When the time came to leave Peru I was sad. I’d experienced a friendly and interesting culture, learnt a lot about nature and the Peruvian way of life and seen some of the best scenery I’ve ever come across. Peru is mountainous, tasty, hard work and relaxing all at the same time, and quite frankly we didn’t want to leave.
If we had to go though (which we did) we wanted to soak up the last of our time there by doing something quintessentially Peruvian. The only problem was that we didn’t know what that was. Gemma wasn’t keen on my suggestion to wear ponchos and become llama shepherds, although admittedly I was suggesting it more as a life choice than a last goodbye to Peru. So what to do…
Our last few days were spent in Puno.
Puno seems to get a bad wrap with tourists. People told us we wouldn’t like it and to leave as soon as we got there, but we didn’t. Instead, we stayed and went out for a Peruvian meal of spicy stuffed peppers and potatoes stuffed with avocado. We found the town itself well worth a wander around for the small side streets and the plaza with its impressive cathedral. Even the main tourist street was enjoyable for a while (especially if you’re hungry and/or want to buy a mug).
We’d come to Puno to visit the famous floating islands of Uros. Just off the coast of Lake Titicaca they’re full of tourists, islanders selling handicrafts and people pretending they live on the islands to earn a bit of cash. But we knew this would be the case, everywhere they’re mentioned in Peru people will warn you that the islands are tourist traps. We went anyway, dragging our bags and closely admiring everything not western. We may as well have had ‘We’re tourists – Trap us’ written on our foreheads. Although that would probably make people leave us alone…
What we’d not been told before we visited the islands however, is just quite how attractive they are, no one told us how picturesque they look balanced on the shimming lake and we hadn’t heard anyone even mention how cleverly constructed they are.
“You guys can eat this if you want” our guide told us as he handed us a stick from the lake, the same reed that’s used to build the islands, the houses and the boats. “It might make you ill, but people who live here eat it.” I don’t like disappointing people (although I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t have cared) so I ate it. It tasted of lettuce, except with the added danger. And as I’m sure you can tell by now, I live on this kind of lettuce crunching adrenaline.
I have to say this is one of my favourite things about Peru – everywhere you go people offer you food. The Peruvians are very proud of their cuisine, combine that with an incredibly friendly nature and me and Gemma end up with lots of interesting meals, be it cheviche (raw fish), rocotto relleno (spicy red pepper) or cows heart (the heart of, well, a cow) on a stick. And every so often a meal will come with a free chicha (a red corn drink) just because the restaurant wants you to try it. Pisco sours are handed out free with every turn and there’s chicha beer aplenty (although I never actually tried the latter). It seems heavy drinking and fancy food is the way of life to the Peruvians…
As we admired the islands Gemma started to think… ‘Why are they even here? Nice as they are they’re out in the middle of the lake, a fair journey to the supermarket, and let’s be honest, it’s not like Peru is short on land.’ She thought this so loud in fact that it came out of her mouth and into the ears of Andy and Taryn, another English couple on the tour.
“To run away from the Spanish” Andy answered like he knew it all. Then he explained to us a brief history of the invasion and told us that’s why the islands are hidden around one of the lake’s bays. I’ll be honest, Andy sort of does know it all.
That night was spent drinking far too many jugs of pisco sours with Andy and Taryn followed by good food and more booze. Taryn decided to stop after the second jug and my oh my how we mocked her… Only when we boarded the bus to Bolivia the next day did we realise that maybe Taryn knew a fair bit too. We felt Terrible and somehow, from what I remember, she’d predicted it. She must have been some kind of shaman or something.
On the bus, as we wearily moved our heads from against each other to the window and back trying to find the most comfortable position, we realised that we’d done it. We’d left Peru doing something quintessentially Peruvian. We’d eaten good food and got incredibly drunk on pisco sours. And that’s what the Peruvians do!
All of those waiters who gave us free drinks would have been proud.