Tuesday, August 7, 2012

True or Phallus?

Okay, the truth is, this post has only a tangential connection to the above title. It's really about what I did in Puno. But when I came up with the title I thought it was so witty that I had to use it.
There is, supposedly, a Templo de Fertilidad 18 kilometers south of Puno in the small town of Chucuito. I wouldn't have known this from my standard Lonely Planet, because I didn't read up on all the south shore towns, but in the Evil One's "Discover Peru" Lonely Planet (ie, the edition of Lonely Planet that tries to be like all those other travel guides with lots more pictures and lots less content) mentioned it at the beginning of the chapter on Lake Titicaca, and these kinds of places have sort of become my thing. So I went. However, after reading up on it some, I did take the place with a grain of salt. The statues are undeniably phallic in shape, but after reading online that they were of not-exactly-known origin, and had, in fact, been lying around the town until one of the townies decided they ought to set them up as a tourist attraction...well, like I said, grain of salt. Not nearly as funny as Haesindang Gongwon in Korea, but an amusing way to spend a morning near Puno nonetheless.
The real reason, though, that people go to Puno is to see Lake Titicaca (now, tell me honestly that the name doesn't make you giggle...or blush...inside every time you read it...) It's the world's highest navigable (meaning by large boats that need enough depth to move in) lake at an altitude of 12,507 feet high. It's also South America's largest lake (in case that question ever comes up on a pub quiz, I expect you all to be able to answer it). And it's also home to the floating islands.
These really blew me away, and I swear I'm not becoming an avid-enviro, but I couldn't help admiring how "green" they were. I wasn't sure what to expect in the way of electricity on the island I stayed on, but it was hooked up with solar electricity. The islands are completely created from layers and layers of those reeds, called totori, and they also use them to build houses and boats, although the boats, at least, also contain plastic bottles, which other than great recycling help give the boats buoyancy.
There's not a whole lot to do on the islands, actually - it was very relaxing, but trekkers (of which I sort-of qualify) are not exactly used to a lot of down time. So when the family I was staying with decided it was time to play dress-up the gringos, the Russian couple staying there and I got to experience traditional dress. That's all I'm saying about that one.
I also learned about local costumes at - where else??? - the Coca Museum. You might not be surprised that coca is still a big part of Peruvian culture...and I'm not just talking about drug trafficking. They chew the leaves and drink it in tea. What did surprise me, however, was just how quickly my fellow gringos jumped on the coca train. The tea is widely prescribed as an antidote for altitude sickness. Altitude sickness sucks, by the way. Feeling like a big fat slob because you're out of breath after one flight up steps is not fun, but the headaches that went along with it were the worst. And so I can understand how a miracle elixir like coca tea would be tempting for your average lowlander - after all, not only does it cure your headache but is supposed to make you smarter, funnier, and sexier. However, religion aside, I am almost definitely going to be taking a drug test when I get to Mongolia, and everyone I met who raved about how much they loved coca tea seemed to be forgetting something - that where we come from, it is, in fact, a drug. So I found myself a good farmacia and mimed a headache (not hard at that point), and she set me up with some nice migraine pills that fixed me right up.

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