Thursday, 13 November 2008

Her name was Kathy, she was a Weegee...

At the Copa - Copacabana... During our entire time staying at the small Bolivian town on the edge of Lake Titicaca, it was impossible to lose the silky tones of old Barry ´the nose´ Manilow. Yeah, I know he is infact crooning about the one in Brasil, but still... It is a lovely wee place, quiet and relaxing after the intense noise of La Paz. You can see the Bolivian Navy out in full strength. They have a wooden hut and a sentry guard but the only sign of boats are the tourist ferries and Donald Duck paddlers edging the shore. We boarded one of the ferries to the the Isla Del Sol, the island where the mythical Manco Capac (and his sister), the founder of the Incas, is said to have merged from. Very pleasant it was too.
From Copa... (see if you can´t stop yourself singing along now!) we crossed the border into Peru and the town of Puno. We were just in time for Halloween. Unfortunately, they have imported the same American model that the kids at home prefer these days too. Only 2 handmade costumes were spotted and there was certainly no signs of the 30min routine I was made to rehearse and perform on doorsteps before I would even dare asking for a sweet or two. Good fun all the same. The next 2 days were the traditional All Souls day, where families take flowers to the cemetaries to remember their deceased relatives. As a result, the town was fairly quiet. However, in the afternoon we chanced upon a local 6 aside tournament. Of course, we did the right thing; bought some empanadas (pies!), Inca Kola (Irn Bru!) and settled ourselves down for a hugely entertaining afternoon of footie!

Back in 1947 a motley crew of adventurers, bored now that the high adrenalin challenges of WW2 combat were behind them, set out on a high seas adventure across the Pacific. Their skipper was a Norwegian called Thor Heyerdahl and their boat called the Kon-tiki was a raft made entirely out of balsa wood and native Peruvian materials. Thor wanted to prove that it was possible that the first settlers to South America migrated from the Polynesian islands. He used expert raft builders from Lake Titicaca to construct the raft using ancient Incan methods. The journey was a success but his theories remain controversial.
Even further back in 1862, a grand British party of mules and men began transporting the 2766 pieces of British made ship metal from the port of Arica to Lake Titicaca, some 3810m above sea level. Put together, the 210 tons of finest Victorian engineering would assemble two ships, the Yavuri and the Yapura. Sadly, someone forgot to pack the Airfix instructions and someone else underestimated the magnitude of the hostile political and environmental landscape that lay ahead of them. Some 8 years later, on Christmas Day 1870, the Yavuri was finally launched onto Lake Titicaca. The Yapura made it a few years later but, indignant at being left behind, changed its name to the Puno.For the last 12 years a crew, led by Captain Carlos Saavedra and an endearingly eccentric Britsh lady called Meriel Larkin, have been painstakingly restoring the ship. Meriel Larkin´s family were former Clyde shipbuilders. When we visited it, it was weeks away from being finished. The Captain was extemely proud. Learning of our Scottish roots he pointed out that all the ship´s instruments were made in Leith. And there was another ship rusting in the port, called the Coya, that was made in Dumbarton! It is quite a story and the restoration work is beautiful.
The Captain now plans to retire by touring the world for 10 years. His itenary was vast, obscure and made our escapade seem like a skip through the Meadows in Edinburgh. What did stand out was the part where he plans to tour the Stans and learn Russian. A remarkable man and a remarkable ship.
I wonder if, a 1000 years from now, the remnants of these British built ships will inspire future ethnologists into crazed expeditions tracing the possible migration of peoples from Victorian Britain to Peru? Sadly, the relatively short lived art of Clyde shipbuilding doesn´t look like it will last that long for anyone to pass on to the future ethnologist just how they did it. Well, there´s always the internet. :-(

On a brighter note, we saw our first batch of live, wild guinea pigs running around on the grass on the shore next to the ship. How cool is that?!

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