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Welcome to Lake Titicaca
Sitting in Cuzco Mika and I come up with our recent, always fluid master plan. First we had planned to only go as far south as Machu Picchu. But we have now decided that the Salt Desert in Bolivia will be our turn around point. A good way to get to Bolivia from Cuzco is to go to Puno (6 hrs) which sits on Lake Titicaca and then cross the border by land or by boat visiting the Bolivian side of the lake if you like. In theory this well-traversed route should be pretty straight-forward and is an easy way to get where we are going. But then wasn’t it Mark Twain who said, “how empty is theory in the presence of fact."
|A boat tour on Lake Titicaca|
|Lake Titicaca at sunset|
|Lake Titicaca by day from Taquile island|
An Uros Float
|A floating island of Uros|
|The island edge|
|Visit to a floating island|
|Singing floating islanders|
|Gringos eating reeds|
|Made in Uros|
An Amantani Homestay
After lunch we leave the mother and grandmother to sort a large pile of their potato crop while the family’s eight year-old son (who by the way has never left Amantani) leads us up a large hill to the top of the island for 360 degree views and the sunset. There are a surprisingly large number of foreigners here considering that we hardly saw anyone in Puno. This hike must be everyone’s pre-dinner activity. After dinner we have a nice conversation with our host and the French couple then are told about the after-dinner activity. We will be going to a traditional party and must put on proper island attire. Women are given embroidered shirts and bright colored skirts while the men get ponchos and wool hats.
|Amantani get up|
|The Amantani Sextet|
|An Amantani thoroughfare|
|Mika and our guide/host on Amantani|
Puno Under Siege
As mentioned above, we have come to Puno to go to Bolivia. Only arriving in Puno do we learn that the border has been blockaded for about two weeks by Aymara peope, campesinos (people living in rural areas) who are protesting mining concessions that have been given to a Canadian company. They fear the enormous impact that the mines will have on their land, agriculture and water. They also know from past experience -- hmm let's see maybe back since the Spanish conquest -- that of all the riches extracted from Peru the indigenous rural communities see very little benefit. Blockading roads seems to be quite a normal activity in Bolivia and this part of Peru.
Fed up with the government not doing anything about their demands, the Aymara protesters decided to move their protest up north to Puno, the provincial capital in order to be heard. Thousands of Aymara men and women from rural areas converged on the city and camped out around town, but mostly in the main plaza. This is around the time that Mika and I arrived in Puno.
|Puno's main plaza|
|"Viva the strike! Water yes, mine no"|
Businesses in Puno put up signs like these to either show support
and/or to avoid damages to their property by protesters
Here is our week in Puno under seige:
Monday: We arrive to Puno late in the afternoon knowing absolutely nothing about the protests or that the border to Bolivia has been blocked for almost two weeks. There is a large march with thousands of campesinos making their way to the main plaza. At night the main plaza is completely full with protesters who I believe sleep there all night. Some vehicles were burned this night.
Tuesday: Puno's bus station is closed and there are no cars on the roads. We were on one of the last few buses to make it on Monday. We walk down to the pier, mostly all of the shops are closed. Boats to Lake Titicaca are running normally. This night we go to the plaza again to see what is happening. It is still completely occupied by the protesters.
|The usually busy streets of Puno|
While waiting on the boat to leave, we are all suddenly rushed inside the cabin. Our boat and the others waiting at the pier quickly scatter out onto the lake. We see a group of protesters rush the pier brandishing large sticks. Avoiding that confrontation we start our island tour and hope that things will be settled by the time we come back to Puno tomorrow.
|Walking back to town|
We make it safely back to our hotel and later head out for dinner. Now the atmosphere is much more tense than before. When groups of marchers come people quickly scatter indoors and lock their doors. We slip into a Chinese restaurant* which twice during dinner turns off the lights to give the impression that they are closed as some small, but aggressive bands of marchers pass.
Tonight turns quite dangerous. Two government buildings are looted with property stolen and many documents burned. A telephone booth is smashed and many bank windows are shattered. Having already declared that they will not confront the protesters, police presence is almost non-existent. By around 11:00 PM all protesters begin to clear out of the center of Puno. The vans parked in front of our hotel for days now pack up and leave. We are not sure if this is just to take a break from sleeping on the cold cement or if it is because of rumors circulating that the military is coming.
|One of many broken bank windows|
|Extra, Extra!: People at a newsstand trying to get information about what is happening|
Saturday: Everything is running normally out of Puno, however, we receive conflicting reports about whether the road to Bolivia is open. But this does not matter for us because we have already chosen to do the round-about, yet sure, way to Bolivia via southern Peru and Chile. We missed some interesting sites around Puno, and we wish the Aymara well with their struggle, but gladly get on the bus out of Puno.
|A Chinese restaurant with only one small security door open that can be quickly closed|