Saturday, July 02, 2011

In Which I Play Dress Up

This morning was bus trip #2, and while I was working very hard at not having a repeat of yesterday's adventures (and I succeeded! By taking Dramamine with breakfast and then sleeping through most of the curvy parts! Although I did wake up desperate to go to the bathroom but couldn't because we were on a cheaper bus, which means they pull over to the side of the road to pick up people the whole way and when I tried to go to the bathroom I couldn't even get down the stairs because old ladies in fluffy skirts and shawls were sitting on every step and on the floor and there wasn't any way I was going to get to the bathroom unless I stepped directly on the abuelas and although I considered it for a moment I ultimately decided I wasn't that desperate and instead held it until we got to the bus terminal where there was a really long line for an even grosser bathroom and when it was my turn another lady who barely came up to my waist came barreling through and shoved me against the wall and took my stall and thus ends this terribly long parenthetical summarizing bus trip #2) while I was working very hard at not having a repeat of yesterday's adventures, Jason was blogging merrily away via his Blackberry. I'm pretty sure he wasn't actually singing "Tra, la, la!" while he typed and checked his email and read a Kindle book, but my resentfully-motion-sick-and-grumpy-early-morning brain added that soundtrack while I was banned from all literary/vomitary activities and was forced to look out the window at more snow-capped mountains and yet another herd of llamas.

Actually the llamas were pretty adorable. And look! We didn't hit any!

This is all to say that Jason was able to post a wonderful entry this morning telling you about our arrival in Puno and how we met Sylvestre. As such, I am going to skip that part and get right to the island.

While the Islas Uros is most definitely a tourist trap, our guide Walter was enthusiastic and funny, and I enjoyed the demonstration they gave about how the floating islands on Lake Titicaca work. Here's a sample:

After the explanation, Walter gave us time to explore the little island. Almost immediately a woman came over, grabbed my wrist, and said, "Come, I show you my house."

Walking on the island felt like walking across an inflated raft, so I tried to keep my balance as she pulled me across to one of the reed huts. I ducked my head to go through the low doorway, and she showed me her belongings lining the walls. She patted her chest and said, "Yo soy Madeline."

"Madeline," I repeated. "Pretty! Yo soy Amanda."

"Amanda," she repeated thoughtfully. Then she pulled a bright pink skirt off the wall. "You wear this."

At first I thought she had mixed up her pronouns, so by the time I started to protest she was pulling the skirt over my head and turning me around to zip up the back. I barely managed to take off my jacket and purse before she wrestled my arms into the bright green embroidered jacket she also pulled from the wall.

It was quite the feat. Jason and I had been absolutely freezing all day, so at the time I was wearing five layers of clothes. Madeline was determined, though, and she tugged the sleeves on over my bulky sweaters. She draped a set of the pompoms they tie to the ends of their braids around my neck, plopped a tiny hat on my head, and announced, "Okay, now picture."

I dutifully handed her my camera and she pulled me outside so we could catch the last bit of sunlight for the photos. Jason was nearby photographing the lake, and when I called out to him he did a double take, then immediately raised his camera, too. I took my camera from Madeline and asked her to pose with me, which she gladly did:

Island Girls

Once I handed back her clothes, Madeline insisted I come look at her embroidery which, of course, she tried very hard to sell to me. I said no as nicely as I could and managed to escape when Walter called me over to another part of the island.

As Jason mentioned, Walter had taken a shining to me for some reason. We bonded on the boat ride to the island while Jason was up on the roof, and since then he constantly directed his presentations at me, even in front of the rest of the group ("Amanda, see how they use the reeds for the boat?" "Amanda, you see the hotel over there?" "Amanda, this lake is 50 meters deep," and so on).

So when Walter called, "Amanda, come see the reed boat," I gratefully broke away from Madeline. I declined Walter's offer to ride the reed boat (for an extra 8 soles), and instead had a few minutes to look around myself. Happily, I managed to spy a little bit of real life on the tourist-trap island:

As the sun set, Walter called "Amanda, time to get on the boat," and we piled in to return to Puno.

I joined Jason on the roof on our way back and we watched the lights of the city on the water. It was beautiful, and it was bitterly cold. We made mental notes to remember this temperature when we go to India in a few summers before climbing back down the ladder to disembark.

The tour Sylvestre set up included a transfer back to the hotel, but we requested instead to be dropped off at the Plaza de Armas so we could find something more substantial too eat. All we had eaten so far that day was a few Ritz crackers and the white-bread-and-grilled-squeaky-cheese sandwich we bought and quickly devoured on the pier before the boat tour, so we figured we would splurge on dinner. We were joined by a trio of American backpackers we met on the tour, and while they were a bit more adventurous with their orders (alpaca steak), Jason and I played it safe with our weakened constitutions and got good, familiar pasta. I also ordered a hot chocolate, which they served bitter with a bowl of sugar so I could sweeten it to my liking. My liking was mostly clutching the warm cup in my numb hands, but the chocolate was also good.

After splitting up the check we bid the other travelers farewell and walked back to our hotel after dinner. In our room we put on as many layers of clothes as we could, crawled under the covers, and went to sleep early.

The next morning was still bitterly cold, and I mustered all of my resolve to dash from under my covers to the bathroom when the alarm when off. There I followed the directions on the wall to turn on the hot water, except the hot water never came. I stood there shivering with a towel wrapped around me like a shawl, holding my hand under the running water until I could no longer feel my fingers. I gave up then and instead quickly washed my face in the sink and put back on all my layers of clothing. Since there had been no hot water at the place we stayed the day before and since we had another long bus ride ahead, I could only hope that I was not too stinky for Jason. Fortunately, the rules of eating garlic also apply to not showering: if everybody does it, no one's allowed to complain about the smell.

I went downstairs to breakfast while Jason was still getting ready. I was determined to be good and eat something before the bus ride, so when the hotel proprietress, Jenny, came over to greet me with a hug and a kiss and rattled off a very fast list of what she could make me for breakfast, I latched onto the only word I recognized: huevos.

She whipped up a batch of scrambled eggs with onion and ham which I dutifully ate, along with two really tasty rolls, some fresh-squeezed orange juice, and some wonderfully hot mate de coca tea. Jason joined me at the table, and Jenny greeted him with a kiss and a hug, too.

Puno is really not a great town. For all of the tourists Lake Titicaca attracts, the town itself is run-down, dank, and dirty. Jenny, though, is a bright spot. I gladly forgive the lack of heat or hot water in return for this woman who treated us more hospitably and more sweetly than any hotel or hostel I've ever stayed at. For example, as we were leaving she insisted on one last hug and then handed us each a bar of chocolate.

We're in Arequipa now, in a hostel housed in an old sprawling Spanish colonial hacienda. We have a double room with a vaulted ceiling, painted brick walls, and huge wooden doors that open windows onto flowered patios. For the first time on this trip we have a room I feel like we can breath in, but although I love the atmosphere of this place, I'm sad that I don't get to have another breakfast with Jenny.

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Our Arequipa room

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People eating breakfast on the street in Puno

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Jason on the roof of the boat on Lake Titicaca

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Bundled up on the boat

Reed Hut
Reed hut and boat

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Mate de coca at Jenny's hotel (which, by the way, is the Kusillo Posada)

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