Llamas and Apaches

Day 97 - Puno

I had to sympathise with the rodent as it stared up at me with a fixed grin. Back home it would have led a cosseted life, fed and kept safe. Here in Peru though the Guinea Pig was splayed across my plate, its bedding fried potatoes rather than sawdust. My sympathies receded as I savoured the pleasant, slightly gamey flavour and, with a little effort, the bones were soon picked clean. I was in a restaurant in Puno which sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca whose claim to be the world's largest high altitude body of water was continually and vigorously disputed by Michael. Our hotel room lacked amenities like natural light and combined with the thin, lethargic air was starting to resemble a coffin after 3 days of near-constant habitation. Time had seemingly ground to a halt in this rainy town. I and, after some cajoling, Mike decided to break the sit in by booking a visit to the ruins of Sillustani. It is known for its pre and post-Inca funerary towers which cluster on a hill overlooking miles of empty landscape patrolled by the occasional alpaca. Our guide was a knowledgeable indigenous chap called Cesar who informed the group of the tower's history by way of an impressively comprehensive infographic scratched into the soil. On the bus journey back to Puno we stopped at the home of a local family and were offered the chance to purchase their wares and pet their llamas, all for a few coins of course. I stayed on the bus while my fellow passengers enjoyed the human zoo.
Like Herodotus' dog-headed men tales of people living on islands made of reeds must have astounded reason before mass tourism found them. As we sat aboard the boat awaiting departure to the unique isles my fears were piqued by a fellow who climbed aboard and began knocking out The Beatles on panpipe. Once upon a time the Uros islands in Lake Titicaca would have been places of myth and hearsay, now they are another stop on the traveler's trail, a well rehearsed pantomime of ethnicity, a bazaar of colourful mass-fabricated goods. We drifted past islands replete with public telephones, satellite dishes and one that appeared to function as a petrol station. Drifted in a craft dubbed the 'Mercedes-Benz' of the islander's vessels, a ludicrously unwieldy construction of reeds fronted by two grimacing dragon heads. Why are these people here? Has no-one told them that the tribes that persecuted and drove them to this aquatic isolation are long gone? They don't seem to be here to live the lifestyle of their forbears, tourism and the modern world have tainted that. No, they are here to carve an existence by the best means they can and if that is by bluffing an empty hand then who can begrudge them. Why was I here? A harder question.

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