Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

one last adventure.. arequipa, puno, & lake titicaca

I just got home tonight from my last trip of the semester. It is hard to believe that all of this time has past already… I will do my best to explain the past week I have just had.. We’ll see if I can do it.

I left on December 4th with my two best friends from the IFSA-Butler Program, Mallory and Claire. Mallory and I spent the night at Claire’s house on the 3rd because we had to leave for the airport at 3:30 a.m. I still don’t know who had the brilliant idea to take a 5:45 a.m. flight, but it worked.

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We landed in Arequipa, in the south of Peru at 7:00 a.m. before anything really opened in the city. We checked into our hotel and then headed out to explore the city. Arequipa is at about 2,500 meter (8,500 feet I think) above sea level. The altitude isn’t bad, but we could still feel the difference.

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The first place that we went to was the Santa Catalina Convent, which is home to cloistered nuns. There are only 30 nuns that live there today, but the convent has held up to 200 nuns. It was a beautiful convent to see.

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(A view from the convent.. you can see the Andes and the Volcano Misti in the background)

We then went to the Cathedral, which was also pretty, and then to a museum to see Juanita, an ancient mummy that was discovered in 2003. After spending the day around Arequipa, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest and try to adjust to the altitude.

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The following morning we got on a bus and headed to Puno, which is right on Lake Titicaca. The bus ride was only six hours long, and wasn’t as curvy and bumpy as we expected. We arrived in Puno in the afternoon, and were immediately choked by the altitude. Puno is at 13,000 feet, and you can definitely feel the altitude change.

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We spent the day exploring Puno a little bit, and then went to bed to prepare for the next morning…

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On December 6th Claire, Mallory, and I were picked up from our hotel at 7:00 a.m. to head on our tour of Lake Titicaca. We had chosen to go on a private tour because it was the only one offered in Spanish, and also because it gave us the opportunity to spend the night on an isolated island in the middle of the lake.

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After our guide showing up forty-five minutes late to the boat.. I will not miss Peruvian time.. we were off. As we were leaving the port in Puno we realized that for just the three of us we had two captains and a guide, oh and a 32 passenger boat too. It was a little ridiculous, but hey, it was kinda cool.

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The first island that we went to is actually a set of islands called the Uros Islands. They are floating islands that the native people have constructed and live on. They have lived there for hundreds of  years, and their islands are literally made of reeds, that float on the water. They have to replenish the reeds every 15 days because they are constantly sinking.

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The Uros actually ended up being our least favorite place because it was really touristy and the people were really pushy about trying to get us to buy something. I had warned about that by my brother, but boy was it true. We left without buying anything, which I am sure made them angry, but we had to pay to even enter their islands, so I felt like we weren’t taking advantage of them.

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From the Uros we head off to cross the lake. We had managed to get what we all decided was the slowest boat in the entire world. It barely kicked up a wake. Needless to say, it took us three hours to get to our destination, when it should have only taken one. We arrived at the Peninsula of Capachicha, where we stopped to eat lunch.

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We walked briefly around the island, stopping to watch the natives slaughter pigs for the festival of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th, and then went to eat. I was surprised at the food on the island. The woman had gone out fishing that morning and caught rainbow trout for us, which was absolutely delicious.

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After lunch we headed over to the island of Tikonata, where we were going to spend the night. As we were heading over to Tikonata we saw that there were three separate storms converging on the lake. It is the start of the rainy season in the region, so we knew that we were going to cut it close for our visit.

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(The houses on the island, and the “huts” we stayed in)

When we arrived on the island there was only one person that we could see. The island is tiny, less than half of a mile in length, so we were confused as to why there wasn’t anyone there. The one man that was there told us that everyone else was on the other side of the island constructing a house. The people on the island don’t use money, and they always complete everything in groups, there is no individualism in the community.

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After putting our stuff in our “huts” we headed up to the top of the island to see the sights and visit their temple before the storms hit. The native people still sacrifice animals to their gods in the temple, and I was surprised that they let us in. The view was breathtaking, even with the storms coming in over the lake.

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(At the top of Tikonata, you can see Amantaní in the background)

As we started to head down the rains hit. When it rains on the lake it absolutely pours. We headed into our “huts” and waited the rain out until dinner. After eating dinner the natives started to put on a dance performance for us. They had to do it inside because it was still raining out. In the middle of the first dance the electricity ran out.

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(The view from the top of Tikonata)

Yes, I mean the electricity ran out. They only have one solar panel that collects electricity for the whole island. Since it had been cloudy the past two days, the electricity simply ran out. When there is no electricity on the island there is absolutely nothing to do except wait for the next morning. The natives had us dance with them, by candlelight, for one dance, and then we all went to bed.

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(Me, Mallory, and Claire on the top of Amantaní)

After visiting their museum in the morning and eating breakfast we said goodbye and headed to the nearby island of Amantaní. Amantaní is the largest island on the Peruvian side of the lake with about 4,000 people living on it. Amantaní has two peaks, each one being an altar to one of their gods. We climbed up to one of the peaks. The top is about 14,000 feet above sea level. Needless to say, it was a long and slow climb up to the top.

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The view was spectacular. It was a sunny day (well at that point at least) and the water and sky were amazing. After walking around the top three times (counterclockwise) and then making a wish at the door of the temple we headed back down the mountain. Our guide told us that we had to complete the “ritual” as it is a tradition. I wonder sometimes if they just make that up to see what tourists will do.

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We headed down to eat lunch with a local family. The food was… absolutely disgusting. Well we first had Quinoa soup, which was delightful. I adore Quinoa. Then they brought out the main course. Mallory, Claire, and I all wanted to die. They had caught mounds of tiny fish, fried them, and cut out their stomachs. We were expected to eat the rest of the fish. All of it. That included the bones, the eyes, the fins.. everything. We each ate a couple to be courteous, but then we really couldn’t finish it.

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(Those are the little fishies they gave us to eat.. notice they have eyes still)

Thankfully they didn’t seem offended, well we still paid them so they shouldn’t have been. After saying goodbye we started back on our four hour boat ride to Puno. We arrived in Puno absolutely disgustingly dirty and exhausted. The first thing we did was go to the market to buy fruit, as fruit literally does not exist on the lake. They don’t have it at all. We then just went back to the hotel to shower and relax the rest of the night.

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We had a great experience on the lake, and all of us would love to return when everything is green (after the rainy season) and then go to Bolivia to visit the Isla del Sol and the Isla de la Luna.

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