First stop in Peru was the city of Puno, also located on Lake Titicaca. Once again the lake is the main draw here and the city itself didn’t offer a whole lot in the way of entertainment. But a side excursion to the Uros Islands was mildly entertaining. These floating islands are often referred to as “reed Disneyland” and I can definitely understand why that connection is drawn. Several of the islands seem to only exist for tourism purposes. When our boat docked at one of the islands, the Peruvian women greeted us with a less than enthusiastic rendition of “row row row your boat”. To be honest, in their brightly colored outfits, singing the song they very much reminded me of the animatronic dolls in Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride.
The “tour” of the island included the natives showing us their reed houses (which contained a tv and lights powered by solar panels), and the lady showing my group around prodded us to play dress up in her clothes. I of course choose a blue and yellow ensemble. Additionally, the guide gave a pretty thorough explanation of how they make the islands. While I found this interesting, I must say as an engineer, I didn’t have full faith in their engineering standards or construction techniques.
For the bus ride from Puno to Cusco, I choose the more expensive tourist bus option because it stopped at a few places along the way, most of which I assumed would be either informational or entertaining. Unfortunately the stops were neither. Because the guide spoke in both Spanish and English, his explanations took twice as long and I found it extremely difficult to listen to the same things twice (I can understand much more Spanish than I can speak). Overall a thumbs-down experience.
Once in Cusco, I found out about the chocolate museum and had to get there as quickly as possible. In this wonderful museum they teach you about how cocoa is grown, and how the beans are transformed into chocolate. They also do their absolute best to make a case that eating chocolate is a healthy addition to any diet – I really enjoyed that aspect… I took a “cooking class” where we took cocoa beans from their raw state (in which they are apparently hallucinogenic), toasted them until they began “popping” like popcorn, and then de-shelled them. An interesting drink involved the cocoa bean shells used to make tea. Even though I’m not normally a tea drinker, it was pretty good – apparently chocolate makes anything ok with me! The next step in this process of turning beans into edible deliciousness involved using a mortar and pestle and grinding the beans into a paste. At this point, the paste needs to be mixed for 24 hours. Then came the fun part, we were given melted chocolate and about two dozen different toppings and powders to make our own concoctions. I think my favorite option was putting quinoa into my chocolate trays. I would compare it to the texture of adding rice krispies, but with the added benefits of anti-oxidants (and now all of my free radicals are gone!).