Route of the Sun

Monday 8 to Friday 12 January

Are we too soft, or are we ageing tourists?

Our modus operandi on the road is wake up at 7am, breakfast around 8am, back to the room for comfort stop and pack around 9am, check out around 10am. For us mature travellers this symbiotic relationship between bodily needs and being ‘on the road’ early enough to do justice to the sites is acceptable.

But we have decided to join a group tour in Peru and Bolivia, and we are horrified. They want us down in reception post breakfast and post bodily needs at 06 hundred. That’s 6am and for us – still sleeping time.

I’ve got jet lag on an overland tour.

Our guide on the tourist bus for the Route of the Sun, from Cusco to Puno, was Marieta. She would have done well on the stage, with her very animated delivery of information to us in English and always repeated in Spanish.

First stop was the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Andahuaylillas for its significant artwork in the altar piece and murals. This was the work of the indigenous people with influence from the Spanish masters of the 16th century.

The church was built in 1610 on the site of an Incan temple. This church is one of four that make up the Ruta del Barrocco or Route of the Andean Baroque, which has been established by the Jesuit community to showcase the churches and artwork from the baroque period

Photography was not allowed however the we were given a CD. The photos from the CD are not excellent, but it is interesting to see the richness and diversity.

A rather bizarre exhibition beside the church was of a so-called Alien Mummy that was found on top of a nearby peak. The shape of the body including the eye sockets and the top of the skull were not typically human, however there must be many explanations as to its origin. Even since we travelled in this area, scientist have been refuting the fact that these strange shaped mummies are alien.

Also on display were skulls of some Incan elite, showing the effect of bandaging the head in order to allow particular parts of the brain to expand. The cranial deformations were created by bandaging a newborn’s head to force development of a particular part of the brain, for example to increase learning in language and sciences or philosophy and logic.

We continued our 368km journey with the next stop at the Raqchi Archaeological Site, to see the reconstructed Temple of Wiracocha. The archaeological site lies along the Vilcanota River, also known as the Urubamba River, which we saw on our journey to Machu Picchu. This Inca site was a primary control point on their road system.

Before the temple was destroyed by the Spaniards, it was believed to be the largest single roofed building in the Incan empire. Visitors were forced to zig zag their way through the building, winding their way to the statue of Viracocha. Mythology tells that when Viracocha visited, the people did not recognise him and tried to attack him. For this he made fire fall from the sky, burning the hills. The Kacha pleaded forgiveness, so he put out the fires and the temple is in remembrance of that event.

There were living quarters for the priests and administrators and some amazing round stone storehouses called qullqas, the only round structures in the empire.

Lunch was near the village of Sicuani – a very typical tourist restaurant with the normal tourist traps – souvenirs and a couple of alpacas. We were placed at the tables with the green tablecloths..

Mariete gave us a warning in preparation for our next stop – the La Raya pass. It is the highest point on the Sun Road between Cusco and Puno, at an elevation of 4,335m. She explained that you can find yourself short of oxygen and suffer nausea and fainting. It was a short stop for photography, and since we had reached similar heights in Ecuador we were confident we could handle the altitude. The local peoples’ lungs must be built differently to ours, to live at such altitudes.

It is near here that the Vilcanota River also known as the Urubamba River starts its journey into the Amazon River, travelling east to the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil. The same river we had travelled down to Cusco.

Our last stop for the day was in the town of Pucara or Pukara (meaning fortress). We were told about an ancient archaeological site, dating back to 1,800BC. It is considered to be the first urban centre in the area. Pukara is also famous for its brightly coloured ceramics, mostly of human and animal motifs.

We arrived in the city of Puno, on Lake Titicaca, which boasts a population of 120,000. It was founded on 4 November 1668 by the Viceroy Count Lemos and named San Carlos de Puno in homage to King Charles II of Spain. Silver that was mined at the nearby Laikakota mines was transported here, destined for the royal coffers.

Lake Titicaca (or Lake Titikaka) is the ‘highest naviagable lake’ at 3,812m.

The Incas called Lake Titikaka ‘The womb of mankind’. They believed they originated from the lake and the god Viracocha began his creations on Sun Island. He passed on instructions to his children Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo.

Our first stop was the Uros floating islands. Ninety-seven man made islands float on a one metre base of bog with another metre of totora reeds laid in bundles up and down and across. The bog, which supports the islands is formed from the dense roots of the reeds.

Each tourist boat visits a different island. We were introduced to the president of one island, Camille, who explained how the islands are constructed. Camille is the only lady president. 

The reeds rot under the water, so there is constant maintenance to add more reeds. The tiny reed houses consist of just a bed and some clothes hung about the walls. They are built on a further platform of reeds to stay dry in the rain. An island lasts about 50 years and a new island takes 6 months to build.

The Lupihaques or Uros people, who live on the islands, originally took to boats for their safety. Over hundreds of years they developed the technique of building the islands. They learnt to filter the water, catch fish and hunt birds. They can grow vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic in garden beds established on the islands. Food is cooked in fires placed on piles of stones.

Today they still build two man reed canoes. Bigger canoes are used to quickly transport around the islands and to Puno.

Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed across the Atlantic in the Kon-Tiki in 1947, learnt the boat building technique from these people.

The other stop for our day tour of Lake Titicaca was Tequile Island, known for men knitting and women weaving. The Taquileños, who speak Puno Quechua, live an ancient community collectivism life style with three commandments.

  • Do not steal.
  • Do not lie.
  • Do not be lazy.

In 2005 the island was honoured by UNESCO for its textile art.

The island which is about 45km from Puno is 5.5km by 1.6 km in size with a population of about 2,200.

We were dropped on the east side of the island and had a steep but beautiful walk up to the town square. Here we had the opportunity to look at some of the knitted garments. The Peruvian hats and gloves, knitted with a combination of wool and alpaca, were most popular.

From there we followed a path around to the south of the island, where we stopped for lunch. Lunch was served by the Quecha people and was followed by some song and dance and a demonstration of soap making.

On our journey we saw many local people going about their daily activities. They appeared to be focussed.

We returned to our boat on the southern tip of the island.

We returned to Puno in time to have a short wander around – we even caught up with the Presidente and Presidenta of Puno for 2018

We found a nice restaurant for dinner in the Plaza de Armas (that’s the name of most major squares), and hit bed early for another early start.

Breakfast was ordinary. Perhaps they lower the quality when there are large groups of foreign visitors to the hotel. They come en masse and clear everything that is available.

We were shuttled to the bus station where we boarded a ‘tourist bus’ that hurtled around the northern edge of Lake Titicaca towards Bolivia.

Along the way we passed many small communities. Most houses seemed to include a few fields for growing crops (potato, corn) and keeping animals (cattle, sheep, pigs and occasionally llamas).

It was a slow process going through immigration at Kazani on the Peru side, so by the time we reached Cococabana in Bolivia there was a scant half hour of the planned 2 hours to explore this lakeside resort. Not even time for a coffee.

This is the original Cococabana. It is believed that the name is derived from the Aymara language kota kahuana, meaning ‘view of the lake’, however other studies of the early Americas have identified that ‘Kotakawana’ is the god of fertility in ancient Andean mythology.

Cococabana is a backpackers destination with lots of hostels, cheap eateries and water activities. The roller, a plastic cylinder that holds 3 or 4 people who run to roll it across the water, was  particularly popular, but I am not sure how you’d navigate in it.

Our next journey to La Paz was in a minibus. The scenery around the lake was spectacular. We had to cross from a peninsula to the western edge by ferry. Passenger ferries and vehicle barges made a steady stream across the narrow waterway from St Pedro de Tiquina to San Pablo de Tiquina