A Big Hole & Lake Titicaca

October 4, 2008 - 4:50 am 2 Comments

I’m alive. There were a few moments there where I wished I wasn’t, but I’m OK now.

In Arequipa, Josh and I booked a private city tour with a guide named Miguel. The route took us to see various buildings and viewpoints around the city. One of our stops was the Monasteria de Santa Catalina, an amazingly colorful complex. Pilar was our tour guide. Very professional and composed during the tour itself, she got very excited at the end of the tour when she realized we could e-mail her the pictures of her that we took while walking around.

Halls of Santa Catalina

Included in our private tour (public tours did not accommodate our tight schedule) was a trip to see Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world. Miguel spoke wonderful English and had loads of information for us during our four hour ride to Chivay (shih-VYE), the town where we booked our hotel and a short drive from Colca Canyon.

Spacious blue skies replaced the gray skies of Lima. The remote route through the mountainous scrubland reminded me of Arizona. Not much to see except for a few vicuñas (shy cousins of the alpaca with supposedly the softest fur in the world) and the occasional tour bus.

Vicuñas and El Misti

The shortness of breath I felt in Arequipa (elevation: 7,740 feet) gradually worsened as we ascended. My head started to hurt, my chest started to feel heavy, and I started to feel weak. We stopped at a rest station for some coca tea, and it did in fact help a little bit. After talking about some of the camera equipment I was carrying around, Miguel said that my camera costs more than his salary for one year.

Alpaca Madness

Our ride happened to take us to the highest navigable point in Peru, called Patapampa (elevation: 16,108 feet). It’s just a little turnoff on the side of the road from which you can see various mountains and volcanoes. We happened to arrive just as the sun was setting.

The Road to Chivay

Sunset at the Top of Peru

By the time we reached that point, it felt like I had a serious hangover headache and even my eyeballs felt like they were going to pop. I got out of the van to take some pictures, and I felt like I was going to pass out, fumbling with my camera to get a few shots off before I did. It was very cold and windy, making things even more uncomfortable. 16,108 feet is more than halfway up Everest.

After Patapampa, it was a quick descent down into Chivay (elevation: 12,000 feet), but the damage was done. I was miserable. The Diamox I was taking wasn’t doing squat, and coca tea would give me only temporary relief. I struggled to sleep.

Early the next morning, my digestive system started to rebel. For the next couple of days, I would spend a lot of time in the bathroom. And not to wash my face. Miguel picked us up in the morning to take us to Colca Canyon, but they treated me with oxygen at the front desk of the hotel before we left.

The drive through Colca Canyon took us on roads along the edge of the canyon walls. Steep cliffs down to the canyon floor a few feet from our van made things pretty exciting.

We went to a viewpoint to watch the famous Andean condors take flight, but we only saw a couple so high in the sky that you’d need the Hubble telescope to see them. That was a bust.

We retraced our steps through the canyon to stop at various viewpoints and take some photos. By this time, Miguel knew that Josh and I loved to take photos, so he made sure that we stopped for photos at every opportunity. To my surprise, Josh stood right on the edge of these cliffs to take photos, and he had no problem at all with the heights.

How Cool is this Guy?

Me, Josh, & Miguel

Looking into Colca Canyon

After the canyon, we made a quick stop at the local Chivay street market. The local merchants sold everything from tourist schlock to beans and seeds to beheaded, skinned alpacas. Miguel told us that we could buy a whole alpaca for about $50 and that it would feed us for a month.

All the locals wear baseball caps, but really ugly ones. Josh and I had the great idea to return to Peru with 1,000 Washington Nationals caps. We come as ambassadors for Major League Baseball and surely be celebrities among the locals.

After the market, we made a quick visit to the thermal baths in Chivay for some relaxation. It was awesome. For the first time, I felt like I was finally starting to feel better. At Josh’s request, there are no photos of us frolicking in the water.

Then back into the van for the long ride for Arequipa. I was doing just fine until we got back to the 16,000 feet mark again. Then the altitude sickness started all over again. I felt miserable all the way back to Arequipa.

Miguel dropped us off at the airport to catch our flight to Juliaca, transportation hub for Puno. We thanked him for an amazing time, gave him a nice tip to put towards a new camera, and went through security.

While walking through the metal detector, it buzzed and flashed red lights for both me and Josh, but they let us go without any further inspection. Kind of frightening. Security in Peruvian airports isn’t nearly what it is on Peruvian streets.

Here in Puno, the hotel is, once again, fantastic. Like all the other upscale hotels we’ve stayed in, the staff is accommodating and friendly, and the hotel lobby and restaurant play mixes of bossa nova and chilled out loungy remixes of popular American music. And a good location. I’m looking at Lake Titicaca right now through our hotel room window.

Many of the hotels in the more remote towns (including this one) request that you don’t put used toilet paper into the toilets and instead put it into the tiny bins next to the toilet. Josh and I agree that’s kinda gross and break the rules. At least there is toilet paper. No need to use a sponge yet.

After another rough night last night, I woke up this morning feeling surprisingly good. No weakness, and an Advil took care of the remaining headache. Finally, after three days of misery, I was feeling OK.

We caught an early boat tour of Lake Titicaca (tee-tee-KAW-kaw, not titty-caca). Our first stop were the Floating Islands, enormous platforms made up of layer upon layer of reeds. The families who live on these islands wear traditional dress and take great pride in showing you their casas. They also take great pride in selling you their souvenirs. I am a sucker, walking away with a model boat made of reeds and two textiles that I will hang in my house one day.

The People of Uros

The kids were especially adorable. Not sure if it was part of the act, but they very friendly and excited to have tourists around. They’d play with us and sing songs to us. Unfortunately, most of them looked like they had pretty bad chronic sunburn on their faces. One of the four year old girls looked like she had the skin of a 40 year old woman.

Young Singer from Uros

Boat on the Floating Island

Then to the island of Taquile (tah-KEEL), where we walked up 550 stone steps for a view of Lake Titicaca and lunch. Even in the remote island of Taquile, Peruvian police and security holding guns and batons were everywhere.


Tequile Baby

Being at high elevations the last few days means that I’ve gotten a lot of color on my face and neck. It’s also very dry up here. Rubbing my hair makes little static sparks, and my nose is producing fragments that could scratch mirrors.

Feels so great to be healthy again and to finally have an evening to catch up on stuff.

Tomorrow morning, we fly to Cuzco to visit the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Good news is that from here on out, we’re at lower elevations, so I should be fine.

    2 Responses to “A Big Hole & Lake Titicaca”

  1. Dad Says:

    Well, the quality of your photographs certainly isn’t suffering from your extreme end to end problems!

    Regarding the altitude sickness, aside from the headache, you now know what it feels like to try to be active with clogged arteries! You would have also had great difficulty with your vision, had you been up there at night.

    I’m delighted to hear about the excellent service and facilities which is surprising, to me at least. Guess they haven’t been spoiled yet.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Miranda Says:

    Glad to hear you two are alive and well. Tell Josh we send lots of hugs. Your pictures are beautiful!

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