I arrived in the Lima airport early Monday morning on an overnight flight from Miami. In the Lima airport I ran into some friend from Ecuador who were also going to the Indigenous Summit in Puno. They were on an earlier flight than me, and I managed to skip ahead to their flight, avoiding what otherwise would have been a very long layover in Lima. We had a beautiful flight high up over the Andes, passing through Cuzco before ending in Juliaca. In Juliaca, we caught a shuttle for the 45-minute trip to Puno.
I was now in Puno 4 hrs earlier than planned, and 2 days before the summit was to start. I’m not sure why I’m here so early. I swear that they must have pushed the summit back one day. I’m exhausted from the overnight flight and really feeling the effects of the altitude, but it seems wrong to waste this extra time in Puno.
I find an afternoon tour to Sillustani, an archaeological site with pre-Inka funerary towers that I’ve visited before. But it is close to Puno, interesting, and something interesting to do for the afternoon. I wonder if it is a mistake, as I can hardly drag my travel fatigued body and head throbbing with altitude sickness up the hill to the site. But it is a beautiful afternoon, and after a long plane ride it is nice to be outside. I ask our tour guide to take a picture of me at the site with the idea that I can use it for facebook, but I never get around to uploading it.
On the way back to Puno we stop at a house to view this “authentic Indigenous culture.” This type of cultural tourism seems so exploitative, but the families along the road seem willing to play along as it brings in some need revenue.
I get back to the hotel about 6pm and go straight to bed. The hotel has WiFi, but my room is right on the edge of the signal so it keeps dropping in & out. Annoying.
The next morning (what is this, Tues? I lose track) I go out on an all-day excursion on Lake Titicaca. The first stop is the floating islands of the Uros people. I’ve been to these islands before, but it seems to be a good way to pass the day while waiting for the summit to start.
We pull up to a very small island, and a row of smiling people are waiting and waving at us. Again, it feels like a very exploitative type of cultural tourism, but I guess this is a better way than some other alternatives to survive. I wonder how much of this tourist trade the local people control, and whether this is a fake island that they set up just to deal with the tourists. They give us a demonstration on how they build the island. A woman has a very beautiful tapestry that I’m tempted to buy. They have a Thor Hyderdahl type reed boat that they take us on a short ride around the island. Two nearby islands also have tourist boats docked there, and these islanders rush us off as yet another tourist boat arrives as they line up to wave as if they are welcoming long lost friends.
We continue on to Taquile, a larger natural island, where the tour drops us off on one side, lets us walk across to the other side, and then picks us up again. I’m still trying to adjust to this altitude of 3800 meters, so it is a bit of a strenuous hike for me up the island. We come to the central square, and the town leaders shuffle all of the tour groups off to different restaurants where the menu (fish or omelet) and price (15 soles) is exactly the same.
Then it is back to the boat, back to Puno, and back to bed. The summit is starting tomorrow.