Lake Titicaca and Puno, Peru

It really doesn’t get old saying “Lake Titicaca”. Try it, it’s addicting.

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Today we started out on a 1 hour hydrofoil ride to Copacabana – not the famous beach in Brazil but the community in Bolivia. Today was the last day of their 2 week Carnival celebrations so in the town square there was dancing and parading. We visited the main church which had more of a. Mediterranean style.
I’ve noticed the 2 nicest buildings in every town are the church and the school.
We bought some goods at the local market. Then we got caught in the parade where kids were having squirt gun fights and spraying foam at each other. So, I ended up wet with soapy foam everywhere.
We went to the border here to get our exit stamps as where we would cross into Peru wouldn’t have an immigration office.

Then we went to Moon island. We had to hike up the mountainside ruins with the Andean cross that was originally Tiwanaku and was taken over by the Incas. They scoured the countryside for the most beautiful women and brought them here to live as goddesses. It’s called moon island because women are moon and men are sun.

Next we went to Sun island, which is larger and has lots of hostels. This island is where Inca culture originated, then they moved up into what is now Peru. We ate lunch after a hike up the mountainside, outside with a view of the lake. Lunch was quinoa soup, bread, trout and bolied potato, a very typical meal.

Then we got back on the hydrofoil to go across the lake to Juli, Peru. From there we drove to Puno about 45 minutes.

The hotel in Puno is on a peninsula surrounded by lake titicaca. We have a beautiful view from our room.


Day 4 – Lake Titicaca

Again writing from my phone…

We went out on a hydrofoil boat this morning to two islands.

Pariti – a small community of about 200 all of which have been there for generations. The people farm quinoa, maize, lima beans and have pigs, chickens, cattle, sheep and feed the livestock with reeds and seaweed. Across the channel there is another mountainous island in which they terrace farm.

The soccer field has 3 used. Soccer of course, town square for parties and also the location of excavations where most of the artifacts were located.

The island also had a museum with well preserved artifacts, very colorful cases, figured, pumas, monkeys and ducks.

Toilets are white outhouses that have western toilets but no running water. So they take buckets of water from the lake to flush. I have quite figured out how that works.

Then we got back on the boat to our next stop, a replica floating reed island. It was built by the tour company but now they had money from the government as well. Everything is made from reeds found in the lake – the floor, the huts, the beds, the chairs, everything.

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Day 3 – Leaving La Paz, Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca

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Again, notes will be abbreviated as I am typing on my phone.

Today we woke early to have a breakfast of papaya, toast & Bolivian coffee then we were off. We drove about an hour out of the city, to Tiwanaku, a site of pre-incan ruins.

Approaching the site we walked through a long entrance path.
The ruins are only about 20% excavated and currently include 5 sites but we saw the 3 main sites.
1. Sunken square with 175 faces embedded into the wall. They are thought to represent people who died from different diseases and afflictions, possibly contracted in the Amazon. This area did not have water for 50 years so it is thought that they went to the Amazon to find water and food. In this area there are also monoliths to the sun, earth, wind and water. The Andean cross represents 12 months, 4 seasons and 4 elements.

2. Pyramid for ceremonies
This has 7 steps which is important to note. Everything is in 7’s. The stones used are exactly cut to fit and the only tools they had at the time was other stones. Also lake titicaca was used to transport these massive stones but the exact method is unknown. The area does not have rock, only clay and the type of rock is only found near Copacabana and lake titicaca.

3. Platform for religious rituals
Again 7 of everything, and we saw very advanced irrigation systems. Walking around it looked like a walled fortress but then there were stairs (7) to go up where there were more monoliths. On the winter solstice the sun will hit directly through an arch, illuminating the sun monolith.

Then we had a boxed lunch of chicken, rice, ham sandwich and fruit.

We drove about 2 hours to lake titicaca to our next hotel. The hotel is a complex with many museums, llama pen(!), restaurants and a lobby with WiFi :)

Tonight we are going to an observatory to see the lake and sky at night. There is not much around here so I’m hoping it will be spectacular.

Day 2 – La Paz city tour

Unfortunately I am having major issues with my iPad and am typing on my phone, so the next few posts may not be very long. I will update with more details once I have access to a real keyboard.

Today we went all around La Paz with our guide and private driver, which is really how you want to do it.

The first place we went was the main square with a cathedral, presidential palace and parliament buildings. Building of the cathedral started in 1876 and finished in 1986 before the pope came in 1988 and he will be back in July. We then walked down Calle Apolinar Jaen, the oldest street from colonial times which now has museums, shops and art galleries.

Then we went to a park that overlooked the whole city and took lots of pictures (more to come on that).

La Paz was founded in 1548 by the Spanish. It means “the peace” and this location was chosen because they have water, the main river is called choqueyabu. The Spanish needed a place to rest between Lima and Potosi.

Next we went to the Moon Valley, which is clay formations altered by heavy rain and wind, also very beautiful and pictures to come.

Coming back into the city we hit heavy traffic going through the local food market, in our way to the witches’ market. We stopped in a couple shops, they mostly sell herbs, and offerings to mother earth. We stopped in one stop where a man was putting together an offering consisting of white sugar, flowers, herbs, aromatics, tinsel, sugar tiles with painted on scenes and to pull it all together, they choose a dried llama fetus. The llama fetus is from a miscarriage, llamas can’t give birth if it’s too cold so no llamas are intentionally killed. The local people believe these offerings will bring luck, health or good growing season depending on the items chosen. Then the whole thing is burned, for example at a new build site for good luck.

Another note on traffic: people will cross the street anywhere so the government implemented a program to teach people where to cross safely. These people are dressed like zebras because the word for crossing sounds like zebra. They were originally paid in food and now the program has expanded and they are now paid with money. Mainly high school students are zebras.


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Day 1 – Travel to La Paz & Taking it Easy

3 flights, 1 customs form and 3 entry forms later (one was legal sized paper front and back and wanted my mothers maiden name) and we’re in! By the way, they didn’t even look at the long form. The airport is actually in El Alto (another city, not clear if a suburb) – desperately poor and higher elevation. They are trying to expand the airport but where we landed was pretty sad.

La Paz sits in a valley surrounded by the high mountains of the Andes. As the city grew, it climbed the hills, resulting in varying elevations from 10,500 to 13,500 ft. Overlooking the city is towering triple-peaked Illimani, which is always snow-covered and can be seen from many parts of the city, including our drive in from the airport (pics to come).

Driving is quite interesting here – we had a private driver and guide from the airport. Yesterday was a national holiday – Carnival – which people look to be still recovering from. Lots of balloons everywhere, mostly tied to cars. Mini-buses seem to stop random places along the road for people. There are, of course, also designated stops which are used but the random method is most used. The mini-bus capacity is really as many people as can fit into there – imagine a 16 person van with 25 people + their stuff in it. That’s what the Wednesday morning commute looked like. The traffic is insane with no signs, lights, or turn signals. Also apparently roundabouts (we went in a ‘unmarked’ one). We saw a rental car place by our hotel but that would be a death wish. We were also advised the streets and highways aren’t always marked which would make navigating on your own unadvisable.

Altitude is only giving me a slight headache but it is very dry here so we are drinking a lot of water – 7 small bottles of water at 20 oz each so far.

Just going to lunch, having coca tea and walking to a roadside stand to buy water wiped us both out at this altitude.

English is not taught in schools and we have only encountered 2 people so far with semi-passable English. Our guide ‘Daniela’ doesn’t know enough English to answer in depth questions and struggles to find words. We’ll have to figure it out on our own!

Tomorrow we will be running around La Paz.

Day 7: Havana

We were joined by the architect we met the other day, Daniel.

Later we asked him a lot of questions.

The Cuban government called the 1990’s a ‘special period’ because of the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Food and medicine was hard to get and there was much suffering. Daniel said his parents made a lot of sacrifices (i.e. let the kids eat most of the food) but he still went hungry. Then we starting talking about Cuban sports, the Olympics (they only watch summer sports because they participate in baseball, boxing and track) and other TV programs.

He was able to travel to Mexico and Switzerland to study as an exchange student. The government doesn’t grant visas to younger people in fear they won’t return to Cuba.

Walked the promenade was built in 1912 and are mostly limestone and bronze. A Parisian architect designed this area of Old Havana and called it the city of columns. Along the promenade are homes of former presidents, a ballet school and other privately owned buildings, hotels and apartments. They were also shooting a movie with costumes from the 1920’s. Apparently, the director is the most famous in Cuban film – I will have to figure out his name and try to find a way to watch his movies.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) – was built in 1954 and received donations from collections of weathy Cubans who fled. Cuban fine art follows American and European trends. Most of the works are political, especially the pieces from the 1960’s. The building we were in was for Cuban artists only but there was another building for foreign art in a different location. Across the street there was a military museum honoring the Bay of Pigs.

Then we went to lunch at an Italian restaurant. Pizza is very popular in Cuba. We had cheese pizza and spaghetti – I tried the spaghetti but it wasn’t very good.

Jaimanitas by Jose Fuster – a created art neighborhood by a man who is famous for mosaic tiling and also crazy paintings. He designed many things for his neighbors too. He spent 40+ years decorating his own house and 18 years on his neighbor’s houses.

While Margaret went to a performance by a trio of jazz musicians from the Cuban Institute of Music, I lounged and swam in the hotel pool since this was our only chance.

We ate dinner at a Paladar on outskirts of the city run by an Italian man and his Cuban wife.


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Day 6: Havana

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We saw several free mason symbols and former presidents graves. There was also a firefighters memorial. 38 died in an explosion because a businessman was smuggling fireworks. It currently operates as a cemetery and there were 3 funerals today.

The average pension is less than 10 CUC per month (about $10). Our guides’ father is 80 and still works as a cabinetmaker.

We asked about the prisons and were told that in the 90’s if you had a USD in your possession you could go to jail.


Calle Hamel: murals of Cuban-African religions. There are 3 main ones represented. Slaves became free in Cuba in 1868 after the main sugar plantation & slave owner decided to free his slaves and others followed suit. This started the first independence war lasting for 10 years. There was a second independence war and one of its leaders was Jose Marti (a national hero). Cuba then became the Republic of Cuba until the Revolution.


Muraleando – community art project. Street of murals. It’s also a children’s school of training in art, music, ceramics and doll making.


Hemingway Finca Vigia – where Hemingway lived with his wife from 1939 to 1960. We saw his beautiful home and a lookout tower. His last wife (he had several) donated all materials from their Havana home to make it a museum, including his boat. The museum offices are in the bungalows that he built for his kids when they came to visit. The house cannot be entered but we could look through the doors and windows (see pictures).


We ate dinner at The National Hotel. It was the best and nicest meal we’ve had so far, all for around $60. We joined the group for a 1930’s jazz show in the main ballroom.



Are coming soon, I promise! Internet here is slower than molasses in January (as Margaret would say). I can’t decide if internet here is better or worse than Chinese internet.

Day 5: Vinales

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The terrain changed from flat to hilly with cattle grazing, goat herding and tobacco farms. Tobacco is harvested by hand and cigars are made by hand. Crops are grown in dark red soil but tobacco is grown in light brown soil with sand. The mountain ranges in this area are the oldest mountains in Cuba. There are a total of 3 ranges – the biggest is in the eastern most province of Guantanamo. The national reforestation program is taking place in this area and the National Park here is a UNESCO site.


We visited a working tobacco farm.  They were growing black tobacco. Leaves drying inside are for cigars. They dry for a total of 5 months. Leaves growing outside are for cigarettes. The farm had 8 hectares and 140,000 tobacco plants. They plant in November and harvest starting in January. From seed to cigar the process takes a total of 3 years. There were 11 workers and they make 2 CUCs a day which is about They sell their leaves to the brand Cohiba.


Vinales National Park – mountains are limestone with caves and farming is done with oxen. We stopped for lunch here and saw a prehistoric mural.


We then visited a local organic farm. They use natural compost like red worms and rabbit poo. There were puppies everywhere.

They used marigolds, hibiscus, corn and calla lilly for pest control. For pest spray they use the center vein of the tobacco leaf soaked in water. Their produce is purchased by an urban farming group and then sold to schools, hospitals, etc.


After 3 more hours on the bus to get back we went to a Paladar (privately owned restaurant run by a professional trained chef) called Santana. It was on the first floor of a family home close to our hotel.



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