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Parades, Floating Islands and Altitude Sickness

I got home Sunday from a 3 night stay in Puno.  A friend from IFSA– Jessa– and I made the journey to check out “Puno Week” and the famous Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.

We arrived in Puno on Thursday intending to spend the day resting and acclimating to the altitude.  Puno sits at 3827 meters (12628 feet) above sea level and coming straight from Lima this is a huge adjustment, so we decided to take it easy.  I learned this weekend that high altitudes aren’t for me…. Friday we woke up hoping to see the Puno Day Parade which all the guidebooks told us was November 5th.  We asked at the front desk and it turned out the big parade had taken place the day before.  So, we ventured out to explore Puno and find the handicraft market to do some souvenir shopping.  After lots of wandering and unclear directions, we gave up on finding the market and headed back to the plaza de armas.  On our walk, we kept seeing kids all dressed up in what appeared to be different traditional outfits.  We decided to head in the direction of all these dressed up kids to see if we could find some sort of celebration going on.  Our spying led us to a school courtyard.  On the wall was a huge sign with what looked like a schedule and different locations.  We couldn’t figure out what the schedule was for and we were tired, so we headed back to the hotel hoping we would happen upon something later in the day.  After some rest, we started to hear the echo of drums from our hotel room.  We hurried out and found a parade with all the school children of Puno dressed up and performing various folkloric dances.  They were absolutely adorable and we were happy we got to see at least a small celebration for Puno Week.  Later that night when we headed out for dinner, the parade was still going.  By that time, it was the older kids dancing and they were much more skilled, but obviously less adorable.  I have to say, it was the longest parade I have ever seen.  It lasted hours and hours from noon until maybe 6 or 7 at night!

Saturday was our tour to the lake.  We woke up bright and early and went down to the docks where we took a boat to our first stop, the floating islands of Uros.  These island are incredible to say the least.  The people who live there construct these floating islands from the reeds that are native to Lake Titicaca (see the video for our tour guide’s explanation).  They also use these reeds as building material for their houses, kitchens, boats and handicrafts and as a medicine.  The people on the island were incredibly friendly, but it was all very touristy.  They invited us into their houses and dressed us up in typical clothing so that we could take pictures of ourselves all dressed up.  They also had stands at which they sold their beautiful artwork.  When our visit was over, a group of women sang us goodbye in quechua, aymara, spanish and english finishing with “Row your boat.”  From the floating islands of Uros we got back on the boat and made our way to the island Taquile.  The inhabitants of this island speak quechua as opposed to aymara which is spoken on the islands of Uros.  There, the women have the task of spinning the yarn and the men knit.  Walking around we saw many women spinning yarn and men knitting as they walked.  I didn’t get to enjoy the island very much as I spent most of the visit trying to climb up to the main plaza and restaurant where we’d be eating lunch.  The altitude had really gotten to me and I have to stop numerous times to rest on the way up.  I didn’t want a repeat of Huaraz (aka fainting).  Once we made it to lunch, we ate and our tour guide explained to us the significance of the different hats and shawls we saw the men and women wearing.  On Taquile, men wear beautifully woven wear hats and belts which signify their marital status.  Women wear black shawls with colorful pom poms decorating the corners; their size indicates her marital status.  We also saw the hat which denotes political leaders.  The intricacy of these hats and belts was impressive and beautiful.  From there, we made the long journey back to Puno.

Despite the altitude sickness, Puno and Lake Titicaca were absolutely beautiful.  The weather was lovely, the sun was shining every day and the nights weren’t nearly as cold as everyone in Lima warned.  Clearly Limeñans have never lived though winters in Chicago or Maine… It is incredible to me how many beautiful and interesting things there are to see in Peru alone and I won’t even get to see them all.  I won’t make it to the Colca Canyon in Arequipa, a canyon bigger than our Grand Canyon where condors fly overhead.  Nor will I make it to the Amazon rain forest to see another of Peru’s distinct cultures… Guess I’ll have to come back!  Next weekend I’m heading north towards the border with Ecuador to a beach town called Máncora to get some R&R before the stress of finals and leaving Peru sets in.  I have just over a month left here in Peru and I can’t get over how quickly the time has gone! I have yet to talk about FOOD and the notorious combis… For now, I’m just hoping to make it through the end of the semester smoothly.

Un beso… ¡chau!


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