Country that is. Peru is the second to last country we will visit (well, I suppose you could get technical and count the planned stop in the US on the way back to Canada, but hey...). It is getting so strange to contemplate the fact that we are less than one month from heading home. In some ways, it's a little distracting thinking about going home, and we run the risk of under appreciating the things we are seeing right now. At other times, we find ourselves thinking about New Zealand and Fiji and how it seems we went to those places years and years ago. We have seen so much on this trip that sometimes it gets hard to sort out the memories, but they are all great!
Did I ever tell you about the game we play where we try to remember the place we stayed each night? It's sort of like a memory game. I think I already mentioned it. Well, I can't do it anymore! There are just too many! I think that that is another sign that we should start thinking about getting back to the farm...
Arriving in Puno, Peru, at first glance, is nothing too special. But, after hanging around for a day or two and going out to the floating islands of the Uros as well as Taquile Island, you begin to see why this area is called the cultural capital of Peru. There are a number of pre Inca civilizations represented here, which I think is really cool because the Inca stuff gets all the press, so it is less well known that there were many civilizations here prior to the rise of the Inca. Spanning the border between Bolivia and Peru, the people who settled around Lake Titicaca have a rich cultural heritage based on music and weaving; some being very distinct like the society that exists today on Taquile Island.
We took a day long boat tour of the floating islands, which are made entirely of reeds, floating in water over 20 metres deep! The islanders use the reeds for everything - homes, crafts, clothing, boats, food (they eat the stock near the root - I tired it and it's like celery). It was a little bit commercialized in terms of selling trinkets, but it was done in such a way that the people were preserving their cultural heritage and selling "on the side" to help supplement their incomes. The government seems interested in protecting the cultural heritage as well.
As with the other people in Bolivia around the lake, the women dress in an almost comical but very deep rooted traditional way which involves a layering of short skirts, nylons, knit sweaters, big pom-poms on the end of super long braids, and a pristine boler hat on top of their heads. The hats sit so high on their heads that they must be pinned down - they seem to defy gravity, and they are all too small to be worn properly. But this look is defining; all of the older women dress this way. Most have a baby (grandchild) on their backs wrapped in a colourful blanket.
On Isla Taquile, the culture is completely different again. Here, the women have adopted the skirts and the nylons, but instead of the bolers, they wear black shawls that almost appear Muslim in nature. The men wear llama wool pants with dress type shirts, knit hats that look like nightcaps (big and floppy), and special belts with coca leaf purses woven by their wives. The colours on the hats identify the married men from the bachelors. In this culture, weaving and knitting have become extremely fine tuned. So much so, that UNESCO recognized the quality and cultural significance of the islander's work as significant. Indeed, only the men knit, and only the women weave (knitting men!?!?). The expertise and quality is superb, developed over more than a thousand years of practice. I bought a new hat here it was so good!