The Uros Islands, Peru

Water is in my veins. I literary grew up in the water – as a toddler we always had a blow-up pool in the backyard, as I grew older my parents bought me a slip ‘n’ slide, or two, and once we went through a few of those, placing the sprinkler under the trampoline on a hot summer’s day was better than heaven; I was forever doing squad swimming, both mornings and afternoons during my school days, I’d spend my entire summer holidays at the beach, or on my Dad’s boat… Even these days, when work and other commitments unfortunately take priority, I still make that bit of spare time to go for a jog along the beach, or around the bay, just to get a glimpse of the ocean, of the water. I’ve been very fortunate to have lived the majority of my life on Sydney’s northern beaches to be able to indulge in my love of water and the ocean. It must be in my blood. Both my parents come from the seaside towns on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. For generations we have lived by the sea, with the sea. So I always feel so refreshed and alive when being on the water. And this is exactly how I felt spending a beautiful sunny day floating on Lake Titicaca, on the Uros Islands, known as the floating islands, located on the Peruvian side of the lake, only a short boat’s trip from the town of Puno.

Just a little bit of information about the Uros Islands and the people who inhabit them:

The Uros Islands are inhabited by a race of people who pre-date the Inca civilisation. During their time, the Incas failed to take much notice of the ‘uncultured’ people of the floating islands, whom they believed to be simple and inferior, living on floating reed constructions, rather than in ‘grand cities’. Although the Uros people today have inter-married with local Aymara people, their civilisation and their customs still live on, outlasting that of the Incas. Although the Uros people do continue to live according to their traditional lifestyle, they have not completely rejected modern life – some people have motorised boats and solar panels to run electrical appliances, and most children attend school on one of the larger islands on the lake or in Puno.

There are approximately 40 floating islands that make up the Uros islands. These islands are constructed from totora, a native rush reed which grows on the banks of the lake. The dense roots of this reed create the foundation of the floating islands, which is about a metre in thickness. As the totora rots, more and more layers need to be added, meaning that the islands are in a constant state of repair and construction. Many of the islands change shape and size over time, accommodating the needs of the family which inhabits the island. The totora is also used in the construction of their houses and boats, and is also eaten and used for medicinal purposes by the native people.

It was quite a strange, yet relaxing sensation being on these islands. The ground constantly undulates with the flow of the tide and current, feeling almost as though you were on some enormous waterbed. I still remember the feeling – I could have laid in the sun for hours, breathing in the refreshing lake air and the smell of the totora reed. The people of the islands were happy to show us how they lived – it was rather amazing to think that these people actually lived on these islands – it all seemed a little surreal, as though I was in some sort of bizarre theme park. Although the Uros people do rely heavily on tourism today, I still felt that in visiting the Uros islands, I was gaining a true snapshot into the lives of this extraordinary civilisation.

A day trip to the Uros Islands is most definitely on the ‘gringo trail’ to do list. There are many boats leaving Puno at numerous times of the day at you can complete the round trip within about 3 hours. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time, but some trips offer an overnight stay on the islands with one of the local families, as well as visiting some of the other nearby islands on the lake, which I’m sure would be well worthwhile.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

On the road from Cusco to Puno…

We bade a sad farewell to the beautiful city of Cusco and made our way along the Andes towards the shores of Lake Titicaca. In the few days which we spent in Cusco, we fell in love with the atmosphere of the city. Looking back, it was the one city in South America I felt most at home in. It had a sort of beautiful ambiance, a special and unique character, which I did not find elsewhere on my travels of that amazing continent.

Rather than taking the direct bus to Puno, we decided to make a few stops along the way. Our first stop was at Andahuaylillas, to visit the ornate colonial church in the town, known as the ‘Sistine Chapel of South America’, due to it’s decorative interior and wealth of Peruvian colonial art. Next stop was Raqchi, to marvel at the ruins of the Temple of Wiracocha. The ruins are of a once impressive and important temple in the region, and the adjoining living quarters. The complex is extremely beautiful and encased by the majestic hills which surround the town. Outside of the complex is a bustling marketplace, where local women endeavour to sell their handicrafts to the day tripping tourist who only stop by for an hour or two at the most.

As we neared Puno, we crossed Raya Pass. At over 4000m above sea level, it is a perfect site to inhale to crisp Andean air and take in the spectacular mountain views. As we crossed this pass, we slowly left the Peru of the Quechua people and entered the region of the Aymara people. Before reaching Puno, we made a quick stop in Pukara, to visit the museum there which is dedicated to the history of the Aymara people, particularly focusing on the archeological finds in the area dated back to 200BC – 200AD.

We finally reached Puno in the late hours of the afternoon, giving us enough time to have a Pisco Sour, before we bade goodbye to Peru the following day.

Breakfast in Calca

We were woken up at 4am by the buzzing of our alarms, after an extremely restless night’s sleep. A word of advice, if you wish to have a good night’s sleep during your stay in Cusco, avoid Loki Hostel. However, I must add that in all other respects the hostel was more than satisfactory – the staff were friendly, the rooms immaculately clean, they had a great bar which served fantastic food and drinks, and not to forget, the piping hot showers, which we discovered can be a rarity in this part of the world. On this particular night we wanted to get a good 6-7 hours of sleep, however, there was a party in the bar, which was directly across the courtyard from our room. I think everyone who was staying in the hostel that night was there, except for us of course, and the music was blaring until 3am! By about 2am we’d had enough. We went to the reception and asked if there was another room we could have. From this new room, the noise level from the bar was significantly diminished, but the room faced out towards the street. So rather than music and people yelling at the top of their lung, we listened to the incessantly noise of cars beeping down the street (There is a strange phenomena in Peru and Bolivia, where drivers continuously beep their car horns whilst they’re driving. We were told that because cars are somewhat ‘new’ in the region, people still don’t look when they cross the road, so in order to prevent accidents, drivers beep their horns to warn pedestrians).

Daniel, our Quechua (the native people of the Andean region of Peru) guide met us in the lobby of the hostel at the bright and early time of 4:30am! He looked disturbingly alert for such an early hour, especially in comparison to the two of us, who were still weary-eyed and drowsy from our disruptive night. We walked down the ghostly dark streets and piled in a bus with a bunch of men, women and sleeping children (apparently 4:30am isn’t considered to be particularly early for the Quechua people), who were carrying cages of chickens, sacks of corn, bags of cabbage and all sorts of other paraphernalia. After a two hour bumpy ride through the cobbled streets of Cusco and the unsealed roads of the surrounding countryside, we reach our first stop, Calca, for breakfast.

I was expecting breakfast to be a visit to a local bakery or something, maybe some pastries, or fruit, or I’m not quite sure what. Anyway, Daniel led us through the fresh produce markets of Calca to what seemed to be some sort of cafeteria, with all the stalls selling different types of soups and casseroles, with of course, large urns of coca tea (Coca tea is widely drunken in Andean regions, as it is believed to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness). We sat down in front of a stall and, with hungry eyes, watched our breakfast being prepared. Two bowls of simple chicken, vegetable and noodle soup were placed in front of us. Despite the wallowing steam, we ate eagerly. I have to say it was one of the best chicken noodle soups I have ever eaten. The spaghetti like noodles were so soft and tasty, and the broth so flavoursome I can still taste it now, months later.

 After our breakfast, we bought a few supplies for the first day of trekking, some fruit, quinoa museli bar and not forgetting our trusty walking sticks which served us well trekking up and down the mountain passes of the Lares Valley. Our final stop before we embarked on the three day trek were the aguas calientes (natural hot sulpha springs) of Lares, where we spent the remainder of the morning relaxing in the therapeutic pools.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

Machu Picchu

After three long, yet unforgettable days of trekking through the isolated and beautiful Lares Valley, and one somewhat unrestful sleep in some backwater hostel Aguas Calientes, we finally reached our destination and perhaps the highlight of our South American trip – Machu Picchu  (rightfully considered one of the must-see wonders of the world). We arrived early in the morning, taking the bus from Aguas Calientes at 5:30am – thankfully we opted for the bus option, as opposed to walking up the mountain – I didn’t realise that Machu Picchu was situated  2,500 metres above sea level and a 500m uphill from Aguas Calientes! So I’m glad we decide to take the bus. We arrived at the site just after 6am,  making us one of the first few people through the gates that day, and were lucky enough to experience Machu Picchu without the onslaught of the thousands upon thousands of tourists who visit each day.

Located at the top of a mountain and surrounded by tropical jungle, it’s not difficult to see how this city was ‘lost’ for so many hundreds of years. There is still much historical debate on what the site was utilised for, was it a sacred religious site, the estate of an Inca emperor, a prison, an agricultural testing ground, as well as other plausible and contestable theories. Although we may never know was it’s intended purpose was, we are still able to marvel at it’s beauty, be in awe of its grandeur and scale, and take in its serene and calming atmosphere while inhaling the refreshing Andean air.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

The Women of Peru

During my travels through Peru, I was fascinated by the women of this beautiful country. Their looks, their clothing, their arts and crafts, their day to day lives – be it weaving beautiful textiles or preparing delicious food – I was in awe.

Throughout my two week stay in Peru, women seemed to have a greater presence then men. It was women who usually held the market stalls, women who prepared our food, women who we bartered with, and women who gave us a glimpse into the way of life of both the rural and urban Peruvian people. From the mountains of the Lares Valley to the islands of Lake Titicaca, it is the women of Peru who are most deeply etched into my memory.

One thing which I was particularly intrigued by were the distinct region differences in women’s native clothing. The women of the Lares Valley, also know as The Weaver’s Way (which accurately highlights their talent for weaving beautiful textiles), wore a flat topped hat, usually red or deep orange in colour, which was narrower at the bottom than on top. Their clothes were usually made of brightly coloured woven textiles, primarily of a red/orange hue. In Cusco, the women were usually dressed in more Western styled clothing, with a number of them wearing a white or brown hat, in a similar style to the turn of the century, English gentleman’s top hat. In contrast, the women of Manu National Park in the Amazon Rainforest were plainly dressed in distinctive western clothing. Like the women the the Lares Valley, the women of both Raqchi and the Uros Islands wore very distinctive clothing. The former wearing deep terracotta coloured jackets, with either a large, disc shaped black hat, or a brown ‘top hat’. The latter wore natural straw hats with eye-catching, brightly coloured clothing of fluro oranges, bottle greens, fluro pinks, deep reds, royal blues, lime greens, etc.

Here are a selection of photographs taken in Cusco, The Lares Valley, Manu National Park, Raqchi, La Raya, Sicuani and The Uros Islands.

The Children of the Lares Valley, Peru

November last year I spent one amazing month travelling through parts of South America. One highlight of the trip was a three day trek through the Lares Valley, from Lares hot springs to Ollantaytambo. The trek, also known as ‘The Weaver’s Way’, is named after the weaving communities of Vilcabamba, Huacahuasi and Patachancha which one passes along the way. Although it passes some breathtaking scenery, it isn’t a trip for the faint hearted, as it consist of three days of trekking at high altitudes, with a high mountain pass (The Ipsayjasa Pass) at a height of 4450m. The most memorable aspect of this trek were the children which we passed along the way. Their happy, yet dirty faces, lightened our long days of trekking. At times a few of them joined us for an hour or two as we crossed valleys and rivers, and some came by our campsite to play a few games, to show us their homes and to receive a share of our popcorn and chocolate.