even spotted an Andean Toucan.

I also spent time soaking up the hottest sulphur spring baths in the country – 24 degrees Celsius, or, 76 degrees Farenheit. Unlike the other Banos, I had to take a bus to reach this town just outside of Cuenca. I went a little too far and had to ask several people for directions – this seems to happen alot when I use local transit.

Cuenca is considered a good place to stay awhile and take  Spanish lessons. There is some degree of affluence. For instance, many Ecuadorians were eating in trendy restaurants. I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’ve also quite gotten used to seeing cows, pigs and chickens in people’s semi-urban yards.

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