So, we are back in Lima! After a long flight from Amsterdam, we gathered our bags and head out of the airport to meet up with overlanding friends Ben and Emma (www.flightlesskiwis.com). We met and traveled with the Kiwi’s way back in Mexico and they FINALLY caught up to us in Peru. They rented an apartment to accommodate Ben’s parents who weren’t set to arrive in a couple of days and graciously offered us a room for two nights before we headed to Cusco. It was great to catch up with them on our reentry and to meet the new addition to their family, Kaylee!
Kaylee. Another successful street dog adoption from the garbage heaps of Guatemala. Paula's still on the look out for ours.
We then flew to Cusco to get LoJo out of hibernation and prep for a quickish departure to Bolivia. Our friends Janice and Gregor of Live.Travel.Play are there now and we want to catch up and travel with them to the Salar de Uyuni and the Lagunas Route through Southwest Circuit of Bolivia. But first, we have a fair amount of prep to do on the rig and then we will ‘high tail it’ to Puno on Lake Titicaca and cross into Bolivia from there.
The prep was all mostly standard stuff: unpack and repack; get groceries and water; check the engine fluids and the rest of the truck/camper systems; top up propane for the eventual cold temps. The first day back with the truck we got a few things done before the 11,400 feet of elevation started to take its toll. The next day was similar but less productive as I felt a bit off for half of the day. But then we got going and finished our checklist and were ready to roll the next morning. Only one new project – patch the hole in my brake fluid reservoir that a rat seemingly made while gnawing on it! It looked like the vermin had taken up residency in our engine compartment while we were gone. Crazy right? Fortunately, there was no other wire damage and the hole was very small.
Finding and procuring propane is always a bit of a mystery down here...
We arrived in Puno, Peru after an 8 hour day of driving and provisioning and were pleased to see not only Janice and Gregor but Jeff and Monica from Overland the World. We met Jeff and Monica back in Baja Mexico in December of 2014! They were down from their home in AZ for a 6 week trip through Baja and we traveled together a bit and got to know them. They had previously driven down to Panama from AZ in 2012, and we knew that one day we might see them in South America as they were planning that trip when we met. We all had dinner and swapped information, travel stories and phone cards. It was short, but really good to meet up again with them.
Janice, Gregor, Jeff and Monica in Puno. Camping in the teens at night. Brrrr!
The next day we all departed Puno in different directions. Paula and I were to cross into Bolivia to explore Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,507 ft. It straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia. We had heard not so great things from other travellers about the floating reed islands off of Puno, very touristy and not authentic. So we decided to press on to Copacabana on the Bolivian side, and experience the lake from there.
We were a little stressed about the border crossing as the Bolivians were seemingly in the middle of changing the rules/requirements for US citizens entering their country. We had heard from frustrated travelers being turned around for, among other things, not having a red background on their visa photo. We also had some issues with my Yellow Fever vaccination as it was incorrectly identified on my card. So, we went in as prepared as possible and were pleasantly surprised when we had a virtually seamless crossing with no crowds that took only about 45 minutes.
We were then reminded that worrying about a possible negative outcome before it happens is a total waste of energy. In my former life, I did a lot of scenario analysis of what could go wrong and I would plan for that and often times incorrectly expect it. Not just with work but with most everything. Somehow, on this trip, that has changed. I think we are pretty well prepared for most of what will come our way, but I don’t really think about the possible negative outcomes as much anymore. I’m living more in the moment than ever. As long as my current (immediate) situation is good, I am good, even carefree. If there is some new event that evolves that needs our attention, we will deal with it. I don’t waste my time trying to predict negative outcomes anymore. I actually think I am now a positive person and that is, to a degree, a marked change of how I felt I was in my old career life. This is a big deal for me and I’m pretty stoked about it!
Off to Copacabana...I remembered reading that sometimes at the cathedral in town there is a priest outside who will bless vehicles. This is a tradition in Copacabana. Locals with new cars or companies with a new bus in their fleet will bring the vehicle here and have it blessed. There are older women with stalls set up to sell you flowers and other adornments for the big day! On our way into town we realized it was Sunday (the day of the blessings) and we arrived just before 5:00 (when it ended), so we found our way to the cathedral and lo and behold, we could see the priest was there blessing vehicles! We got LoJo in line, bought some of the trappings, and had the priest bless our truck. A toast with some locals (alcohol is part of the ceremony – a little on the ground, some on the tires, and a little for you) and we think we are good to go. I still think about my mom often, and I could hear her giggle with excitement - I know she would have loved the blessing and I felt it was an offering of sorts to her. It was a very cool experience, and I felt very enriched as we drove away.
These guys were getting their car blessed in front of us. They provided the beer..."A little for Panchamama, a little for the vehículo.
And a little for you".
Well, we were back in the camper for only few days now but the previous night in Puno the temperature got down to 14 degrees F. It is winter here after all. And we hadn’t quite fully steeled ourselves for this type of camping – so we got a hotel, which was nice – and warm!
Driving along the lake from Puno to Copa
Mud hut homes along the lake
Sunset on the lake
We decided to spend our time at Lake Titicaca on Isla del Sol. This island in the middle of the lake is the mythical birthplace of the Sun God lies on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. It is home to a collection of Inca ruins and around 800 pastoral families. It provided a calm we found to be rare in urban Bolivia. It was a beautiful hike and a peaceful energy on the island. I won’t go into all of the history, but there is evidence that the island had inhabitants dating back to 2200 B.C.
We arranged to have a guide take us out to Isla del Sol. His name was Leo. He was a very interesting and open person, from La Paz with a wife and two kids. We talked about everything from life and learning to the Inca’s and the pre Colombian history of the peoples and the island. We like to hire guides for a couple of reasons: often when we tour a site or ruins, its just a pile of rocks unless there is context – the guide fills in the holes, also, hiring a guide allows us to spend the day with an English speaking local who gives not only a historical context of a place but a current understanding of the country, the people and the politics. It’s also a good way to support the local communities, which is important.
There is also a theory that Lake Titicaca (original name Titicalca, which mean Puma of grey, and pronounced Tee Tee Kalca) was part of a huge inland sea stretching over 65k sq kilometers. Leo discussed the indigenous Andeans who lived in the region before the Inca’s (15th Century) the Aymara and the Quechua. He also discussed the Andean flag, the Wiphala, and how that represents the Andean peoples and the following:
Red: The Earth and the Andean man
Orange: Society and culture
Green: Natural resources
Blue: The heavens
Violet: Andean government and self-determination
The deep cobalt blue lake is easily mistaken for a Mediterranean sea.
Farmers and herders live here as they have for thousands of years.
Harvesting fava beans
Locals working and chewing coca leaves. Chewing coca, acullico as they say, is common practice in South America. It is done by picking the leaf and putting it between the cheek and jaw along with sodium bicarbonate. The mixture of the three elements of coca leaf, saliva and bicarbonate shapes a ball that includes alkaloids and some nutrients.It is believed that during the colonial period the Spaniards imposed this practice in order to increase productivity in the mines and reduce their food costs. The coca leaf is the symbol of indigenous people's justification.
Forgetting that the lake is fresh water, we were surprised to see farmers bringing their herds of cows down to the beach to drink.
Including their pigs. This little guy sunning himself - we mistook him for a dog.
We started our hike at the north end of the island and hiked all the way to the southern most end.
As we walked the entire island north to south (over 4 hours and 8 miles) Leo told us stories about his ancestors and about his life. He would pull out his Chakana, an Andean cross necklace, often to show us what his ancestors believed – the cross has four points representing the compass and in between each point is three steps representing life above (the heavens), life on Earth and life in the underworld.
This is not a Christianity based belief system. In fact most Christian based religions would likely refer to these ancient peoples as Pagans as they did seem to give thanks for their PachaMama and all that Mother Earth would give to them in the form of life sustaining gifts. I often wonder why the more modern religions don’t have a similar belief in the gift that their God gave them in all of the Earth’s resources and creatures. In my opinion the ancient peoples had the right attitude regarding this big blue ball.
Modern technology meets ancient living
After this long educational and thoughtful walk with Leo, we finally reached our lunch restaurant perched on the side of the hill overlooking the lake and Isla de la Luna. The restaurant/hostel belonged to a friend of his. We had a traditional Andean meal that consisted of 5 types of potatoes, chicken, smoked trout (introduced into the lake in the 1930s), eggs and various sauces. Leo told us that after the harvest the Andean people all come together in a circle with their respective harvests for a big pot luck (so to speak) and enjoy a meal while giving thanks for a successful harvest.
Leo said he had a short cut...we scrambled down the terraced hillside after him and we seriously thought he was lost.
Until we got here... our lunch spot.
Leo was a special person. During our talks he revealed personal stories of seeking knowledge from his elders, trying to find happiness and the importance of feeling good. He talked of meeting a shaman in the street who opened his heart. He also believes that fear is an illness of the brain. I found myself listening intently to him and felt that my time with Leo was one of those synchronistic events. I didn’t want to forget the messages, so I went out and bought myself an Andean cross to wear to remind me of the lessons I learned that day. As I was reflecting on this day, and the random hiring of a guide that I learned much more than history from, I thought about Burning Man – you may not get the experience your looking for, but you will have the experience you need.