As our plane rumbles along high above the clouds, the first rays of morning light begin to illuminate the sky and the terrain below. Bolivia, and the Andes begin to reveal themselves to me, and our plan, a rough plan at that, of backpacking through Boliva & Peru moves in my mind, from being a surreal dream to an all too real undertaking. As the Captain announces our arrival my stomach begins to turn with excitement, La Paz we have arrived! After wading through the immigration line, my wife Lydia arranged for cabbie to take us to the heart of La Paz and to our awaiting hotel, the Diamante Azul, a hotel that came recommended by our helpful Lonely Planet guide book.
La Paz, Boliva, is a breath sucking 3640 meters (11942 feet) above sea level, and is a collage of honking horns, and bumper to bumper traffic. I watched from my cab window as the mixture of old and young played frogger with traffic as the people attempt to cross the busy streets. After checking into the hotel, my wife and I set out to find a place for breakfast. With camera in hand, and my head on a swivel we took to the streets. The sights, textures, and smells (some funky) of this bizarre and fantastic city were at first, a little overwhelming for 'this' guy who just arrived from quiet town Canada. Within an hour or so though I settled into a comfortable alertness.
La Paz is not your typical tourist destination, it's big, busy, smelly, but chocked full of eye candy and a great place for outsiders to watch the ongoing battle between the old ways and the new. Ladies wearing traditional dress contrast sharply with the young who now sport Nike's, t-shirts and ball caps. This contrast could be seen almost everywhere we travelled in Bolivia and Peru but was most apparent in heavily populated area's like La Paz.
As the days past and after a few day trips to several sights in the area we decided to move on. Tiahuanaco, one of the sites we visited near La Paz, is an impressive pre-Incan archaeological site still being unearthed. I am glad to have seen this pre-Incan site of Tiahuanaco because it put the reminants of the short lived Incan empire into perspective for me, and really elevated the incredible achievements of the Inca's.
Moving north we made our way through the high Altiplano region crossing into Peru en route to our destination town of Puno. We had but one reason to come to Puno, and that was to explore Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in the world above 2000 meters, and the views of this lake from both the Amantani and Taquile Islands are stunning. We spent a couple days in Puno checking things out and organizing a couple trips to the Islands of the lake.
As our third day in Puno arrived we jumped into a local limousine, a three wheel bicycle with two forward facing seats for passengers. Our driver/motor pedalled frantically through traffic toward the boat docks for reasons I can only assume he thought would result in him getting a better tip. After a three hour boat ride we arrived at Taquile.
The people of Taquile Island have a very unique culture, style of dress and they live a hard working community driven lifestyle, which is something I will not soon forget. As we in western societies close ourselves off from even our neighbours, I must say it was eye opening and refreshing to see an entire community working together side by side to build their future together. The small town square on Taquile was emptied the day we were there as almost every man and woman was out working on rebuilding the stone path that lead from the boat docks to the town center high atop the island.
Climbing up the somewhat pieced together stone path to the town center I was blown away by the hardness of these people. Old men set 40 kilo rocks on their lower back and walk arduously up hill toward the stones final resting place. Young men using hammer and chisel pound away at giant stone, splitting rock in a way that hearkens back to the dark ages. The women gather in large bags, loose dirt and sand and carry it up and down the hilly island. The sand will be the bed on which the stones for the path will rest. It was an incredible sight to see.
After spending some time exploring the island we jumped on a boat located on the opposite side of the island from which we had arrived and set off to the island of Amantani. After about 45 minutes we arrived late afternoon and were greeted at the dock by our house mother. Tonight we will live the life of the local Amantani people. After both sides exchanged broken spanish greetings, the locals speak mostly in their local tongue of Amyara, we set off towards our home for the night. The Amyara live simple lives, no running water, no hydro, no gas stoves, just mud brick homes and fire ovens. As you can see from some of the pictures this really is the simple life. I had set in my mind in advance that I was going to climb to the top of Amantani to watch to sunset. Lydia on the other hand stayed behind and decided to play a little soccer with some other island visitors and a few locals. Checking my watch I knew I didn't have a lot of time and had to move quickly, so I set off and as quickly as possible ascended the 1500 + meters to the top of the island. As I climbed I heard the sound of a flute or recorder off in the distance. I stopped for a moment and tried to locate the source of the music. As I searched I spotted a man, maybe 30-40 years of age, walking alone up the side of the hill playing his instrument, totally content and seemingly as happy as could be. I watched for only a moment, smiled to myself, snapped a picture and continued up the hill as the music faded below me.