Tourist visits, Machu Pichu and Local protests leading to the hut down of roads..
13.07.2007 -17 °C
Okay so we arrived in Puno on the other side of Lake Titicaca on a bright day. With in a few minutes of being there we knew that we had preferred the Bolivian side to the river. Puno is full of tourists and locals trying to sell you anything and everything. Every step is accompanied by hassle from tourist agencies; restaurant workers, shopkeepers, beggars and of course pesky shoe shine boys (they were among the most annoying!!). We decided to book to half-day tours with an agency called Best way Travel, they seemed to be the cheapest option. (They’re not reliable and I would advise anyone to never use them!).
In the morning we visited the Los Uros Islands. Originally we were supposed to be visiting three islands according to the agency but it turned out to be only two of them. The islands are about forty in total at the moment but this number changes islanders fight and divide up islands or join them together. The islands are made up of reeds and are floating on Lake Titicaca. It was interesting to hear how they live and how the islands are made. To walk on them is really strange, you feel like your bouncing with every step. The first island was two meters in depth, yes the same height as Arjan, the islanders really enjoyed that fact and presented him with a chain. The second island was the `market island, souvenir stalls covered part of it. It was nice to visit the islands but it did feel a bit like being at a zoo. I found out that I would never make a press photographer, it felt a bit strange taking photos of the people, ah well I’ll just have to practice more.
The afternoon tour was to the funeral towers, which date back to Inca and pre Inca times. It was an interesting site but I felt the tour spent too long there. Also the guide was supposed to stop somewhere for a sunset photo but they raced back to town instead.
Both tours reinforced in us why we don’t like doing tours. You have no control over how long you spend at things. We booked our tourist class bus tickets via the agency to Cusco for the next day.
This is were we started to get annoyed with the agency, they sold us a tourist class ticket (basically a clean bus with a toilet, it was supposed to stop at one site for photos and be a direct bus.) The agency was supposed to pick u up at our hotel at 1.30 for a bus at two. By 1.50 no one had shown up, the owner of the hotel was really helpful and rang the agency to find out what was going on. Finally a young boy arrives to collect us (yes we were surprised too), we catch a taxi to the station were a girl from the agency is waiting for us with our tickets saying that the bus is due to go. We race on and sit down. Looking around us we realise that it’s a local bus and we’ve just been ripped off. We have no problems with local buses but it’s the principal of them overcharging us for it because they were too late to pick us up for the correct bus. So if you ever have to use an agency, don’t use them!!!!!
So anyway we made to Cusco, the centre is really nice. Upon arrival we already had a good feeling about the place. We spent a few days here exploring, visiting the Inca museum (was interesting to learn a bit about the sites we would visit), Museo de Arte y Monasterio de Santa Catalina (so much wealth in this place), contemporary art gallery (out of all the pictures and displays, I liked one picture only) and Museo de Sitio del Qoricancha (after the Inca museum this was just a summary version in four rooms and a corridor). A shot uphill walk led us to the site of Saqsaywaman (pronounced sexy woman). It was very impressive and we spent a long time walking around and exploring. Its crazy to think how much the Incas built and created in such a short time.
While we were in town we had checked into various tours for Machu Pichu but found them to be too restrictive time wise and expensive (about $130-180), so we decided to do it our own way . We decided to stop off on the way in the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo to visit the Inca sites there, (after all we had already paid for a tourist ticket, entry to 17 sites for 70 soles, 3 soles - $1). The sites were really impressive, especially the terracing for the various eco climates to allow the growing of various agricultural crops. Both towns were quite nice too. In Ollantay we got the train to Agua Calliente ($57 return); this is the nearest town to Machu Pichu (entrance $40, but hey its once in a life time). The town felt like any tourist resort in the canneries with people screaming out happy hour, 3 drinks for the price of one. In town there is the perfect place to escape and relax, the hot springs, ahhh... F
rom town we took the first bus at 5.30am to the Machu Pichu site, we wanted to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately the weather was bad, slight rain on and off all day and a fairly grey sky. But it still didn’t take from the site!!! The views looking down on it are amazing and you can sit for hours just gazing at it.
While walking through it you don’t necessarily appreciate the size of the site but with the terracing it appears to grow out of the mountain. We spent most of a day wandering around the site, feeling really happy that we didn’t do a tour; we saw the groups arriving and leaving in the space of a few hours.
We headed back to Ollantaytambo by train on the tenth and decided to spend one night before heading to Cusco again. The next day though there was a teacher and transportation strike. We heard a group walking through the streets shouting in protest. As the day passed the group seemed to grow, in the plaza they were holding placards and stones. They didn’t touch tourists (we even visited a local site were the Pumamacha, were the Incas were to have started according to local legend) but if you were driving a bus or taxi when you weren’t supposed to be a hail of stones, cans and bottles were thrown. Some taxis also ended up with slashed tires and some injuries trying to stop people touching their cars. Protest groups had blocked all the roads in and out of town with rocks, boulders and themselves. The next day the strike was supposed to have stopped but it was still going ahead, locally the group was getting bigger. A few fights broke out among the groups. We heard that in Lima, Cusco and Arequipa the fighting was worse, buildings had been set on fire, many people attacked and even some killed. The police were trying to stop the crowds with teargas. While we were in a local cafe near the square the police arrived to say that there was bomb scare, all tourists were to be kept indoors till they searched. They didn’t find anything. From the windows we could see a few fights breaking out over taxies and mostly people running onto large trucks to move to were the action was. We arrived back in the hostel just as a small bomb went off, no one was hurt. A lot of the time was spent running in and out trying to get updates. We heard about 3 policemen who had been stripped and stoned close to the town. The reports were mixed about them being dead initially and then much later to that maybe they were in hospital. Everything quietened down when more police arrived with weapons, tear gas and rioting gear. What started quickly and seemed to last a long time was quickly over as the government issued statements of arresting people. The police were still patrolling as we left town, earlier then we thought when it all started. On a side note the local stations news wasn’t carrying the story at all, but we could catch updates about the other towns on CNN and a station from Venezuela. The Peruvian government represtatives blamed Venezuela for putting pressure on them, if you ask around this is not the case at all. It was also quite ironic that the government here had slammed the Venezuela government for revoking a TV license to a station that didn’t agree with their policies but here the news was kept quiet locally. On one Internet page it only talks about the loss of tourism revenue. Just fewer than 2000 people were prevented from seeing Machu Pichu, they say that with them returning home disappointed and bringing their stories it could cause a drop in tourism of 10%. The country makes about $5 million dollars a day from tourism so it could mean people out of work and pocket.
Anyway it was a strange few days and though there is debris on the roads they seem to be passable again in some areas. Locals say it’ll happen again but they don’t know when. We’ll see and for the moment keep going...