Monday, February 20, 2012

Lake Titicaca

In the middle of January, I had the opportunity to finally visit one of the most famous sights in Peru - Lake Titicaca.   I had been waiting anxiously to go on this trip for a number of reasons.  I have been selling vacations to Peru, which almost always include the beautiful Lake Titicaca, yet I had never even seen it myself!  Also, last August, I was lucky enough to have won 2 free nights at the 5*Libertador hotel located on a peninsula stretching out into the lake.  I had made our reservations and bought the plane tickets for Julio and I back in October, so I was excited the day was finally here! 
Lake Titicaca is considered the highest navigable lake in the world at over 12,500 ft..  It is a massive body of water boarding both Peru and Bolivia.  The Lake is over 100km in width and 60km across.  The habitat around the lake is very unique as well.  You can see the views of the beauitful mountains all around the lake, but it is also located at the dividing point were the vegetation really changes from a mountainous region into the Amazon rainforest.  If someone had the time, I think it would be an amazing trip to trek around the lake and visit the local communities and historical sights. 

Our journey began early on Friday morning to catch our flight to Juliaca.  (city 40 minutes from the lake)  We had a bit of a delay getting to our destination which caused a long layover in Arequipa, but finally we did arrive to Juliaca about 3 hours later than expected.  We had no real plans in place for this first day, so all was well and good =).  We took a combi from the airport along with a couple other travelers and headed on our way to Puno. (Lake Titicaca)  Every time I travel outside of Lima, I am still surprised at what I see.  Even though I know that the rest of the country lives in much different conditions than I do in Lima; it is like you forget how different it really is when you don't see it everyday.  I guess that explains how a small 15% or 20% of the population in Lima's modern districts can live completely modern, almost luxury lifestyles while the majority of the people in the country live with hardly anything.  I will save some of these comparisons of economic class for another post.  Back to the trip, the ride through the Andes was absolutely beautiful as we made our way up and down the curvy roads until we reached our destination.  It was wide open countryside, green, animals, farm houses, I guess you could say it kind of made me feel like I was back home! 

We finally reached Puno and were dropped off at our hotel, just outside the city limits.  We quick checked in and explored our hotel.  We had an amazing room with a perfect view out to Lake Titicaca, along with all the perks of staying in a 5* hotel.  Julio and I are pretty used to traveling on a budget and finding whatever cheap hostal we can, so this was definitely new to both of us!   I was anxious to get out and see the city, so we got a cab and headed back into the city center.  We were able to walk around and see some of the hisoric buildings on the main plaza, check out a couple of hotels, and grab a bite to eat at a market next to the lake.  The weather was good with fair temperatures and clear skies, which was lucky as normally January begins the rainy season.  So we took advantage of this by going out on the lake a little bit after renting a paddle boat.  After a couple races with some kids up and down the lagoon, we docked our paddle boat just before the rain began.   It was time to head back to the hotel and relax for the evening.  When traveling from sea level to such high elevation, it is important to allow yourself some down time to avoid getting altitude sickness, and we had already reached our limit.

We were woke up very early by the sunrise at about 4:30am, but I can't complain as it was probably the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. We had an amazing breakfeast buffet and then were picked up for our full day boat tour of Lake Titicaca. We met up with our tour group and got into our seats at the front of the boat, and off we went.  Our guide told us all about the history of the Lake and the development of different tribes that lived and still live in the area today.  If you are looking to learn about native cultures still living the way their ancestors did 100s of years before, this is a great place to visit.  Our first stop was at the Uros Islands where we got invited onto the island by the president of the native tribe.  These islands are very unique, as they are completely man made floating islands.  The islands used to be located out in the center of the lake, but have recentely been moved a little closer inland due to the profits they receive from allowing tourism.  The culture still lives in the native form that they did; however they are not completely seperated from society as they do need to occasionally come inland for goods and local events.   The islands, homes, and boats, are all constructed from the reeds and boyant soil in the lake.  The construction process, as you can imagine, is very time consuming and tidious work done with very few tools available to them.   The second stop on our trip was quite a trek out to a real island, Taquile Island, located in the middle of the Lake.  The people of this Island are completely self sufficient and live as a community working together to support each other.  They have pretty much everything they need on the Island, including stone homes/buildings, terraces for agriculture up the sides of the island, livestock living on the island, and a organization of government on their own.  Obviously the society has been touched by some modern advantages as well from tourism, but for the most part, they still live as an independent community.  The views from this island were amazing.  You can see across the lake in each direction and the shadows of the mountains in the distanct background.  After learning about their culture and enjoying a nice lunch, it was time to head out on our journey back to Puno.  It took about 2 1/2 hours to return to Puno, and I think everyone had a nice nap on the way back from the trip.

We returned to our hotel and enjoyed a relaxing evening with a nice small dinner at the restaurant, then relaxing in the hot tub.  I was surprised to learn that Julio had never been in a hot tub before.. haha.. I guess this is not something that really exists in Peru.  The only place you are likely to find this would be in a 5* hotel.  I definitely enjoyed the busy weekend, but I was exhausted and ready for bed.  The next morning we enjoyed a quiet morning with another amazing breakfast (this breakfast buffet was amazing!) and walking around a little to enjoy the grounds outside of the hotel.  It was then time to head out in route back to the airport so we could get our flight home.  The flight back home was without incident and we arrived back to Lima at about 2:30pm.   It had definitely been a quick weekend, but we enjoyed our time at Lake Titicaca.  The only sight we didn't have time to really visit that I was hoping to see were the Chulpas (Towers for funeral/burials).  They are historical burial tours located outside of Puno dating back to the pre-Incan culture.  I guess that gives me another reason to return again someday!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

6 Month Recap

I took a stance about 6 months ago that I didn't need to share my life with everyone through my blog.  I closed the book and kind of wanted to keep my life private.  I have always been a more private person - I like to tell stories of my adventures, but naturally leave out any real personal anecdotes.  I have never really needed/wanted a lot of support, encouragement, or advice from other people; thus I avoid situations where people will feel they need to give me those thing.  It is not to say that I do not care or don't truly enjoy the company of others, I just don't like to make everything about "me".  I would rather sit, enjoy hearing all about the trials and triumphs of all my friends and family, and offer my support and advice if asked for.  In regards to this blog, these feelings have put me in a bit of a hard spot.  I do want to share my experiences because I know it is important for my family and friends to feel in touch, I also do want to keep a record for myself of the experiences I have had, and I actually do enjoy the writing aspect of this.  I also do have a new reason for continuing the blogging - that will be touched on soon enough. =)

Lodge at Puemape

Rewind to my last blog:  It was the middle of winter here, and I was preparing for a get away with Julio and another couple, Andrea & Pato, whom we are friends with................. At the end of July, the four of us headed out on a 8 day trip to the North of Peru.  It was about a 10 hour journey or so, but we were traveling with our own vehicle so it wasn't too bad.  We were able to stop and enjoy different things along the way.  In general, the entire coast of Peru is dessert; however, it is still the most inhabited area of Peru because it is along the ocean.  Outside of Lima is much MUCH different than in Lima.  Basic infrastructure - meaning roads, water, electricity, sewage management, garbage disposal, etc... - exists, but it is hard to find and usually is in disaray.  We arrived to our destination, which was a famous surfing point called Puemape.  To my surprise, there was nothing here - literally some brick buildings half built/fallen apart, a couple of nice houses, a shack that was a surf shop, and our lodge - which was in an old train car.  Who knows how this train car was ever left along the dessert coast, but it was my "cabana" for the week.  Nonetheless, it was a quiet place to relax outside of the city - which was exactly what I wanted.  We went on several day trips from this point, including visits to Trujillo, local villages, a great oasis to hike to, and most importantly to Cajamarca.  Cajamarca is an amazing historical city tucked away in the Andes Mountains.  It was a little over 3 hours to get there, but we enjoyed amazing views along the way as we made our way up the curvy roads as we ascended into "heaven".  This is one of the few areas in Peru that still has a real forrest within the Andes.  The area was so lush and green, with full size trees everywhere, fresh air, and breathtaking scenery.  We visited a couple of the local sights and enjoyed the city's historical main square.  The city of Cajamarca is much like a smaller version of the ancient city of Cuzco - with so many historical buildings over 500 years old.  We found a little hostal to spend the night in and enjoyed our time in Cajamarca, which was obviously the highlight of the trip for me!

For the next couple of months, I pretty much just worked and continued with my regular routine.  Julio and I did get away one weekend to the South with some friends, but other than that I can't say we did a whole lot that was really noteworthy.  I was begining a short lived fitness regimen with my new 3 month gym membership and Julio was busy with the start of his next semester in school. 

Playing with Hud!
My next trip, the most important one of all, was finally almost here!  On September 29th, I boarded a midnight flight back to Minneapolis, MN.   It had been a LONG 8 months without seeing my family and friends.  My favorite little man in the world was even waiting to welcome me at the airport.  I was so glad to get to spend time with my nephew, Hudson, and even more excited that he remembered me so well!!  (probably in large part due to his Mom & Dad reminding him - thanks guys!)  I enjoyed a wonderful 2 1/2 weeks back home with my family.  The majority of my time was spent just at home enjoying my parents new house, babysitting Hudson, spending time with my Grandma, and of course getting the chance to check up with old friends.  I forgot how nice it is to speak ENGLISH with everyone I am around.  To have a conversation without my brain straining to understand and be understood was definitely the best part of the trip.  It was also just so wonderful to see everyone and catch up on old times.  To be honest, it really didn't even feel like I had been gone very long.  I think that is one of the best and the worst things about a small town - nothing really ever changes :-).   It was so easy to pick up right where I left off with everyone and hear about how everyone's summers had been and what was new in life.  I am very blessed and have the most amazing family and friends a girl could ask for.  After an exciting time back home, I guess you could say I was ready to return back to my schedule and mostly to see Julio.  Although it was probably a good break for each of us, I think we were both surprised how much you miss just having that person around.

During my trip back home, I had made some choices about changes I needed to make to my life in Lima.  I realized that so much of my time and energy was being focused on a job that was really just a job.  The main reason I moved to Peru was not so that I could work my life away making $1000 a month.  This was hardly enough money to justify working 40 hours a week and not having the freedom to travel when I wanted, go out and meet other people, have free time to just explore and learn about the culture, or to enroll in school to actually really start learning more Spanish.  Work was beginning to get slow, and that $1000 I was earning a month had turned into about $500.  It was time for some changes.  I shifted my priorities and talked with my boss about changing to a part time schedule.  Not only would I be able to still manage just as many accounts and make just as much money, but I would have free time and could finally enroll in a school.  I don't think anyone at my job was real happy with this decision, but it was the only thing that made sense to me and the only way I would have stayed at the job.  So I began having classes every morning from 9:00 - 11:00 am in a school close to my house in order to learn Spanish.  My work schedule was switched to 30 hours a week and I worked from 1:00pm - 7:00pm with just a small paycut.  (Almost all of my income comes from commission anyway, so the cut to monthly salaray was less than a $100 - totally worth it!)  From the first day of my class on October 31st, I knew I had made the best decision and could not believe I didn't make this change earlier.  Enrolling in school meant new challenges to work toward, meeting other people (expats) in the exact same situation as me, and gaining a whole new level of confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities.  I felt a new energy, happy and motivated!!

New Year's Eve on the beach

The following months of November and December were very enjoyable for me.  The climate had changed and the sun was back out!!  What a huge difference sun  makes in your life.  I can't even express the happiness I feel walking outside enjoying warm temperatures and the sun beating down on me.  Lima really is composed of two seasons - 6-7 months of gray skies with a cold wet dampness in the air, then 5-6 months of warm weather with plenty of sunshine!  My attitude had done a complete 180; I was loving my classes at La Catolica, enjoying the changing seasons, and feeling so motivated.  This bit of freedom from my job had really opened my eyes to how much I could accomplish myself.  A lot of ideas began flowing in out as to how I could make money without going to a job everyday that provides me with no new challenges or satisfaction.  The job was good in a sense that it taught me a lot about Peru, I love working with my clients, and it was a good starting point when I arrived to Peru.  However, why I am settling for a job that limits my abilities and earning potential when I could do so much more.  Although this may come across like a "white supremicist" statement, the fact is that it is true.  I simply have more resources and opportunties available to me than a normal Peruvian because of where I come from and the opportunties I have had available to me in my life.  That is not a popular or socially correct statement, but my eyes were being opened to the fact that I don't have to just settle for what I have now.

Christmas Eve - with Julio's mom, Adela.
I think my new found motivation and desire to take action to change my situation was a bit of a surprise to Julio.  It was probably the first time Julio had seen me not so dependent on him, and this was definitely a good thing.  I was starting to meet people on my own, could finally communicate on a social level in Spanish, and was working towards some career changes.  I have no doubt that these changes have brought Julio and I much closer and more in touch as a couple.  He has given me endless support and is working hard to help me move forward with future projects in my life.  During the past two months. Julio and I have also spent a lot more time together and talking about plans for the future.  We have been spending most of our weekends heading to the beaches in the South, traveling, or enjoying the holidays.  My Christmas was spent with Julio's family at his house on Christmas Eve.  It was just his parents, two sisters, brother, and me.  I am so thankful that his family has welcomed me and made me really feel like part of the family.  His mother always looks out for me and treats me just like I am one of her kids.  The communication hasn't always been easy, but it just goes to show that love and support does not necessarily need a lot of words. 

Finally, we arrive to the present.  Friday was my final day of work at the travel agency and yesterday was my one year anniversary in Peru, so I celebrated by doing absolutely nothing.  I have had the majority of this weekend to myself as Julio left yesterday morning for a one night camping trip with some of his high school buddies.  I actually feel relieved to just be in Lima with nothing on the agenda this weekend.  As I stated before, the last two months have been filled with plans for every weekend, so it is a nice change to just do nothing.  Apparently the SuperBowl is in a couple of hours, haha - who knew!, so my roommate and I will be getting back to our American roots by watching the SuperBowl with a six-pack of beer. 

Look for more updates soon as life continues to bring us surprises!