People travel and they talk. They form opinions and pass these on to friends and fellow travellers, they rave and condemn, they write guide books and online reviews. You listen to these suggestions, conduct some research of your own, add some salt, and decide whether or not to take them to heart.
“You can’t miss Lake Titicaca,” they say. They were right.
South America’s largest lake by volume of water and one of the world’s highest opens up before me like an endless sheet of velvet unfolded by deft and ancient hands. It seems to radiate blueness from the depths of its very blue, very deep depths. I am captivated, illuminated, intimidated, and without so much as a cursory glance at the touristy town of Copacabana, hop on a boat bound for Isla del Sol, the Island of the Sun – according to Inca beliefs, the birthplace of our life-giving fireball.
I spent two nights in the small village of Yumani, walking and exploring, communing with llamas and marvelling at the water visible in almost every direction. The island’s vegetation is green and cultivated in parts, but is mostly harsh, sun-scorched – either an act of reverence or disdain on the sun’s behalf, I couldn’t decide – and, strangely, eucalyptus are the only trees in sight. On my only full day there, I walked from the island’s southernmost point to its northernmost and back again. Alone with my thoughts, and all too aware of the altitude – of how quickly my breath escaped me when I climbed, and how quickly it returned when I levelled off – this is what I saw.
My first dinner was solitary. Cooked on gas and eaten by candlelight in a hut without electricity, it was the meal of a lifetime: trout cooked to disintegration in a red wine sauce; fluffy quinoa, grown down the road; an abundance of fresh veggies; my birthday book for company. On my second night, there were five new companions. You just never know who you are going to meet in the course of a single day.
I am writing this now from across the border, from the Peruvian city of Cusco. It is a city you are meant to love – all travellers, guide books, websites tell you so. I do not. The beauty of its architecture has been lost to me beneath a tacky waxing of tourism. Hotels, restaurants, Internet cafes and more touts and tour operators than you can say ‘No, gracias’ to in a lifetime line its ancient streets, making them appear inauthentic, like a film set.
In the course of a few days I have also come to resent absolutely the cost of forays into Cusco’s surrounding mountains. Hikes cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars and there appears to be no way around these prices. And so, tomorrow, I will venture to Machu Picchu without hiking there and will journey to the Amazon this weekend, for heat and humidity and mosquitoes the size of Boeings. After that, it’s off to quieter Peruvian places I hope, for hikes that make more demands on my legs than on my pocket, and for new adventures.