A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Hawkson

Lake Titicaca's Islands in the Sun

semi-overcast 16 °C

We are now in the Bolivian town of Copacabana having spent the past two days visiting some of Lake Titicaca's inhabited islands. The world's highest navigable lake is shared between Peru and Bolivia and we began on the Peruvian side by taking a boat to the Uros Islands from Puno...
This group of 42 islands with houses, medical centre and even some junior schools, certainly looks concrete enough, although it is immediately obvious that all the buildings are made of reeds cut from the surrounding waters. Here's a first glimpse of the islands inhabited by the Aymara people...
It is only when you step onto the islands that you appreciate there is nothing solid underfoot. As you feel the ground give way slightly with every step you realise that you are actually walking on water. This is not a religious experience. It is simply that all the islands are floating. Great masses of totora reeds grow on the lake's surface and support themselves on dense beds of floating roots. The Aymara build layer upon layer of reeds on these natural rafts until they are able to support the weight of houses and people....
Although more than two thousand people once lived on these islands, today they are something of a tourist novelty. Most inhabitants actually live on land and only visit to maintain the islands and entertain visitors. Equally entertaining are the garishly painted traditional boats made from the reeds,,,
In 1970 a replica boat built from Lake Titicaca reeds successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to Bermuda and proved Thor Heyerdahl's theory of inter-continental migration by early civilizations possible.

From the Uros floating islands we travelled further out into the lake to visit the Quechua people of Taquile Island. Some two thousand people actually live on this steep-sided piece of rock and work on terraces in the thin atmosphere more than 13,000 feet above sea level. They grow native potatoes, corn and lima beans and we are reminded that this is where these three crops were all discovered by the Europeans in the 16th century...
Here's Sheila dancing with the locals after enjoying some excellent lake trout in a restaurant some 1,000 feet above the lake surface on Taquile Island – and in case you are wondering, we climbed all the way up there.
We later learned the trout are not native but were introduced from Canada in 1940. Here's a view of the lake from the path that took us to the mountain top...
Our next Titicaca island is the most revered of all. It is Isla del Sol, (Sun Island), in the Bolivian end of the lake. It is a mystical island where it is said the Inca Empire began.
Our ascent to the top of this mountainous island started with the 208 precipitous stone steps cut into the rocks by the Incas some 800 years ago...
Climbing is very hard in the thin atmosphere above 13,000 feet but we persevered and continued to the top for fabulous views of the surrounding lake and the distant snow capped peaks of the High Andes...
We also got a smile of welcome from a little girl with her pet alpaca named Albino..
Next stop - the World's highest capital city.

Posted by Hawkson 06:24 Archived in Bolivia Comments (3)

Surprising Puno, Peru

sunny 15 °C

The Blissful Adventurers re-united in Lima on Friday and flew to Puno to begin their trek to the southern tip of Patagonia.

The small Peruvian city of Puno on the north shore of the world's highest waterway, Lake Titicaca, is more than twelve thousand five hundred feet above sea level and is often shrouded in cloud. On our last visit in 2015 we had several days of cold rain and saw little of the lake. We therefore decided to try again and, so far, luck has been on our side. It's our first day and the sun has shone since dawn. However, that is not the lucky part – this is...
By pure coincidence we arrived in Puno on the eve of one of the most incredible spectacles in all of South America – La Festividad Virgen de la Candelaria. Here's a group of dancers decked out in skeins of alpaca wool - the yarn for which this part of the world is famous...
Every year on this day some sixty five thousand costumed dancers and musicians dance and sing their way through the streets of Puno from the Church of the Virgen de la Candaleria to the main stadium where they perform in front of a crowd of thousands from all over the world...
Our hotel is just a few yards from the parade route and the 102 cultural groups composed of bands, dancers and singers in this year's festival have been entertaining us from 8am this morning and will continue until late tonight. The festival is classed in the top three of South American events alongside the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro and the Carnaval of Oruro in Bolivia. Words cannot describe the beauty, the exuberance and the sheer emotion of watching tens of thousands of gaily costumed people taking part in such an amazing event. All we can do is show you some snapshots...
The many beautiful young girls loved being photographed in their bright costumes...
And the older women looked resplendent in their colourful hats...
There were thousands of men in masks and costumes...
And more than 2,500 musicians playing drums and traditional Peruvian pipes...
We will leave you with these traditional stick dancers as we return to watch more of the procession...
Tomorrow we will take to the water to visit the floating Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca.

Posted by Hawkson 12:52 Archived in Peru Comments (7)

Mindo - Ecuador's Garden of Eden

semi-overcast 27 °C

Just a stone's throw north of the equator in the heart of a tropical cloudforest lies the tiny community of Mindo. The perpetually warm equatorial sun greets us each morning as we breakfast in our lodge's rooftop restaurant, and we are serenaded by birdsong and the babbling of the nearby river as it tumbles headlong toward the ocean some 5,000 feet below us...
Toucans and humming birds abound in this equatorial nirvana but both are too speedy to be caught on the wing and too difficult to see in the dense tropical canopy. The numerous exotic butterflies on the other hand have been corralled into several butterfly gardens where we were able to marvel at their amazing sizes, colours and disguises...
And if you think that this is the head of a raptor looking for prey, try turning the picture upside down...
Green is certainly the predominant colour in the lush tropical jungles that climb high into the Andes from the valley floor in Mindo, and by mid-afternoon everyday the hot humid air has turned to cloud and the forest is given its daily watering. The frequent showers and perpetual warmth has turned this part of the Andes into a Garden of Eden where plants that, to us northerners, are tender houseplants, grow in profusion. Sweetly scented wild orchids flourish here...
as do the common slipper orchids...
However, it is the multitude of brightly coloured bromeliads and heliconias that really stand out in the jungle...
But all of the vegetation, including the cultivated bananas, coffee, papayas and edible yuccas, are exotic to us.
The best way to view the jungles of the Mindo valley is from above and there are two ways to do that. First we took a creaky open cable car across the valley - you can just see the river far below...
But then we got really adventurous and put our lives into the hands of a couple of local guides and zipped from mountain to mountain on a series of 10 zip lines that carried us some 3 kilometres above the canopy. Here's Ian preparing for the first run...
And then we were off...

After each zipline we climbed higher and higher into the the mountains until the final line zipped us all the way back to the start. It was exhilarating, (and a little nerve-racking at first), but once we had our feet firmly back on the ground we would happily have gone around again.

Our Ecuadorean adventure is now coming to an end and Ian will be returning to his home in France. He will be taking his GoPro underwater camera with him, together with his editing expertise, so back to the photographic steam age for us. We hope you enjoyed Ian's videos - we certainly did. Blissful Adventurers James and Sheila will be reuniting in Lima, Peru, for the next leg of the journey to the end of the world. We hope you will stay with us as we head south through Bolivia and Chile to Patagonia where we will bring you the wonders of Tierra del Fuego.

Posted by Hawkson 04:56 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

South Pacific - The Sequel

Galapagos Adventures Part 2

semi-overcast 28 °C

The ferries from San Cristobal Island to Santa Cruz are high powered speedboats that whip across the 80 kilometre of open sea in just a couple of hours. However, when we turned up for our boat at 7am we found it high and dry on the beach and all the other boats packed to the gunwales. We finally got to Santa Cruz island at 5pm. In time for dinner in the famous outdoor restaurant street, Los Kioskos, where dozens of restaurants fill the street with tables under the southern stars and nearly all serve exactly the same food – the local fish...
With a population of some 18,000, Puerto Ayora, the main town of Santa Cruz, is much larger than Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal, and it has far more facilities than its sister island. There are plenty of modern stores, banks and hotels. However, despite the number of well-healed tourists, this part of the world is still relatively poor and many people scrape a living with skills that have been largely forgotten in the West. For instance, this shoe mender charged James just one dollar to mend his broken sandal using ancient machines...
Puerto Ayora is a town bustling with locals and everyone goes to the Saturday market to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and meats brought down from the highlands by the farmers. It is a busy place, but the sea–lions aren't fazed by all the human activity and consider it their right to lie around on the benches and take over the walkways, jetties.and piers...
Our first stop on Santa Cruz Island was to visit the giant tortoises that live in the central highlands...
These enormous creatures were almost extinct by 1970 when fewer than 3,000 survived among the 15 islands. Although the tortoises had no natural predators, rats, goats and pigs introduced by settlers pushed them to the brink. They also have flesh so delicious that it is said to be addictive. But, thanks to the complete ban on eating of their flesh, and to careful breeding and management programs, there are now some 19.000 of these charismatic monsters. They get everywhere in the verdant highlands but just how do they get across the busy airport road? Very slowly of course...
After mountain biking on San Cristobal we took to the water in kayaks around Santa Cruz and saw frigate birds, marine iguanas,and turtles, and then we went back underwater off the islands of Daphne Major and Daphne Minor for more aqueous adventures with a female sea lion who fell in love with Ian...

Although fishing is prohibited in many areas around the islands, we passed through a permitted area and our guide caught a decent sized tuna for our lunch. Sashimi doesn't come fresher than this...
The uninhabited Daphne islands off the north coat of Santa Cruz are home to great flocks of seabirds – chief among them the iconic birds of the Galapagos Islands: the comical pelicans...
and, most exotic of all: the blue footed boobies...
And as we walked the deserted island beaches we watched the giant turtles making love in the shallows before coming ashore to lay their eggs...

Well folks, that's all we have time for from the Galapagos Islands. There is so much more to experience here and if you want to see more of this fascinating and unique place you'll need to start packing. Next, we will continue our adventure in the tropical jungles of the Andes – Nos vemos pronto. (See you real soon).

Posted by Hawkson 12:41 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

While the Cat's Away

semi-overcast 28 °C

Having suffered a week of rain, gales and power outages, Sheila decided it was time to head South to visit her friends Keith and Helen in their winter home in Playa del Carmen Mexico.
She wanted to indulge in activities that would remind her of her carefree, youthful days, so the first place she headed to with Helen was the casino. Here they are with their winnings:

As the sun was shining and the Caribbean looked so inviting Sheila decided to take a quick dip before her date with Ricardo at Coco Bongo.


All these strenuous activities made her very hungry, so off she went with her friends for tacos mariscos.

Helen insisted on not just playing but having a cultural experience, so here they are at the Jardin Botanico Yaaxche about a half an hour from Playa in Puerto Morelos in front of an ancient Mayan ruin.

Sheila was more excited to head back to Playa to do more shopping. This used to be her favourite activity.

This was followed by coffee with her friends and a visit to the World Famous Cremeria in a residential area of Playa.

A wonderful first day was had by all. To be continued……………………………….

Posted by Hawkson 15:34 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

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