Peru offers an exceptional opportunity for travellers to experience a variety of landscapes, an abundance of wildlife, a rich history, and the vivacious character of durable native cultures, all within one nation. Clover Scott shares her experience exploring Peru with her husband on an Intrepid Travel tour and what it was like to live with locals on Lake Titicaca:
From the sea side in Lima, we flew 12500 ft up into the mountains, and landed in Puno, wobble-kneed and tired. Breathing slowly, and trying to adjust to the lack of oxygen, we took in the views as we drove into town. My husband and I were on the first day of an Intrepid tour of Peru. This was going to be unlike any trip we have done before. After about an hour, we rounded a bend and there it was; Lake Titicaca. The houses poured down the side of the hill to the waters edge. Barren, brown and crowded.
It wasn’t until we were in the middle of Puno that we got that nice small town feel. The centre of this city is actually quite quaint. We enjoyed strolling the cobble-stoned main street, and admiring the beautiful alpaca knits and jewelry. Things seemed to move slowly, or at least we were. By the time we walked up the three flights of stairs with our bags, we were definitely feeling the altitude. We took it slow the rest of the night, having a nice dinner with the group and turning in early. Our “limo’s” would be there to pick us up first thing for big our adventure the next morning.
Ah the “limo” — a Peruvian rickshaw! We threw our overnight bags on the back and jumped in the front. It was a gorgeous, sunny quiet morning. The town was sleepy and slow. We were pushed the first block up a bit of a hill. When we got to the top, our driver hopped on and peddled us down to the bottom. We wound through streets like in a cobble stoned maze, all the while speeding closer to the lake. The streets opened up as we got to the boardwalk, and saw the majestic lake Titicaca. It was like glass for as far as the eye could see. The deepest blue, mirroring the azure sky and clouds above. Endless.
We finally arrived in a Llachon community after a few hours in the boat, and were met by a young woman in brightly coloured traditional clothes—layer upon layer of hand knit skirts, each a different vibrant hue. She led the group up the hill to the common cook house where our “House Mamas” were waiting for our arrival. There were five mamas waiting for us, one young, and the rest a bit worn from their years. And then there was Matilda. Her eyes smiled at us warmly. Though she didn’t speak a lick of English, we liked the feeling she gave, and were happy when she was assigned as our Mama.
We followed her to her house, as she knitted her way up the broken path without missing a stitch. It was about a 15 min walk up the hillside, through fields and different crops all uneven and woven like a patchwork quilt on the landscape. We walked slowly, taking in the this cool air with each step, careful not to overexert ourselves.
Just when I thought I couldn’t walk any further, we arrived at a tired looking wooden gate set in a mud brick wall. We entered into a courtyard with a dirt floor, a mud walled house on one side, and our modest abode on the other. It was nice; much nicer than we were expecting. It came fully equipped with lights, a table and two beds. There was a bathroom outside with a shower, though we wouldn’t dare take a shower knowing that they have to carry the water up from a well below! I began to relax and let go of the anxiety that can come with the unknown. We would be comfortable here in these strangers’ home. I studied the room. Though the walls were mud, there were windows framing the most beautiful view of the countryside. The sun was low in the sky, and the earth looked orange. As I looked out the window, I appreciated that this was the view these people wake up to every day. I imagined what it would be like if this was my life. After all isn’t that why we were here?
Matilda introduced us to her husband Espon and three sons Edson, Eli and Edison. They had rosy cheeks and dark skin and were eager to meet their new guests. They posed for a photo together as we got further acquainted.
They don’t speak Spanish here as they do in the rest of Peru; they have their own dialect called Quechua. We navigated our way through a page of words and phrases written on a paper given to us by our tour leader Malkita. We figured out a few things about each other, and every time we understood something, it was like playing Charades. It was mentioned earlier, how hard it is for them to get items from town, so we gave our house mama two bags filled with sugar, flour, pasta, butter, spices, toilet paper and chocolate. She grabbed us in her arms, and hugged us tightly.
Next we were told to get ready because there was a volleyball game being set up; us against the locals. I remembered seeing the slab of cement, on our walk to the house, where the match was to take place. There were 10 – 15 people per side, and we dodged the donkey droppings and cow dung as much as we dove for the ball. Not your typical game of volley, but loads of fun none the less. It was in that moment that we realized how tough these Mama’s were! It was all or nothing, they wanted it! In the end, through blood, sweat and tears, the tourists took out the locals.
We headed back to our room and got dressed for dinner. When I emerged from our quarters, I realized that Matilda had intended to dress us. She started draping and wrapping us in woolen clothes that must have weighed 25 lbs. It felt like I was wearing twelve skirts and the hat felt like I was balancing a basket of fruit on my head. Once my husband and I recovered from the laughter that ensued, (and could breathe again) we started towards the cook house to have dinner.
The rest of our group was there in full Peruvian attire when we arrived. We sat around the table together, peeling potatoes and helping with some basic preparation, but the real magic was happening behind the kitchen door. We could hear the clanging of pots and pans, but there was no hint what we were waiting for. First they brought out a Peruvian staple, Quinoa soup, only this one was topped with crispy fried potato like earth’s croutons. This lovely soup was followed by chicken vegetable stir fry, with egg and rice. This was a really nice meal. We didn’t know what to expect, and had heard a rumor of guinea pig earlier in the day. We escaped it this time. (That one didn’t come until later in the tour)
After dinner we followed Matilda back to our home. A treacherous walk in the dark, but Matilda and her son knew the land, and the moon gave enough light that they walked without a flashlight. We thanked them for dinner, said good night, and hopped into bed. There were so many layers of wool blankets that it was too heavy to sleep. You could not roll over without breaking a sweat. The hard pillows and sunken mattress made me miss my bed, and also really appreciate the quality of living we have in Canada. I wondered how they would like sleeping in my bed, it would seem fit for royalty in comparison. The next time I feel down on my luck, I will remember this family was happy with how they lived. Maybe it was because they didn’t know anything else, but I also feel that they may be better off for not knowing the stress that can come with making a life in North America. They loved the land that they lived on, and the land loved them right back. It was that simple.
Spending the night with locals living on Lake Titicaca gave us an appreciation for how we live, and a respect for the locals that took us in. Beautiful people, breathtaking views, an intense volleyball game and delicious dinner. All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and one we will never forget. As we pulled away and waved to our Mamas, I thought – wow this is only day three of our tour. We still have so much to see, how can it get better than this? But it did, it just kept getting better! Thank you Intrepid Travel for an amazing adventure!
Looking for more information on travelling to Peru or Intrepid Travel? Clover Scott is an Assistant Manager at our Flight Centre Highgate location in Burnaby, BC and can be reached by E-mail or calling 1-866-528-6209.
Peru is highlighted on the Flight Centre Map. Read more about it in our Destination Guide.