We are still packing around Peru. It’s hard to describe the changing landscape as we wind throughout the country, but I’m going to try. The big bucket list check-off is Machu Picchu, of course. We all want to see that majestic mountain shrouded in clouds and we will get there. But there is a way to approach this world of high altitudes and thin air and the key is: slowly. Getting acclimated is the toughest part and tourists are wise to work their way up the altimeter and then come down to do the strenuous mountain for the sake of adjustment. We did just that and spent some fantastic days seeing lesser known areas in this remote part of South America.
Are there llamas and alpacas running everywhere? Yes… and no. They do look wild roaming the rocky fields and occasionally on the roadway, but they are owned by someone and are attended to. Look a bit closer and you can spot the shepherdess close by, a gathered felt skirt decorated with colorful embroidery and a hand-made sweater. The ladies head wear changes from area to area. Historically one could identify the community a woman was from and her position in it based on her hat. All seem to be several sizes too small and just perch on the top of their heads. Doesn’t look too practical or comfortable but it’s traditional. Peruvian men also have a traditional look wearing brightly knitted caps with long ear flaps that cover the cheeks and end in yarn tassels. Motifs from the Incan world such as snakes, pumas and, of course, llamas decorate their woven wear.
It might surprise you to know Peru is an entire country engineered with terraces. We will get to those steps at Machu Picchu but we will see them every day and everywhere. Miles of raised beds for agriculture marching up slopes and hillsides. Families are still tilling the earth with primitive tools. We see men walking behind oxen making a furrow that another family member will come along and drop in a corn seed or potato eye. One of our tour members volunteers to do a bit of cultivating with the pair of bovine. We think he might be getting it until the plow comes out of the ground and the bulls feel the slack and head toward the house. Someone will have to re-plow that row. Not many tractors here but I spy one in a shed built onto the front of the house. In fact, the shed is bigger than the house.
The area of Lake Titicaca is the stuff National Geographic is made of. By sheer volume of water and the surface area it covers, this “highest navigable lake in the world” is also the largest in South America. We are 90 miles from Bolivia on a 3305 square mile fresh water lake at an altitude of 12500 feet. Farmers cultivate the shallows as the water is low. Native fish are small here but they have begun trout farming using Canadian trout. We enjoy the prosperity that tourism can bring for a family hosted lunch. We eat outdoors dining on fresh foods from the garden while overlooking the lake. This was more than “farm to table” this was “table on the farm.”
We made our way to the shoreline where our charter boat would cruise around some of the 92 floating islands. These indigenous people have created their own waterfront properties by using the reeds that grow in the water. They constantly replace the stalks as their homes sit atop these tiny isles. They bundle the porous plants in long logs that become beautiful boats for transportation. The houses look like illustrations from a fairy tale book. We see some solar powered lights but cooking is done over an open fire. I can only wonder how they keep the babies from crawling off the edge. There are even schools and markets floating along in the system. Life is definitely different here at the top of the world. But that’s the wonderful thing about traveling and enjoying the many cultures we humans have created on this earth. One can experience all the differences while being simultaneously being reminded of our similarities as well.
There is so much to see, hear, smell, taste and experience here it can tend to overwhelm your senses. When you decide to visit, plan on spending more than a day or two. You’ll want the time to fully absorb those differences and similarities.