On the Road Again – Lampa Day 7

Half finished development for sale

We are joined by a local guide, Angela (pronounced Ang hella) who speaks excellent English and tells us that she comes from Cusco, the old capital of the Inca Empire. Our van retraces our route back through the hideous city of Julinca. There’s traffic and major roadworks. Everywhere I look, building is in progress or abandoned, but rarely completed. A huge concrete works dominates and dozens of Petrol Stations are being built side by side along the road. There is a lot of drugs money in this city and money laundering is rife.  All kinds of industry flourish; motor bikes (not common in Peru) are maufactured here and everyone has one – they use less petrol. Every sort of fake you can think of is also made here, rivalling China giving Julinca the name of ‘Chinese City’. I notice the many blue and curved windows in new buildings. Apparently this is a fashion and I know that curved window panes are very expensive. Even though the houses are not finished, the windows display wealth.

Election candidates

Eventually we reach the Altiplano again on the road to Cusco. Back in the other direction this road leads to land-locked Bolivia. Along the roads here and elsewhere, the images associated with various politicians can be see painted on walls and buildings. As four percent of the people are illiterate in the countryside, the candidates chose a symbol so they can be identified. One candidate has a football with the word ‘Gool’ in the centre. Someone has a tree (possibly Green), another has a sandal and there is a pencil, perhaps signifying a clean slate. It is mandatory to vote and you will be fined if you don’t. You also don’t have to pay the fine, but in future, if you want something official, like a mortgage, it comes up on the system and you have to pay.

Lampa Town Hall
Victor Humareda – Artist
by Victor Humareda
Unknown artist
Unknown Artist
La Pieta

Lampa is one of those sleepy hollows that appears unremarkable. We are here to see the Town Hall/Library and Art Gallery. Lampa is the home of the Peruvian expressionist, Victor Humareda Gallegos.

There is one of his paintings here, not his best, and several other works of art. Their pride and joy, however is an exact copy of La Pieta in St Peters in Rome. When the original in Rome was badly damaged by vandalism, the Vatican visited to see how  the statue could be retored. The Pope also came to look and they even tried to persuade the town to give them thiscopy. The Town held out and here it remains. Lampa was once one of the richest towns in Peru, a centre of gold and silver mining, now all ceased.

Lampa Cathedral Nurses in PPE – Vaccinating?
View of bones from the chapel above
The Chapel, lined with black marable from Italy

We cross to the Cathedral to look at the catacombs. There is a wedding in full swing, so we feel quite awkward squeezing past to look at a chapel where we can see a display of skulls and bones. I don’t go down to the catacombs – Rome and Lima have convinced me that once you have seen underground tunnels, bones and skulls, there is not much more to be experienced.

Waiting for the wedding party
Here they come
Sweepping up confetti

Getting out of the church is also interesting as, although the wedding is over, there are professional photographers and video-makers snapping and shooting away. No expense is spared on Peruvian weddings. I must take years to save for. It is also worth noting that in spite of Catholic rules, couples here follow the ancient tradition of living together before marriage, to see if it works out. There are other concessions the church had to make to keep their congregations. We get outside in time to watch the (Mature) happy couple emerge to clouds of confetti purchased from the women outside the church. A band strikes up and the bride and groom (with small child) processed round the town square.  The remaining women, sweep up the confetti and bag it up ready to sell for the next wedding.

Mural depicting the Inca era
Mural continues depicting the Spanish iniquities
Mosaic detail on Town fountain
Mosaic -Inca drummer on town fountain
Squatters shacks another scam to get land
We are now in cattle ranch country
Vicuna on Dairy Farm

We travel on to have lunch at the highest functioning dairy farm in the world. They survived the warlords of recent times by sleeping with their guns under their pillows. We have potato soup followed by meat pie – a sort of warm meat loaf with more potatoes then fruit to finish off. Everywhere we have the ubiquitous and delicious Chica Morada, made from the red corn and pineapple juice. Outside in the ‘home paddock’ are a couple of Vicuna, the smallest of the Peruvian Camelids. They are skittish and not easily domesticated compared with the Alpaca and Llama (pronounced Yarma) .







Delores and welcoming party.

Tonight, we are hosted by local families – a homestay. Our van stops on the side of the road with piles of pink mud banks and no sign of a village. Suddenly local women in traditional dress appear. One of their boys has a wheelbarrow to carry our heavy suitcases up pathways to the homes. Delores seems to be in charge, calling neighbours on her mobile phone. None of them speak any English and we make do with gestures and maybe the odd word of Spanish. Almost half of the group disappear up and alley way, while we find ourselves on the main road, but through some gates to Delorus’ compound. The rooms are basic – just a bed and chair. The toilet is across the compound and the shower further around a corner. Both work,  and Delores shows me a light switch outside my room, which illuminates the yard.

The Potter
Karakia and Wiata from Aotearoa

We all gather at one of the homestays to look at pottery being made – the process of getting the clay and turning it into soft pliable material. A very ancient man turns out a perfectly formed bowl. Next, we are introduced to a spiritual ritual with Coca leaves speaking to Pacha Mama the Earth Godless and the sky god. The Kiwis in the group want to respond in a traditional way and Ingo lead us in a Karakia and explains that in the tradition of the first people of Aotearoa we would all sing a Waiata or song. Angela translates and we see their recognition and pleasure of our acknowledgement. We sing the standard waiata ‘Aroaha’ about peace and love. I can just remember both the words and tune.

All dressed up against the cold nights
Around the fire







Suddenly, a fire is lit and our poncho-clad bodies and hat-covered heads are warmed.  We return to our homestays for dinner then to bed. Most of us report being very warm under Alpaca and Llama wool blankets. Because of the altitude I’m drinking more water than usual with the result that I make numerous trips across the compound throughout the night.

Quite a blaze

Swimming and hospitality on Taquile Day five

Taquile Island – Lake Titicaca
The beach Taquile
Our beach on Taquile

Back in the boat we motor on out into the clear water of the lake towards Taquile Island. Our guide tells us that officially the people are Catholics, but revert to Inca Customs when they need to. Taquile is one of the larger inhabited islands on Lake Titicaca and our guide’s family still lives there.

Getting changed


I had an idea to swim in Lake Titicaca inspired by my friend Vicky Carter, who has swum here. I hadn’t promised as I didn’t know if it would fit in with the tour schedule -Taquile seemed the best place as the water is clear, unlike the slimy green water around Puno. Several others in our party are open water swimmers in Aotearoa (NZ) and are keen to join in, so a plan is made. Our guide suggests two possibilities: on the beach just after landing or after lunch at the end, jumping off the stone jetty. None of us want to jump so the beach it is.

Taquile swim team

We are joined by two young Netherlanders, also on our tour boat. We have all come equipped with swimming costumes and in some case, goggles, but the Netherlanders swim in their underwear. It’s a brisk ten degrees and quite delicious. Swimming at this altitude is a challenge and we are all breathless. I manage some front crawl but switch to backstroke as breathing is easier. I only manage four strokes of butterfly before again switching to my back for some double arm backstroke – my favourite. I don’t think we last more than a minute and spend the rest of the time floating around. The Netherlanders sit huddled together with just their shoulders out of the water, looking cold. It’s incredible to be swimming near the top of the Andes Mountains of Peru.

Invigorated, we dry of in the hot sun, apply sun-block and adjust our sun hats. The Netherlanders choose to keep their wet underwear on for modesty – it takes the rest of the afternoon for them to dry out.

Dancing on Taquile

The Islanders have built a wide pathway up the hill and we gather to watch a traditional dance. It has various recognisable steps – the Hokey Cokey; a Middle Eastern Line dance, which includes Jewish dance steps. It‘s interesting to note that various civilisations world-wide find similar solutions independently.

Netherlanders and dancers

We are invited to join in but I’m not planning to dance. After the swim and walking up hill, I’m short of breath but one of the young Netherlanders asks me to dance, takes my hand and draws me into the circle. How can I refuse? Fortunately, the dance is not too taxing. The next stage is a retail opportunity with yet more textiles, scarves and hats for sale. We climb up another straight path which reminds me of a ramp up the side of a pyramid. It is hot, and the only way is to go at a slow and steady pace, taking regular deep breaths. Finally, we reach the top to find a small pyramid which our Guide’s Uncle has built as a look-out/ photo opportunity.

On top of the Island
Exhausted by the climb
What have I sat on?








A few more steps take us to the uncle’s shaded patio for lunch. All around the Island, various boatloads of tourists are sitting down to eat at different homes. We start with Quinoa soup in terracotta bowls – delicious – seconds are called for. The main course is grilled trout (a Canadian species introduced into the lake) with rice, chips and vegetables – simple tasty and filling. I’m not sure about the double serving of carbohydrates though. To wash it down we have the option of buying beer or fizzy drinks like Cola. Mint tea is included, you just put a few twigs from a shrub, which looks nothing like the mint that we know, into a cup of boiling water. Coca leaves are the other option – they are said to be good for altitude sickness, but they also act as a diuretic.

Our guide tells the story of his island community. Before 1970, babies were born on the island, then hospitals became free but the journey into Puno was too long so the islanders built a house in Puno where pregnant mothers could go one week before and stay on, if needed. To finance this they turned their Island into a tourist destination by building the pathway and steps across the island as there were no roads, only narrow tracks and steps.

He also relates the procedure for marriage. The prospective husband has to knit a hat and weave cloth to a suitable standard before asking for the hand of his sweetheart in marriage.

The way down the hill to the jetty

We take perilous steps back down to our boat now tied up at a jetty on the Puno side of the island. We had landed and swum on the Bolivian side but we can barely make out that far shore. In addition to our ten Outside the Square travellers the boatful includes a Mexican Couple, some Danish youngsters, two Bolivians and the afore-mentioned French couple and Netherlanders. There is also one young man with an American accent, on his own. As Ann and I carefully negotiate the perilous steps down to the boat, the young man is standing by the path reading his book. He catches us up, overtakes and can be found further down the hill reading again.

Most of us sleep on the way back to Puno as the boat skirts around the floating islands and dropping people off at various points on the way, leaving only our group and the Netherlanders to disembark at Puno. They are also heading to Machu Pichu but we will not coincide. Coming back to Puno you can see clearly why it is called the Ugly City on a beautiful lake. Most of the buildings appear to be unfinished – few of the houses have been rendered or painted. Reinforcing rods of iron stick out of pillars awaiting the addition of another story. People only pay their house tax when work is completed or after ten years. Even then it is possible to claim that further work is planned, when they can afford it. We have seen this in outer suburbs wherever we go.

Only a few of us have the energy to go out for dinner at one of the best restaurants in Puno. I try the Guinea Pig Compote. I may have had Guinea Pig before, but can’t recall where – Argentina? Cambodia?

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca Day 5

Tour Boats in Puno in green slime
On the way

The people of the floating islands originally lived on dry land around Lake Titicaca. They were a peaceful people but invaders forced them to move into the shallow parts of the lake, they filled in the area with layers of reeds cut from the lake on which they built their houses. When the Spanish arrived, they invented their floating islands far out in  deep water. Many boats are taking tourists out into the lake and each one visits one of the Islands. It is carefully organised so that each island gets a turn, hosting a a boat. Dressed in bright colourful costumes, the island people greet us.

floating on air tanks – a modern solution
Walking on an island

We have collected a young French couple on our way here from a hotel on the peninsular which used to be a prison. Now converted, guests have been known to complain that the rooms are too small. The girl is a wheel-chair-user and uses two walking sticks to negotiate the spongy surface of the Island.

Mary, a local woman from our Island, assists our guide to demonstrate how the floating Islands were made. They were forced to move further out to the deeper parts of the lake when the Spaniards arrived.

Our guide tells the story
How the Island is built

A solution was found in the roots of the reeds – they are porous, trapping air inside and therefore float well. Huge sections of roots were cut from the lake bed and tethered together, originally with twine but now with nylon rope, which lasts longer. Next layers of reeds are laid on these foundations which need replacing as they rot down. The top layer is green and freshly laid. It’s a bit like walking on a mattress. On top are the houses, the kitchens and other buildings, all made out of reeds and now lashed and woven with nylon twine.

Growing crops is not possible here, but there were fish in the lake and birds eggs were plentiful and the birds could be caught or shot. In this way, they traded with the land people, exchanging their goods for potatoes, corn and Alpaca wool which they turned into textiles to wear and now sell.

Solar panels on the laundry/bathroom
Ann and the cook-house

We are divided up and my small group is with Mary, who shows us ‘her’ house full of textile products. It’s a retail opportunity and doesn’t look as if anyone lives here, in spite of her claim. Most of the items are too brightly coloured for me, and I haven’t brought much cash as I wasn’t expecting to shop. However, a natural-coloured hanging has caught my eye. It’s more cash than I’ve got on me so I wave my Master Card and say ‘ VISA’. To my astonishment, Mary calls out to someone – low and behold a portable credit-card machine materialises and the transaction is completed via wifi in the middle of the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,827m.

My purchase

Everyone in our group is incredulous, so I show the print-out receipt as proof. Lloyd tries to get Ken’s attention (both from our group) but he gets caught up in an old nail sticking out of Mary’s doorframe. In the confusion, a sale is lost. Lloyd, however, brushes off his wound even though there is blood everywhere and someone sticks a plaster on him, I think.

Not only do they have wifi but solar panels produce electricity. They used to use candles for light, but dried reeds are flammable – accidents happened. Now light bulbs are powered by the panels. Water is drawn from the lake and toilets are on separate islands. There can be some rather quick paddling to be seen.

The rowers who don’t need to row

Boats are also made from reeds and are quite elaborate, if cumbersome affairs. We are taken across the water to reconnect with our tour boat. There are two rowers at the stern, but mostly for show. The real power is from thin aluminium painter with an out-bord motor which skilfully manoeuvrers us across the waterway. From the upper deck we look down on these mini-communities, all charming but kept up for the tourists. The original need for these islands has gone and young people have left for education and an easier way of life. Perhaps they will come back later  to continue their traditions, but it is uncertain. Their traditional subsistence way of life has disappeared, so tourism and sale of hand-made goods keeps them afloat.

Holiday stay
Mormon Church

Some of the modern buildings such as the Primary School (Highschool pupils have to go to the mainland) and the Mormon church (not a huge number of members) are floating on metal air-tanks. There are also small huts where holiday makers can stay the night.

The Condor in straw
The Inca rainbow flag flies here.

Off to the middle of the lake

More Altiplano on the way to Puno

Day 5

Another long drive today through valleys over four thousand metres high. Mountains on either side of us are straw-yellow with a hint of green. We continue to feel the effect of the altitude and some of us are not adjusting well.

The scenery is grand and the skies are big. Evidence of corn fields – random strips up the side of a mountain – begin to appear as do flocks of Alpaca, tended by a herder. Stone corals, some seemingly abandoned, can be seen. The Alpaca shelter in these overnight but these low dry-stone-walls can’t possibly contain Alpacas.

The ones my sister-in-law had were always jumping fences. I conclude that they must be hobbled at night to prevent escape. Further on there are cattle and sheep who are tethered so they cannot graze the green lucerne grown and clipped by hand to feed the stock. This farming practice is much the same as Egypt which I observed some years ago. Compared with the mountains this agriculture seems very small scale.

We stop at a beautiful lake where I observe a very stunted Alpaca scratching a living from the ubiquitous Ichu grass – a kind of tussock. The animal attacks the green roots of the Ichu from the outside leaving the centre to continue to grow. Suddenly I notice that much of the Ichu has been grazed and the herders are rotating their flocks around to different areas. It also looks like some had been clipped to feed to other stock. The Alpaca are key to this area, able to live at high altitudes and survive the cold nights in their woolly fleeces.

Alpaca and herder
Stone enclosure for Alpacas or growing potatoe?

They provide meat to accompany a diet of corn and potatoes. The wool is woven and every stop along the way and urban markets offer ‘Baby Alpaca’ accumulated during the lack of tourism during the pandemic. The Peruvians are not pushy sellers, but you can tell that they have been severely affected. There’s a mountain of textiles and hand-made garments for sale post- pandemic.

Puno on Lake titicaca

We arrive to a view of Lake Titicaca, far below. It is blue and inviting but the foreground is grim. The road snakes down through the outskirts of Puno, an ugly city of half-finished buildings in a beautiful setting.

Puno from Lake Titicaca

We walk out to explore the older heart of the city and to find a laundry service. There are none to be seen so we take our dirty clothes to dinner. A google search reveals several Laundries nearby, but they will be closed by the time we have eaten. It just seems easier to do it via the hotel.

Getting away to Peru

Getting away

Peruvian Mural in LIma

The taxi is booked for five am and the alarm set for four-fifteen. No wine tonight, lights out at nine-thirty. It’s too early and I need to pee. I toss and turn, going over the last minute packing to be done in the morning  – dozing off, only to be buzzed by a mosquito. This has happened several times over the last week. It’s officially Autumn but nights are still warm and the windows are open. Summer has been dry, so until the recent rain there has been nowhere for them to lay eggs. Now there are puddles, half-filled watering cans, buckets and other receptacles which have been transformed into nurseries.

Lights on, wide awake, I leap out of bed, one hand ready with the can of insect spray, firing wildly and not sure where it has gone and If I’ve killed it and so go back to bed. Got to pee again and dream again – half dozing. I haven’t killed it, it’s back; I closed the window, so it must be the same one, Bastard! All this, plus the lads in their noisy cars, farting up and down the road on a Saturday night.

My hotel from the side. Art on buildings is popular

By three-thirty,  it’s no use, I’m wide awake. Time to get up, turn off the alarm and make tea. There’s time for my full morning exercise programme and even another shower – it’s a long time to Lima. By four-thirty, I am waiting for the taxi – he’s sent me a link so I can track his journey from Woolwich to Stepney Green. Last minute things like emptying the dishwasher; checking  the doors and windows are locked and all non-essential appliances turned off.

Terminal three by five fifty-five am; there’s a long skinny, dark haired youth, the first in the check-out queue, sitting on a trolly laden with suitcases and bags. He’s reading a kindle. What looks like the Iberian check out staff gather to be briefed by their team leader. They take ages – a few other passengers arrive – the briefing continues then just as they take up their positions, two ‘Yellow Jackets’ turn up with a passport. Apparently, a young woman has been ‘denied entry’ and has to be processed and sent back on the next flight. The leader asks if anyone knows how to do this – one of the women does and then we all get called forward.

My anxiety over the health affidavit  turns out to be un-called for. I present the print-out  and it’s fine. The Peruvians may not even look at it and my vaccination record exceeds their requirements. The nice check-out man says the flight is on time and I’ve got plenty of time between flights at Madrid. Time for some breakfast and more hanging around – nothing in W H Smiths that even looks like a good read.

Iberian are quietly efficient boarding us and we are all seated in good time. I doze and wake to find we are still not off the ground  and are thirty minutes late. Heathrow management of aircraft traffic is not working well.  Once in the air, I press the call bell and ask the cabin staff if I’ve now got enough time in Madrid to get to my next departure gate and is there a way I can move up towards the front to be near the exit – I may have to run!  She asks someone and moves me from right down the back to the first row behind the business class – separated by a curtain I can see them being served omelettes and orange juice. I’m too worried to eat or drink but a helpful young steward gives me a printed map of the terminal and assures me that it is only five minutes’ walk and we will be only ten minutes late. As we approach there is encouraging news – we will be on time as they have negotiated a closer runway at Madrid. In the end we are only five minutes late. The next obstacle is finding the way out. It’s not just a matter of walking along to Gate 44 (I had a text from Iberia) I have to get down to the lower level and go through security again. The plane has just started to board and there is a long queue and I’m at the back of it and I’m also at the back of the plane again.

I’m finding flying more of a challenge every time I do it. Taking the Eurostar to the Continent twice this year was relatively stress free.  I must, however, be grateful to the Iberian crew who were gently optimistic that I would make the connection. I just hope my baggage gets there as well.

Ten hours later, I’m being ushered into the ‘priority’ queue at immigration along with some Peruvians and other old people. The general crowd looks horrendous and I’m glad I won’t have to stand for too long. The biggest surprise and relief is to see my small suitcase on the carrousel. I race to grab it before it disappears and fail – I catch it half way up the other side.

Mural art seems to blend in with the tangle of overhead wires

The official taxi ride into the city is unremarkable and I arrive at my Hotel to find a message from Richard, our Outside the Square tour leader, to join him and the others at a restaurant. I’m desperate for beer and so venture out almost immediately. It takes a while to reconcile which restaurant I’m going to with Richard’s verbal instructions but find them I do, but only Charlie and Robert (Californians) are with Richard. The rest of our ten strong part are either arriving very late at night or have been horrendously delayed – in Dallas – and are not expected to arrive until tomorrow or the next day. I can truly count myself lucky to be here and the beer is good, I have a second.