More than Machu Picchu
Mention that you have travelled to Peru and everyone asks the same question: “Did you go to Machu Picchu?”
Indeed, Machu Picchu seems to be synonymous with a visit to Peru and I had, in honesty, originally planned a trip to Machu Picchu not Peru. But Peru is much more than its best known attraction as I and the boys discovered when we visited last month and here is the first life lesson. It’s easy to become singularly focused and in doing so miss the big picture or the bounty that the Universe provides. A free spirit is a great gift and the path to many blessings.
So what did we see?
Well before arriving at Machu Picchu we spent almost 2 weeks exploring the many other wonders that Peru has to offer and this included a truly memorable train journey on the Andean Explorer from Arequipa to Cusco taking in Puno and Lake Titicaca. It was on the train that we encountered our first experience of altitude. Living in a city which is at it’s highest point 24 metres above sea level it was a bit of a shock to the system when on the first night the train climbed into the Andes, reaching 4600 metres before descending to Puno on the Lake. You don’t need many beers at this sort of height to feel good!
Lake Titicaca, a dot on the map of South America, is in fact 118 miles (190 Km) long. Famed for its floating islands which are built and populated by the Uros people. The islands themselves are layers of cut reed often a metre plus thick, averaging 15 metres square, on which huts built of reeds have been constructed. 4 or 5 families will occupy an island and create a living through fishing, fish farming and what they can get from the many tourists who visit, selling them hand made crafts and offering boat tours.
The rudiments of the technology most of us take for granted have reached the island where there is an overriding poverty that can be lost to the tourist who is focused on the intrigue of a floating island, the colour of the dress, the enthusiasm of the people as they display folk dance and song and offer their crafts. I couldn’t but help feeling the availability of the limited technology that the people have is both a blessing and a curse as it allows an easing of the subsistence life style that generations have endured but gives a small taster of all that exists but is beyond their reach.
How easy it can be for the western tourist to dip into a bit of culture, created to entertain, and return to the comfort of the hotel with a handmade token of the experience. Maybe the better and more authentic experience would be to spend some days living as the Uros people. Just imagine, no devices for a week not to mention no running toilet or shower! No entertainment for a week?
Whilst on the Lake we encountered a ritual that we realised was very much a part of rural Peruvian life. This was the thanking of the Pacha Mama, or World Mother for life and its provisions. We all placed coca leaves under a rock, said a silent prayer of thanks and request as our guide led. This simple spirituality was to be in stark contrast from the organised “Christian” religion that we would soon encounter. As we journey this land, it is evident that their history shows a respectfulness and reverence for nature and the land.