Monday, July 27, 2009

Peru Trip 2009: Stranded on Uros Island

It´s been a little over two weeks since Thomas and I have been traveling in Peru. We have received excellent hospitality in Lima, made our home in a little family-run hostel in the historical and beautiful city of Cuzco for one week, trekked the famous Inca Trail for four days to get to the Lost Inca City of Machu Picchu, slept on the small island of Taquile and set foot on the one-of-a-kind floating island of Uros on Lake Titicaca near the city of Puno.

We have met many interesting people and things were going very smoothly for two non-Spanish speaking people in a South American country…until we got to Uros Island. I was guilty of picking the convenience of going with a pre-arranged tour group instead of going independently, where the local people would have benefited more from my expense. I figured we only have about two days in Puno and did not want to spend that time trying to look for something myself given my language limitations.

We got into Puno on Friday evening and had our hostel arrange the trip for us the next morning. Things went smoothly and we got on the boat with six other people from our hostel at 7:00AM. We felt a little lucky to be with them because they know both English and Spanish. Our boat of about 30 passengers, left at around 7:30AM along with at least ten others, heading for Uros Islands, the only islands in the world made of totora roots and reeds. About 45 minutes into the trip, we arrived in a floating island with a big reed watch tower in the shape of a fish. The tour guide gave us a short history of the island and showed us how it was made, with the help of a local man and some visual aides. After the presentation, he told us we could take a ride on the reed boat for an extra charge. My husband and I got on the reed boat that was about to leave. We were enjoying the ride and took many pictures of the surrounding floating islands. Thomas even got to paddle the boat just for fun.

We got dropped off at an island across from where we landed, went into home made out of reed and got a glimpse of the life-style of these islanders. We were amazed to find that they were pretty technologically advanced in a certain sense. They have solar panels, televisions and radios in their homes. After the home visit, we walked outside and saw our boat taking off without us! We waved at it but it just zoomed by us. A wave of panic went through us. We helplessly explained to the islanders what just happened in English and they talked back to us in Spanish. We finally got another tourist to translate and got ourselves back to the island where we landed.

We talked to the captain and tour guide from another boat from the same company and they asked us the name of the boat and tour guide but we could not answer the questions. After numerous calls, they decided to take us to Taquile Island on their boat and assured us that they will help us find our backpacks with the stuff that we needed for the overnight stay at Taquile. We were really upset but tried to stay calm…

Our relief came when I looked over my pictures and showed the new tour guide our original tour guide. She then made a phone call and then assured us that our bags were still there and we would get them when we get to Taquile. What a big scare!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peruvian Hospitality

Today was our third day in Peru but really the first day on our own! We have been spoiled by our host family, the Lopez, whose youngest daughter, Evita, is Thomas´former coworker´s current coworker! Evita learned that we were traveling to Peru for the first time and insisted that we stay with her family in Lima. What´s more amazing is that her older sister, Zara, is a travel agent and can speak really great English. She was waiting for us with a ¨Thomas Vuong¨ sign as we exited the baggage area. When we got to her van, she immediately said: ¨I have to go pay for parking. Please have a seat. It´s your car!¨ That totally took me off my feet because there I was, standing in front of a woman who I had never met or talked to before in my life and she was so nice to Thomas and I.

We received the same kind of warm welcoming when we walked into their well-maintained home equiped with all the modern American amenities. Lunch and dinner were made and brought to the table for us by Christina, the mom, and Gianina, the 29-year-old niece. No matter how hard we tried, they would not let us help them with the cooking or cleaning. In addition to the meals, we were given our own room (I later found out that the little brother, Benjamin, had to temporarily stay in the same room with Gianina so we could enjoy that luxury). All our other needs were well attended to and I felt so spoiled.

Zara spent the whole day off work on July 13 to accompany us on our tour of the city that she had planned with us the night before. Moreover, she refused to let us pay for the admissions fee to the San Francisco Monastary, the Cathedral and the Gold Museum and the expensive parking fees in different locations. I felt better when she did not resist letting us pay for a splurge in the ocean-front restaurant, Mango, for lunch in Miraflores.

The hospitality topped off with her waking up before four in the morning to drive us through the un-policed (dangerous) road to the airport. She also insisted on escorting us to the gate, but luckily, we managed to send her home before too long because of our five hour delay on the flight to Cuzco with TACA.

I don´t know how we can ever repay the Lopez family! Their hospitality, while well-received, leaves me feeling really uneasy.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Peru Itinerary

The much anticipated trip to Peru is finally here! After a lot of reading using the Lonely Planet and talking to others who have gone to Peru, my husband, Thomas, and I decided on the itinerary below. Most of the things written here are tentative. So far, we've only had the round-trip flight to and from Lima and the one from Lima to Cuzco booked. The Inca Trail Trek was also booked in late January to secure our spaces since the government only allows a limited number of people on this trail each day. We will play it by the ears on the dates and locations of other items on our list.

Here's what we have planned:

July 12-13 Lima
July 14-19 Cuzco
July 20-23 Inca Trail Trek to Macchu Picchu
July 24 Cuzco
July 25-29 Lake Titikaka Area
July 30-August 3 Ariquipa
August 3-7 Lima