Adventures in South America travel blog

Labor market in Cusco

Every street corner

School yard

Alice distributing school supplies

Raqchi - the original Inca settlement


Tom and Alice at Raqchi

Food storage

High plateau

Mud brick house on the high plateau

Threshing on the high plateau

Alice at 14,000 feet. Attitude at Altitude

Condor overlooking Puna

Walking street at Puna

July 19th

An early start – on the bus at 7:00 and through the busy streets of Cusco. Lots of traffic and lots of pedestrians – many at a labor market where they wait for people to come pick them up for a day's work. Every street corner had a vendor selling everything from candy to jewelry.

After about an hour we passes a mass of striking teachers – moments before they set up their road block. They're striking for higher wages. The minimum monthly salary for civil employees is S/ 650 (Sols). Teachers make between 700 and 100 a month.

Shortly thereafter we stopped at a small elementary school in a rural village. The tour company has “adopted” the school and built them one building and is in the process of building another. We were asked to bring school supplies to donate to the school. There were only two (of 6) teachers there and the principal. Some of the kids walk over an hour to get to school. After the principal gave a long speech in Spanish (translated by our guide Earnest) he asked us to distribute the supplies. The kids seems really appreciative – hugged everybody and escorted me back to the bus.

We kept climbing and soon reached Raqchi, the original Inca settlement after they fled the Puna region following a civil war and natural disasters. This is an impressive site with a still functioning irrigation system. An upper class areal, a temple complex, the center road aligned to the winter equinox (June 21). The most impressive part was the 24 food storage chambers – each round structure able to hold forty tons of dehydrated potatoes. If all full enough food to feed 30,000 people for five years. Debates about it's actual purpose – to store food for the local population or as a central storage facility where food would be collected then distributed around the empire where needed. Farms in the area still dry potatoes and corn in the traditional way – laying them out in the cold night air and low humidity for a couple nights basically dries them out.

Then off to the high plateau of Peru – 12,000 feet. A fairly flat plain surrounded bu barren mountains. Every once in a while we would see a snow covered peak. The land moved from mostly farming to almost all herding. We saw flocks of cattle, sheep, and llamas, with the occasional pig and chicken – and working dogs. Each flock (from 5 to 20 animals) was tended by a shepherd – usually a woman in traditional costume, sometimes with a baby on her back. Scattered over the grassland were small sheds – sometimes made of mud brick and sometimes brush – for the shepherds to sleep in so they wouldn't have to move the herds from the pasture.

We paused for a break at 14,000 feet – the highest we'll be on ground the whole trip. A fast walk is enough to get you to lose your breath. Snow covered peak just behind us. And, as we've come to expect, rows and rows of vendors – mostly with traditional things (woven and leather and skins) and little if any of the usual junk. We didn't stay long enough to really do the vendors justice.

Another several hours of the same scenery had Alice and I – and half the bus – fall asleep.

Around 4:00 PM we started to descend into Puna with Lake Titicaca off in the distance. When we wound through the streets and arrived at our hotel we were still at 12,000 feet. We checked in (nice hotel) and walked up the stairs to the first floor – and out of breath! So we drank some coca tea and ate several coca candies. A quick walk through the main part of town to orient us, then we got together later and went out to dinner at a traditional restaurant. I had vegetable soup and a chicken/peach sandwich. Alice had a pasta soup with a fried egg floating in the middle, and a pizza. Of course, I didn't bring the camera...

Back to the hotel and Alice's toe is still sore. I went out to get some band aids and bacterial stuff and it was cold – very cold! Asked at the desk and the clerk said it was 32 and it should go down to the teens tonight, with a high of about 65 tomorrow. Anyway, cleaned Alice's toe, bandaged it up, and she lay down and went to sleep. I've had the sniffles all day and this evening they're a bit worse. I'll follow Alice to bed soon! Six hours on a bus is a long trip!

Tomorrow we're up at 7:00 for a boat ride to the floating islands on the lake.

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