I started taking pictures on 8th Avenue without really looking at the viewfinder or the display of the camera to see what image was being captured. I was not making the effort to bring the camera up to my face. Many of the pictures were taken while I was walking. I was surprised by the results. Here are some samples.
The last two pictures were taken in Times Square.
One of the above pictures has been extremely cropped. I took the picture with the camera pointed to my side (and slightly to the back) as I walked. You can see the original version of the picture below. (Can you guess the nature of the unexpected object that got caught the picture?!)
Perhaps some may prefer the original to the cropped version of the above picture. It is all a matter of perspective!
My lasting memories of Manhattan are from a time long long ago when I was a graduate student at what was then The State University of New York at Stony Brook. It was nice to be back last weekend in Manhattan to experience the space once again.
Some aspects of the Midtown Manhattan experience have not changed with time. There is the palpable energy of the city which remains the same as before. The hustle and bustle of the city hits all your senses and makes you feel alive! There are crowds everywhere. The tourist is everywhere. The sidewalks and crosswalks are filled with pedestrians dodging incoming foot traffic. Traffic on the streets and avenues looks chaotic. The place is noisy as heck. People are impatient as heck!
But, there have also been some changes to the place. During the early 1980s New York City was still in the process of recovering from the near bankruptcy of 1975. Things feels somewhat different these days. There is more of a sense of prosperity. The place is not as grungy, gritty and grimy as it used to be. The subway looked cleaner than in the past. I did not get as much smell of urine in the stairways and walkways as I used to. The subway cars looked clean. The graffiti also seems to have gone. The places where we walked felt safer than in the past. The storefronts and shops looked well maintained. There seems to be enough capital available to keep things moving. Places like Times Square and the area around Madison Square Garden appear to have been cleaned up, etc..
At Hudson Yards we saw what was supposed to be the centerpiece of the future development of this area – a piece of architecture called Vessel. Vessel has had an troubled and controversial opening. One wonders how long this structure will survive. Next to Vessel is The Shed, a place for the arts (as I understand it).
After coming home, I did some research to discover that the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) has a new storage yard for its trains in the Hudson Yards area. The yard is currently in the open, not covered over, but the full development of Hudson Yards will result in the railroad yard going underground – under all the new buildings that are supposed to come up over the tracks.
I also learnt that since my time in the New York area, Amtrak has restored the once defunct West Side Line in Manhattan in order to support train service from the north directly into Penn station. The connection from the new West Side Line into Penn Station goes under LIRR’s Hudson Yards, and allows Amtrak’s trains running on The Empire Corridor (into New York State and beyond) to avoid having to use Grand Central Station. This change has allowed Amtrak to consolidate all of its services in Manhattan into a single location. Previously, they had to lease space in Grand Central Station and provide shuttle service between the two stations.
We had come to the Hudson Yards area in order to get on to the High Line near its northern end. This elevated park did not exist during my time at Stony Brook. The High Line park runs on the viaduct that originally used to carry the overhead tracks of the West Side Line down to the southern part of Manhattan.
We only stayed on the High Line for a few blocks. It would be worth further exploration in the future, from end to end, if the opportunity arises. The High Line has already become an extremely popular tourist destination.
The next discovery was the new Moynihan Train Hall serving trains running into Penn Station. The hall has been built within the confines of the existing James A. Farley Building, just west of the existing concourse for Penn Station beneath Madison Square Garden. This is an amazing change from the old station concourse.
I was already familiar with the changes that have occurred around Times Square, the next place we visited, because of a few more recent trips to the place. It has become a family friendly destination, quite different from the sketchy area that it used to be in the early 1980s. The place has become more pedestrian friendly. It always used to attract big crowds.
Midtown Manhattan today looks like a happening place. This part of town had a very different vibe to it in the early 1980s, one that was perhaps better appreciated by a young, penniless, and somewhat carefree graduate student.
We went into Washington, DC, last weekend to visit the International Spy Museum, and then the area of the cherry trees which were supposed to be close to their peak bloom.
We found out that we were going into town only the day before it happened! It was a birthday treat from the young ones. They were going to manage the whole trip for us. So, for a change, I did not have to get stressed out worrying about how I was going to manage the city streets and traffic. Washington, DC, is especially difficult to navigate around if you are from out of town. It was good that I was away from the wheel for this trip. The directions for, and the approach to, the underground parking garage that we used for the day were so unique and specific that I would not have found it on my own!
The city streets were crowded in spite of the windy and unexpectedly cold conditions. It was a madhouse around in the area of the Tidal Basin, where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The museum was also crowded. We also walked to The Wharf, the newly developed destination spot along the Potomac river. There were people everywhere. The restaurants were all full. COVID be damned!
This was our first visit to the spy museum. It is a fascinating place. There was way too much information for us to be able to absorb it all during the few hours that we were there. One of the things to note is that there are obvious political leanings and biases in the exhibits, especially when dealing with matters that are closer to our present time in history. And the term “spying” is used in a very broad sense.
The museum has been at this particular location since 2019. The building is new and has a fascinating design.The exhibition rooms are on the upper floors.
After our visit to the museum, we went down to The Wharf to try to get an early dinner. We had missed lunch while in the museum and we were hungry. The wharf was very busy in spite of the weather and its location next to the river. The sky was threatening and the gusts of wind from over the river made the feeling of discomfort from the cold more intense. There were plenty of eateries around but we encountered waiting times of over an hour (even two hours in one case!) for seating at the ones that were open that early in the evening. We spent a lot time walking around, searching for a place to eat at, before ending up standing in line at a place that was not going to open until a little later. Thankfully, the wait there was not too long.
After lunch we walked over to the Tidal Basin for the experience of the cherry blossoms. There were people and cars everywhere. A team of traffic police personnel tried to maintain some measure of order at some road intersections, trying to prevent gridlock, and managing the crowds waiting to cross the streets.(The building in the background in the picture above is the National Museum of African American History and Culture.)
This is a picture the Jefferson Memorial across the water of the tidal basin.The crowds were incredibly heavy in the area of the Tidal Basin that we were at. I was wondering how anybody could actually enjoy the sight of the trees in this kind of an atmosphere.We decided to walk towards the Washington Monument instead of staying in the area of the Tidal Basin, hoping that we would get more space to ourselves to enjoy the cherry trees and to also take some pictures. In general, the foot traffic from the presence of so many people in the area of the trees cannot be good for the health of the trees themselves. We could also see people who had torn off blossoms and branches from the trees.
This was our last stop in the city. We did not want to hang out too long on the street because of the weather and the crowds. We walked back to where we had parked our car, via Independence Avenue and L’Enfant SW street, passing under the offices of the United States Department of Energy at the intersection of these two roads.
On our way, we walked past the food trucks lined up in the area of The Mall on 14th Street.
The garbage bins in the area of the food trucks were overflowing, an unfortunate side-effect of the success of the National Cherry Blossom festival.
We made our way back to the location of the Spy Museum where we had parked the car. Pretty soon we were on Interstate-395 heading across the river and on our way home. The kids made it easy for us!
Yiannis is a photographer who posts on Pbase, a photo gallery website at which I also post pictures. Yiannis goes to places far off the beaten path. He is an adventurer! I have noticed that many of the parts of the world that he visits have very cold climates.
Here is Yiannis’ picture gallery of Ilulissat. Lots of interesting information also to be found here along with the pictures. I feel like visiting some day, but this might be too much to hope for! https://pbase.com/lens/welcome_to_ilulissat
This is the video that he has posted along with the pictures in his gallery.
Our travels took us to Manassas last weekend. Manassas is an older town in the neighboring state of Virginia. It may be known for its proximity to the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (also called the battles of Manassas), battles that took place during the Civil War. The city was actually built up around a railroad junction. The Southern Railway tracks used to run through town. Today, it is a commuter railroad station on the VRE on their Manassas Line. Amtrak trains also pass through the town. This is the route of Amtrak’s Crescent train that runs between New York City and New Orleans.
There was a Farmer’s market going on while we were there. There was a band providing entertainment, playing on a stage set up up on the bed of an old, repurposed, Southern Railway flatcar. The town has a small and charming downtown area that we were able to visit and walk through quickly.
The name 30-60-30 was suggested at one point during the later part of this trip. After all, the trip was meant to be a celebration of two 30th birthdays, and one 60th, all taking place in the order noted above. It had been in the works for a while, and it was taking place in spite of fractured elbows that had gotten in the way of another 60th birthday celebration trip. That particular one had gotten cancelled a couple of weeks earlier. This one was a get-together with the kids, and a visit to the National Parks of Yellowstone and the nearby Grand Tetons, after which the two of us were to set off on adventures of our own, extending the trip to visit the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho and then also spend some time in Salt Lake City. During this trip, we were to travel through the states of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
It has been a few days since we finished the trip. I have been unsure about how to put this one into the record books. Should it be summarized in one blog? Should it be broken up into a day by day, blow by blow, description? How should I use the hundreds of pictures that I took related to this story? What should I emphasize and where will particular pictures fit in? I have decided on a “hybrid” approach. Only time will tell how this will turn out.
Traveling in this part of the country is mostly about the outdoors. Besides the parks that visitors come to see, this part of the country is occupied by large ranches and farms where cultivation of crops and the raising of animals takes place. The properties are huge, and it takes specialized equipment and vehicles to manage the large spaces. Some ranches have animals grazing in them as far as the eye can see – primarily cows and horses. In many places the landscape is dotted with massive irrigation systems that can water significant chunks of farmland in short time. And then there are the open and rugged lands that are more sparsely occupied.
Yellowstone National Park was a pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting the geyser Old Faithful to be the primary attraction, after which I expected to be done with the park, but I found out that the land that this huge park occupies is truly a wonderland. The Yellowstone Caldera is a massive ancient volcano basin where the volcanic activity has brought the heat and fury of the inner earth very close to its surface. The super-hot magma lies close enough to the crust to have a visible impact all over the park. Steam rises into the air everywhere. There are very few places in the world like this.Hot springs,geysers,fumaroles,mud pits, and all other combinations of phenomena that result from steam, hot water and hot mud rising out of the earth result. The throwing up, churning and/or bubbling of the water, or mud, is continuous as the underground forces are released. The air is filled with fumes with different smells. It is an amazing place.
The cold temperatures that we experienced in the park lent an additional beauty to the scene. Then there is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.This is very much a geologically active area. In one location, steam has erupted from the pavement in a parking lot. You are warned everywhere in the park to keep to the boardwalk. The crust is thin. You do not want to fall into a hole that opens up beneath you. Neither would you want to be there when subterranean forces burst out of the ground.
Yellowstone covers a huge area, and it takes a few days to get around to the different locations. So, if you visit, plan to spend enough time, perhaps a few days. It is one of those places well worth having on your bucket list.
The Grand Tetons are a different experience. The massive, rugged, and majestic massif that rises in a straight line up out of the flat plateau dominate the scene. Geologically, the Teton mountains rise along a fault line. Over a period of millions of years, the land on one side of the fault line was uplifted because the land on the two sides of the fault line pushed against each other. This process ended up raising and exposing really old rock in a relatively new mountain range. Imagine the nature of the forces that are powerful enough to actually create majestic mountains! Geology is fascinating.
The experience of the Grand Teton National Park is mainly about its beauty and the outdoor activities that are possible.
In many sections of both the parks the roads ran along, or crossed, mountain rivers and streams. The main rivers that I noted were the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri, that flowed to the north through the parks, and the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, that flowed to the south through the parks. There are a few large and very pretty lakes whose bright and clear blue color catches your attention immediately on a sunny day.
We arrived at the parks at a time when the weather was much colder than it usually is at this time of the year. We had to be bundled up in layers to stay warm, and there was snow and ice to be tackled on some of the trails. The kids were instrumental in making sure we could navigate some of the more slippery trails without incident and additional damage to elbows. There was some tricky driving involved on a couple of occasions. Driving up and down the winding mountain road through the Teton Pass in the falling snow on a dark night after a long day of driving from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole was an interesting challenge. Waking up to below zero degrees (Fahrenheit!) temperatures in Island Park in Idaho one morning was a unique experience. We spent two very cold nights in a nice (but somewhat cold) cabin there. Fortunately, it warmed up somewhat – to closer to freezing temperatures – during the day as we drove into the park.
There are many kinds of animals to be seen in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but we encountered only a few of them, including those in the pictures below.We did spend a lot of time looking for moose, and also hoping that we would not run across bears when we were by ourselves. Only the bears cooperated. A couple of people in the car managed to catch sight of a moose one day, but there was no place to stop for the rest of the folks in the car to get a view. We came back to the same area of the park a few times without success.
The kids left us after our explorations of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was quality time that was well spent, and without their assistance we could not have been able to experience all that we did. After their departure, the two of us headed out further west in our rental car.
Our destination was the Sawtooth National Recreation area. Along the way, we stopped at the Craters of the Moon National Monument. This is a really strange place with bizarre landscape. The remains of ancient lava flows and their aftereffects dominate the area, making the place look like it is of another world.Apparently astronauts come here occasionally to train. There are some caves that have formed in this area, and I managed to crawl in and out of one of these and do some exploration (spelunking?!) without hurting myself. The area of the Craters of the Moon is active from a volcanic perspective. The National Park Service site states “The time between eruptive periods in the Craters of the Moon Lava Field averages 2,000 years and it has been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption.”
The drive past this park took us through the area occupied by the Idaho National Laboratory, a place that I had not known about before. Apparently, this is one of the historical centers of nuclear research in the country. It is still active. There are a few nuclear reactors still in the area, and nuclear waste is also stored here. I suppose the location makes sense considering how sparsely populated this part of Idaho is, and how far it is from major population centers.
We spent the night in a small town called Bellevue in the Sun Valley area of Idaho before heading for the Sawtooth Mountains that lay further to the north. As with our drives earlier on in the trip, this one was spectacular. This was in spite of the fact that the weather did not cooperate too much in the early part of the day. We had to drive through intermittent events of rain and snow fall.Just beyond a mountain pass over Galena mountain, we arrived at the headwaters of the Salmon river, also called the “The River of No Return”. We drove onward to the town of Stanley. The place looked like it was out of a Western Movie, but a more modern version. It felt like the major form of transportation in this part of the world was the pickup truck. The popular fashion statement seemed to involve clothing with camouflage design on it. The Salmon river flows past Stanley on its way north along this section of the road.In general, many of the small towns that we drove through in the countryside during this trip could be considered “cute”. The few commercial buildings in town would mostly be centered around the one main traffic intersection on a main road. There could be the town’s only traffic light at the intersection. There was usually a gas station. The towns that were not too far from the tourist areas would have a few restaurants and drinking holes, and perhaps a motel or two, some of them new and modern. I did notice a Buddhist establishment in at least one town. Young people seem to find jobs in some of these places. Perhaps they keep them alive.
The stop at Shoshone Falls in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, took place the same evening that we visited the Sawtooth Mountains. It happened because of an encounter we had the previous day at the Craters of the Moon. A fellow visitor had shown us pictures she had taken of the place. The waterfalls are impressive. They are also called the Niagara of the West. The waterfalls happened to be on our way back to Salt Lake City. Not many people visit, although we did see the obligatory busload of Chinese tourists.We spent a significant part of the next day on our way back to Salt Lake City at Antelope Island, located on the Great Salt Lake. Antelope Island hosts a popular state park and is reached by driving over a causeway from the mainland.The island is dedicated to outdoor activities. We were limited in what we could do because of the pre-trip injuries. We did a little bit of hiking on the easier trails. In general, these trails were not that well maintained, nor well marked.
We made it to a beach to check out the salinity of the water.You do get a view of Salt Lake City from a distance from certain viewpoints on the island. The Wasatch mountains dominate the background.I was hoping to see more of the local flora and fauna on the island. That did not happen.
The final day was spent visiting the sights in Salt Lake City. The city is small enough that you can cover it on foot. The main attraction is Temple Square, where you can see the outside of the Mormon Temple, and visit their chapel and Tabernacle. They have visitor centers where you can learn more about Mormonism. It is an interesting experience, and there is no pressure. Salt Lake City is the seat of the Mormon religion.We caught a performance on the organ at the Tabernacle. After a visit to the nearby Utah State Capital Building,we headed back to our hotel. Autumn was very much in the air in Salt Lake City.We went to the Saturday evening service at the Cathedral of the Madeline later on in the day, went out for dinner at a sushi restaurant after that, and finally called it a day.
And that was the end of the vacation and the visit to the four northwest states.
We flew back to Maryland the next morning. (That’s Salt Lake City in the background in the picture above!)
The first of a series of blogs with more details of the trip can be read here.
Lunch was somewhat hurried affair that day in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We had only about an hour between tours. We had gone to one of the restaurants our tour manager had suggested, the one that we had not selected the night before for dinner. We were recognized as we approached the place – and welcomed! Unfortunately, there was a delay in the food getting to the table, and I had to leave half of my quinoa soup behind. Since Pavel, or tour manager, was also at the restaurant, I was a little less concerned about Broz, our local tour guide, leaving without us. Anyway, we got back to the hotel in time – but barely.
Sillustani is about 45 minutes away from Puno by road. You travel on the highway to Juliaca for a while, and then take a turnoff towards Sillustani. The ride on this second road is short. The road also ends in Sillustani. We were dropped off at the parking lot for buses, a fair distance away from the ruins we were visiting. We had to make our way further on foot. You could see our destination, the hill with the funerary towers of Sillustani, in the distance.We walked past a little hamlet. There was a setup for an open market on both sides of the street. Not many of the locals were out selling their stuff at that time. I noticed a few signs for paid restrooms. Another business opportunity for the locals!
You could see the remains of a hailstorm from the day before beside the road we were walking along. The funny thing was that we had also been caught in a hailstorm in Chinchero, on our way to the Sacred Valley, a few days earlier. The hill on which the tombs of Sillustani stand lies on a peninsula that juts out into a lake called Lake Umayo. The lake is much smaller than Titicaca, and it is not that well known. We climbed past the edge of the lake as we entered into the area of the park. You could see signs of human activity along the shore of the lake. We were told that there were reeds that were harvested from this lake, but that these reeds were not used in the same way as the totora of Lake Titicaca. The picture below was taken after climbing halfway up the hill. You can see two kinds of funerary towers in the picture. Both of these kinds of towers are from pre-Inca times. The one towards the bottom of the picture below is older, from a period of time called the Tiwanaku epoch. The tower at the top was built by the Aymara, an indigenous people who came later. The Aymara were later overtaken by the Inca during their period of ascendancy. The funerary towers belonging to the Aymara are called chullpas. The Aymara respected the ways of their predecessors, and this is reflected in their adaptation of the use of vertical towers for tombs. Their designs seem to be even more sophisticated than that of the Incas. Unlike the Incas, they cut their rocks to specific sizes to fit in regular patterns. The outside surfaces of the rock were also flattened perfectly, unlike some of the rock used in Inca constructions. The difference between the two architectures in the picture above is striking. We saw tombs of both kinds in Sillustani, mostly in a state of disrepair.
We climbed further up the hill to get a closer view of the first of the chullpas.This particular chullpa was completely broken on one side. You can see the smaller chamber within the structure at the bottom. This is the chamber within which people were buried. Many people (often from a family) could be buried together in a tower. The bodies were placed in a fetal position. I got the impression that they were placed sitting up. People were buried with some of their belongings. As an aside, the Inca practiced mummification. They used to bring out the mummies of their ancestors for big occasions, and also “consult” with them for big decisions. I do not know if the Aymara practiced anything similar.
The chambers were apparently quite short. A height of five feet was mentioned.There are two other chullpas that have survived on the hill at Sillustani. We next visited the place where they were located. In the picture below, you can see that we were prepared for rain during the walk. The weather had been threatening for some time.The two chullpas are at the head of the peninsula on which Sillustani is located. As we crested a rise in the area of the chullpas, the grand vista of Lake Umayo opened up in front of us. The view was simply amazing, especially with the threatening storm clouds around us. This was the kind of grand view that one expected to see on the shores of a well-known lake. This looked better than Lake Titicaca!Even though the weather was threatening, we had to take an additional moment or two to celebrate, because, at 12,800 feet, this was highest level to which we had hiked during the entire trip. It was even higher than Puno! (It is true that we were at a higher altitude at the Continental Divide, but we did not do any walking of significance when we stopped there.) We had hiked about a little less than a mile at this point, and climbed a couple of 100 feet during this time, and we were feeling fine in spite of the altitude (although I did hear Broz breathing quite heavily in certain sections when we were climbing, when he was trying to get ahead of the rest of us).
The chullpa in the picture below looked completely intact on the outside. You can see how tiny the opening to the burial space is. You would have to crawl to get inside. I read somewhere that these openings point to the east. It is the direction of the rising sun.The rain started falling about this time. We could observe the lightning bolts in the distance. Then came the distant thunder. The storm was approaching.We started making our way back to the bus. It was all downhill from there. We were able to pick up the pace.We were a little wet by the time we got back to the bus, but it was not too bad.
We asked Broz if we could see some llamas and alpacas on the way back – if it was not raining. He offered to take us to the home of one of the locals if we wanted. We accepted the offer under the condition that we were not disturbing the occupants of the home. Little did we realize that the occupants of the home we were about to visit were used to receiving visitors regularly.
There were some animals tied up in front of the compound. This is a llama.This is an alpaca.And this is a hybrid of the two animals above.All of the animals pictured above are members of the camelid family. There are also other types of camelids in South America.
The arch at the entrance for the compound included the usual two Pucará bulls on it.There were a couple of storage rooms in the compound including this one.The folks who live here raise the domesticated variety of cuy. (More about cuy in one of my earlier blogs in this series.)The inside of the living quarters was tiny and crowded with stuff.They had some food laid out next to their cooking space for the tourists to look at and sample. The lady of the house stuck her hand into one of the still steaming pots in the cooking area and pulled out a few potatoes of different kinds. Broz cut one of these potatoes and added a paste on top of it. The greenish-grey paste was basically a local clay mixed with water. He then ate the piece of potato. A couple of folks from our group also sampled the potato with “mud” on it. They said the clay was tasteless. It is supposed to be rich in nutritional value (the picture in the link I have provided may be of the same place that we were at!).
In the picture below, Broz is showing us a bottle of some medicinal concoction that they use that has a snake in it. It looked somewhat intimidating from closer up. He is holding the piece of potato that he is eating in his other hand.Here is a closer look at the cooking space.The man of the house was working in front of a separate building, creating items from alpaca wool to sell to the tourists. There was a display of such items.We returned to the bus after looking at their wares, after unsuccessfully trying to bargain down the price of a shawl that they were selling.
We headed back to Puno and our hotel after this stop. We were done with trips for the day. Happy hour was happening at 5:00pm. Pavel, our tour manager, was buying us drinks. Essentially, since this was our last day of touring, this was an opportunity for us to get together casually as a group, and for Pavel to solicit some feedback about our experiences of the trip. Pavel also gave us initial instructions to prepare us for our impending departure from Lima – to get back to the USA. Some in the group were actually departing the next day, immediately after dinner. We ourselves were going to spend the next night in Lima and depart early in the morning the day after.
Since we had already visited the two restaurants in Puno that had been recommended to us, we had to ask around for suggestions for other places for dinner that night. A restaurant that was right on the Plaza de Armas was recommended by others in our tour group. That was where we headed.
Night was falling. We could get a partial view of the cathedral across the plaza from the the restaurant where we were having our dinner. We were on the second floor and next to a window. Dinner was fine, but we had to wait for about an hour for food to be served. We would have preferred to have crashed out in bed earlier rather than later after another long day of visiting places.
It was about this time during the trip that I finally began to consider the fact that it was going to come to an end soon. After this one day of visiting places, there would be two more days of travel as we headed home. Then it would be over. It was all happening too quickly. But that is the nature of tours like this. One day you are exploring, and then before you even realize it, you are back in the comfort of your home. Anyway, having been on trips like this in the past, it was a feeling that was less disconcerting than in past times.
Soon after breakfast, before the tours for the day started, a few of us decided to make a short visit to the Cathedral in the town square nearby.
Some of the locals were already out and about, setting out their wares for the tourists.This church is of Spanish origin and was rebuilt in the 1960s after it had burnt down. It has an interesting facade. The cross in front is most interesting since it includes both Catholic and Inca symbols on it.The inside of the church was more traditional.Close by, at the center of the central square, or the Plaza de Armas, is a statue of Colonel Francisco Bolognesi, a hero of the war with Chile in the late 19th century.Soon after we returned to the hotel, we set out on the trip to lake Titicaca with the rest of our tour group. We were visiting the Uros Floating Islands on the lake. We had to first walk from the hotel to main road to catch the bus to the dock.
Lake Titicaca is the largest inland lake in South America. It is bordered by Peru and Bolivia. At 12,500 feet, some call it the highest navigable lake because it can support bigger ships. It used to be that you could travel between Peru and Bolivia by ship. We were told that it takes about 10 hours.
The lake is quite deep and supports a variety of fresh water fish and birds, some of them unique to the area. It has a rich ecosystem. Human beings inhabited the area even before the Inca times.
As a tourist, there is probably a lot to experience in the area related to the lake, but we had time on the tour to do just one thing, and that was to visit the Uros floating islands.
The bus trip to the boat dock did not take much time. This was a view of Puno from near the dock.Here is a tourist boat approaching the dock area, probably one that takes visitors to the Uros Islands. The lakeside in that area actually did not look very inviting.On our way out to the islands in our boat, we passed this luxury hotel that was once a prison. I hope it was worth it for the people staying there.The islands were not too far from Puno. The boat had to pass through a narrow channel to get to them. These guys were monitoring entry to the floating islands.Once we got through the channel, we entered an area where there were a large number of floating islands set in an approximately circular configuration. There were boats going hither and tither, from one island to another. It was immediately obvious that this space was a destination for tourists. It was not always that way for the Uros people. They did not always depend on tourism.
The Uros are an indigenous people who have been living on their floating islands since even before the Inca times. Their traditional way of life was based on fishing and hunting of birds. There are still some Uros who practice this way of life, living on floating islands that are farther out in the lake. In general, this seems to be a difficult way of life which is slowly disappearing as the young people move to the mainland.
The floating islands are constructed from totora reeds that are harvested from the lake itself. The reeds are used for many purposes, including food and medicine.
We were taken to one of the many islands in that space. You can see that the islanders in the picture below were expecting us.Once on the island, they sat us around in a semicircle for a presentation. They talked about their way of life. There was demonstration of the process of building an island.The base of the island is made from the roots of the totora reed. Bunches of totora roots are bundled together and they are anchored to the bottom of the lake to keep the island in place. Next, the reed itself is spread out in layers over the base to create the foundation on which life takes place on the island. You can actually feel the island move when a passing motorized boat creates waves. It takes a little getting used to. Our particular island was more than 20 feet above the bottom of the lake.
The totora reed is also used to build the huts in which they live and the boats that they use. The boats are called balsa even though they are not made of balsa wood.As time passes, the totora reeds begin to rot and the layers of reeds that form the island need to be replenished. The floating islands also have a limited lifetime. (It sound like a difficult life.) The islands are of different sizes, and generally support a small community. We were told that the one we were visiting had about 20 people.
The demonstration included a show of how the homes were set up on the reeds.Somewhere along the line, I began to feel that the demonstration was beginning to take on the appearance of a comedy show that was being put on for the benefit of the tourists. I felt a little bad about the fact that this was part of what the Uros people felt they had to do to survive. It felt like they were going through a certain loss of dignity in the process, and we, the “rich” tourists, were playing our own role in this process.
Some of the people of the island came forward to talk to us about themselves. The person to the left is the elder on the island, and the the rest of the people were part of his family.You can see a couple of solar panels in the picture above. Electricity was brought to the Uros people in the late 1980s by the then President Fujimori. The metal building in the background is actually some kind of chapel.
We visited some of the living quarters, all of which were made of the totora reed. Space was really tight in these huts. After that, they had an open market to sell some of the trinkets they had made. The lady in the picture is the village elder’s wife.In the picture below, our local guide, Broz, is showing us that the islanders hunt birds with guns that they make themselves. (Broz indicated that he had spent a few months living with the Uros people on their islands in order to learn their ways. This was a part of his training.) They also make a kind of jerky from the dead birds, and consume the eggs that they lay.We decided to take a ride in a balsa boat belonging to these islanders to get across to another island on the other side of the expanse of water. As we left the ladies sang some of their traditional songs to wish us adieu.As we were leaving, I took picture of the island that we had just been on. To the left you can see one of the new composting toilets that is being installed on the islands. (Things seem to be a little rough today on the floating islands when it comes to attending to the call of nature.)All of the tourist activity in the area was very obvious as we were rowed across to the other side.The yellow boat in the front of the picture below is typical of the area. We were sailing on a similar boat. It can carry quite a few people.We landed on an island which seemed to be the focus of the most tourist activity in that space. It had a regular restaurant and bathrooms, and the tourist presence was actually obscene. I could not wait to depart.
Some final notes about the Uros people. They have health issues, and a short lifetime, partly because the water that they consume is a little brackish. There is salt in the water because the mountains that form the Andes rose from the sea level at some point in the history of the earth. They have salt in them. The water for the lake comes primarily from rivers that feed into it.
There is a small medical facility on one of the islands for the care of the people, but they have to go to Puno for anything more serious. As I mentioned earlier, the population is also in a state of decline as young people leave. Also, the Uros today use the mainland for some of their activities – like for the burial of their dead. They do not mind using newer technology. Some own motorboats. Although I did not see this with my own eyes, I suspect that they must use mobile phones.
We could get a view of Puno from a distance as we departed the islands.I did see a few birds in the water as we were returning, but was unable to take any good pictures. I certainly saw a coot, and also another bird with a blue beak. My research indicates that there is more than one kind of waterfowl in the lake that has this characteristic.
Here is a picture of the last passenger ship that used to sail across the lake. The SS Ollanta is still available for charter trips these days. It is berthed at Puno when not in use.We had to get back to the hotel quickly after returning to shore at Puno. We had a short time for a quick lunch before the start of an afternoon trip to our next destination. It turned out that the only people who had signed up for this optional trip was our small group of seven people. The trip to Sillustani that afternoon ended up being another great highlight from our visit to Peru.
Our room on the fourth floor of the hotel had views of some of the mountains surrounding Cusco. This is what daybreak looked like. This was going to be one of the longer travel days of the trip. We were about to go on a bus ride that was expected to take about 8 hours. We were going from Cusco to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
The trip started off in a small bus that was to take us to Gate1’s bus depot closer to the edge of town. It seems that their bigger buses were not allowed into the area of town where the hotel was located. We were going to transfer to a bigger bus at the bus depot.
Here are some street scenes along the way. Billboards like the ones below are a characteristic of cities all over the world. Inca Kola, advertised on the delivery truck below, is the national soft drink of Peru. For some reason or other, the significance of Inca Kola to the Peruvians had not been noted by the tour manager or any of the guides. Some folks from our tour group did try the drink during this visit. The general consensus was there was nothing noteworthy about it. Maybe the management had a good reason not to talk about it!I could not help but notice the mess of cables on the lampposts lining the city streets. This is fairly typical, not just in Peru, but in many developing countries. I have no idea how people keep track of where particular cables go, and for what purpose.I was surprised by the size of Gate1’s bus depot when we arrived there. There were many vehicles in the facility, pointing to the existence of a very big operation out of Cusco. The bus that we got on for our onward trip to Puno was big and comfortable. It even had a restroom that we could use while the bus was moving – so that we could minimize bathroom stops.
We got out of the city of Cusco, and on to the highway to Puno, shortly after we left the depot. In a little while, we entered a big and wide valley with mountains on both sides. The valley was quite lush, but it was also better visible from the other side of the bus from where I was seated. The others who had the view seemed to be enthralled by it. I was enjoying the view of the green mountainside beside the bus. There were plants and trees, and flowers of the fall season, and even little streams.
The first stop was at the village of Raqchi. We first visited a school that Gate1 supports financially (for equipment and buildings) . Gate1 supports 28 schools in all in Peru. We met with the kids and interacted with them. This was an elementary school setting. There were children in a range of ages.It was a fun time. They sang for us and we sang to them (try singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”).
We visited the ruins of the Temple of Wiracocha in Raqchi. This huge structure used to once have a roof over it.It looked very different from the other temples we had seen thus far in Peru, which were usually open structures on tops of hills. This is what remains today of the temple.Other structures have also survived from the time of the Incas in Raqchi, including warehousesand some living quarters.
We passed by the small village plaza and the open air market area. There were shops lining the pathways, manned by locals selling small trinkets and souvenirs to the tourists. I also went to the small church that bordered the plaza. It was an addition to the town from the 20th century.On a wall in the church was a picture of the Last Supper at which cuy was being eaten. If the reader has been following my blogs about Peru, he or she will remember that we were not able to see the more famous version of this picture in the cathedral in Cusco. So, it was a very nice surprise to see this particular picture here, in a humbler setting that seemed more appropriate.An old caretaker silently appeared from the back of the church as I was walking around. He started talking to me in Spanish. I did not understand a word he was saying. He might have also indicated that I could give some money to light a candle, but I was not trying to follow carefully. I regret that I did not do that.
All of us got boxed lunches as we boarded the bus once again to continue our trip.
The railroad track from Cusco to Puno, and the Urubamba river, also ran through the valley, and beside the highway, we were traveling on. The Urubamba looked like a modest stream at this point. It was hard to imagine that it grows in volume over distance to become a significant tributary of the great Amazon river.A short while after that, we passed the place where the Urubamba river begins. There was smoke from a fire that somebody had set in the vicinity of that location. The place that was pointed out to us had the look of the remains of an old crater. Soon after that, we reached the Continental Divide and the highest point of the bus ride. We were at an altitude of 14200 feet.Being a railroad fan, it was a great thrill for me to see the train from Puno to Cusco stopped at that location. It looked like a regular stop for the train, and it also looked like the train was going to be stopped for a while. Passengers had gotten out of their carriages and were walking around. This train is meant for the tourists. It is considered one of the highest railroads in the world. Considering that the train does not operate every day of the week, I was very fortunate to see it.We continued our bus ride on the Altiplano, the high plains of the Andes. Dramatic and wide open landscapes lay before our eyes. The place looked lightly populated.We did pass by a few small villages and towns. Here are some random pictures.I am quite sure that the people who live in these parts, at these altitudes, are very hardy. I wonder how tough life is for them. I wonder if they are a happy people?
During the bus ride we were shown some videos to keep us occupied. They were all related to Peru. We saw a movie about Thor Heyerdhal and the Kon-Tiki expedition. In the 1940s, Thor Heyerdhal sailed the Pacific Ocean for the first time in a raft that had been designed to the specifications of the ancients of Peru, i.e, their indigenous people. He managed to sail from Peru to the Polynesian Islands, depending primarily on the ocean current for movement. Thor was attempting to show what the people of South America (and more specifically, Peru) could have populated the Pacific islands, and might have even brought elements of their culture with them. Apparently, there is even some suggestion of ancient South American building practices inherent in the design of the statues on Easter Island.
A second video that we saw was about the practice of child sacrifice among the ancient religions of South America. The indigenous people believed that the mountains are gods. In those days they used to sacrifice children to them and bury them on mountaintops. The bodies of these children are being uncovered in recent times by archeologists. It was difficult to watch this video. While many of the practices of the old religions seem to invoke the human connection with the forces of nature and the earth in a somewhat harmless way, this particular aspect of their practices was in my mind extremely cruel, and, in the end, hard to even understand. I had a hard time just swallowing the fact that the child who was about to be sacrificed sometimes knew what was going to happen to it, and reacted in a way you would expect scared children to do. There is evidence in this regard in some of the remains that have been found.
Our next landmark during the bus ride was Juliaca, a commercial town. Juliaca was also the location for the airport that we were going to fly out of to get back to Lima. The town was not very impressive, and we were told that the local government was not very functional.An ice-cream seller on the street in Juliaca.A Bajaj autorickshaw service location in Juliaca.Crowded street in Juliaca.During this trip, I began to notice little structures like the one below all along the highway. I confirmed that these were memorials to people who had died in accidents. These look a little more permanent than the roadside memorials we see in the US.We got to Puno descending one of the hills that surrounds it. We got our first view of Lake Titicaca.The city looked big.Because of the city’s narrow streets, we were dropped off a few blocks away from our hotel. We had to do the walk between the hotel and the spot we had been dropped off every time we needed to catch the bus or return to the hotel. Walking the streets gave us a little better feel of the town. It certainly looked commercial.
Our hotel was next to the main square of the town. For dinner, we walked from the hotel across the square to one of the two restaurants that had been recommended to us by our tour manager. The two restaurants were next to each other, and it was an amusing situation, with folks from both restaurants trying to entice us in. We selected one, telling the other person that we would go there for lunch the next day (and he did remember us the next time were on that street!). The dinner was OK, but the loud, live, music, was disruptive.
It started to rain heavily as we were having dinner. We had to wait for any small break we could get in the rain to make a dash back to the hotel. It was an adventure crossing the streets that had now turned into swiftly flowing steams with a large volume of water. We had to do this while dodging traffic that did not want to slow down either for the rain or for the people walking across the street. But we made it back to the hotel in one piece in spite of the challenges presented.
Puno is a big city. Like I mentioned earlier, it is also very commercial, similar to Juliaca. We were told that this is so because of the closeness of this area to Bolivia. There is a lot of trade across the border. There is also a lot of smuggling that goes on, and an “illegal” contraband open market exists in Puno that the authorities turn a blind eye to. In fact, the authorities apparently shop at these places themselves.
Puno is supposedly not that well developed for tourists. We were warned a few times to be cautious about the nature of the food that we consumed, and the water that we drank. We got a daily quota of bottled water from Gate1 to keep us safe and hydrated at the high altitudes. We did have a few people in our group get relatively minor upset stomachs at some point or the other during the travels. One person in our bigger tour group had severe stomach problems (that actually seemed a little scary) towards the end of the trip.
Puno is at an elevation of 12,500 feet, which makes altitude sickness more of an issue for visitors than in some of the other places that we had been to. The hotels have oxygen tanks to help visitors with their breathing if needed. We saw the tank in our hotel being used in the lobby. We had folks in our group who were feeling the effects a little bit.
We were tired after our hike to Saqsaywaman and the walk back to town. It took us a little while to find a suitable restaurant to have our lunch at at in the Plaza de Armas, the central plaza. Restaurant fronts were not always obvious during our search,but you would also have agents from these restaurants approach you on the street with menus, to try to entice you to enter a door that could lead you to a some hidden place somewhere, perhaps even up one or two flights of stairs.
We settled on the Mistura restaurant, across the plaza from the Church of the Society of Jesus which you can see in the picture below.We enjoyed our lunch. It was a chance to relax and catch our breath.
The food was well presented when it arrived.At this restaurant, as in a few others, we were each given a complementary drink. Some of us had Pisco Sour, a cocktail that originated in Peru. I did not find the drink that compelling the few times I tried it during this trip. Another popular non-alcohohic beverage in Peru is Chicha Morada. That was tasty. (We were disappointed to find out later on in the trip that chicha morada can be bought in 2.5 liter bottles from the supermarket just like any other industrially produced drink.)
My alpaca dish was tasty. The meat has a distinct and light flavor to it. It also had a good consistency for chewing. Yum!I coined a name for the french fries on my plate – Jenga fries! I also partook of some additional liquid refreshment during lunch. It was needed after all the exercise that had been done in the morning. You can see what remains of my drink in the glass in the background.
While we were in the restaurant, we saw many plates of cuy being brought down by the waiters from the kitchen on the floor above us. A tourist couple sitting at the table next to ours had ordered the same dish, wanting to try it at least once before they departed Peru. They seemed to enjoy it.
After lunch, we wandered around the plaza for a while (click on the picture below).We spent more time at the Plaza that we wanted because of a shopping expedition that took longer than expected. We did a couple of rounds of the plaza while waiting.
We would have liked to go into the churches around the plaza. The cathedral (in the picture below)was supposed to have a somewhat famous painting that showed a guinea pig being consumed at the Last Supper.
We were disappointed to find out that the church was charging an entrance fee. How unseemly! Moreover, they did not allow the use of cameras within the church. That was the end of that project. Even the Jesuits just across the plaza were doing the same thing as the cathedral for admission to their church.Here are a couple of more pictures from the plaza.A statue of Pachacutec stands at its center.(In addition to this statue, I saw at least two other statues of the emperor in different places around the city.) One can also see the statue of Christ on the hillside in the background in the picture below. That hill is next to the one Saqsaywaman is located on, and in fact you can take a trail from Saqsaywaman to this location.We gathered together after the shopping was complete and continued our exploration, walking towards the big indoor market (or mercado).We walked past the Arco de Santa Clara.to arrive at the market.The market itself was quite an interesting place to wander around. It was huge inside.You could buy almost anything you needed for the home, including foods, and other kinds of stuff. They had a section with counters at which you could buy fresh food and sit down and eat. These were very small places where you did not necessarily get a table to put you food on. Here is one instance. There were many other such counters.It was beginning to get late by the time we were done with the market. We walked back to the hotel using the back roads. On the way we passed crowded streets, on one of which a street market seemed to be underway.The pavements were packed in some of the streets.You saw some interesting food in the store fronts.And you always had to be careful to avoid getting hit by road traffic.Once past the markets, we continued our way back to the hotel. We walked through a neighborhood that looked somewhat questionable. The group of people in the background in the picture below are near a building from which a lot of noise was emanating. It might have been a music club, one that was open early in the evening.But we did arrive at the Jose Antonio Hotel safely.
I was completely exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel. Some of us must have walked around 6 miles, and we were also not used to walking at this altitude.
But the evening was not over yet. We still had to go to a dinner at a nearby restaurant that had been arranged by the tour group. The food was good, but I was still full from lunch. I barely survived. I had to make an extra effort to avoid falling asleep at one point. I crashed out early after we returned to our room. We had a long day of travel ahead of us the next day.