Published: February 21st 2011December 20th 2010
The frontier Bold
Border formalities on the Bolivian and Peruvian side were quite quick and the only delay was due to the large number of people on our coach all there at the same time. The tour guide on the bus gave us a information in 4 different languages about the lake and peru. On arrival to Puno we were put in a taxi and taken to a hotel, paying slightly more for a little comfort (about 8 pounds a night for ensuite) cos the lack of toilet seats, running water and hot showers had started to wear us down a little and we also had wi-fi! We ventured out around tea time through the more touristy streets to the harbourside food kiosks/restaurants for more trucha. Puno is a larger town than Copacabama and has a more industrial feel. There is a main square with a few older style buildings but other than that the modoratey of buildings are unfinished or look like they have half built it and tehn ran out of money. The heavens openened as we were walking back to the hotel and continued until the middle of the next morning.
The floating islands (Uros)
We got into our minibus and taken to the peir with a group of other tourists a mix of kiwis, two koreans and a girl from london. It had been raining hard since the early hours, not the best day to go to see some floating islands! We boarded a very comforatble tourist boat, after a short song from a local band and set off through the reeds towards the islands. Along the way we were pointed out, by the guide, the hideous looking Hilton hotel, which looked similar to the one at Iguacu falls both very imposing and ugly art deco style constructions in very obvious places, this one was on an island that we passed. After about 20 minutes we started to see the islands and peopleon them. We passed a community centre/health centre and school and then turned to where we got off the boat, by which point it had stopped raining. We were greeted by a number of islanders all greeting us in ... which we had been told what to say in return. We walked on the very bouncy compacted reeds to a small circle of reed benches. Here the chief of this particular island told us about the community, how the islands are built (compacting a certain type of reeds together and how they only have a limited life span) and how they feed and sustain themselves. We were then given some of the white part of the reed that they eat, but we were told has a laxative effect if you are not used to it so we only had a taste. There were huts arranged around this meeting place where we were and then a look out post. The huts were also arranged around a pond in the middle which had nets in it for fishing. Sam and I then got taken into the home of one of a couple of the villagers. The inside had a huge double bed with a huge mattress on it and a tv! They told us that they had recently married and these things were wedding presents off family. They also had a few month old baby who was very well behaved! The husband made his living by going fishing and then selling the fish to the mainland whilst the woman made woven goods which she showed us and we bought a cushion cover! We then took a traditional boat to another island only about 100m over a stretch of water. Sam had a go rowing it which was quite a task seen as it was a double decker! On the other island there was the Uros hotel and a place where you could get your passport stamped, which Sam duly did, and more lookout places to see the vast expanse of the islands.
We left the other members of our tour at the harbour as they got into a minibus and we walked back to our hotel stopping at a very local 'restaurant' for 'almuerzo' (set menu lunch) comprising of soup of with some kind of meat bone, pulses and veg in a broth, then fish and rice and salad finished with refresco (a sweet squash drink made from boiling purple maize and adding sugar). The whole meal cost 2.50 soles (about 65p). This was a taste of things to come! Quite satissified we continued back to our hotel then got in a taxi to the bus station.
Puno to Cusco
On arriving at the bus station the man that took us to our hotel when we first arrived in Puno appeared out of nowhere to present us some tickets, showed us where to pay the station tax and then sent us to our bus. It left on time, which seemed promising but after being told it was a direct bus and 4 stops later with about a third more passengers than the capacity of the bus with big bags in every available space we started to think we had got the wrong bus. The scenery was however, amazing as we drove through the hills. 9 hours later we arrived in a wet Cusco and got a taxi to our hostel.
Waking the next morning to more rain we chilled out in the pleasant surroundings of our hostel. We had arrived in Cusco on the premise that the volunteer project we were to join ran over Christmas. This was however, not the case. We spent the next few days getting to grips with Cusco, trying to contact a few orphanages which we could work at over Christmas (which came to no avail) and meeting the other volunteers. On the 23rd we attended the school Christmas party which was a rather crazy affair which most definitely did not break us in gently to the school. There were about 80 kids all really excited about getting presents. The party lasted from 3-8:30 (1.5hours longer than expected) and it included presents for all the kids, panettone and chocolate drink, a few entertainers doing tricks and it culminated in the most dangerous fireworks display I have ever seen, mostly due to the close proximity to everyone but the less said about that the better! We were all shattered by the end.
Christmas eve was another wet day and with the rain the temperature didnt rise much above 12degrees but that was nothing compared to the temps we were hearing of in England. We headed to the main plaza (Plaza de Armas) where the whole square was closed to traffic and had been turned into a huge market selling mostly artesan goods and a few other randon sections e.g. moss (presumably for nativity scenes). Yanapay (the project we were volunteering at) had a stall and the volunteers were all dressed up selling cakes around the plaza. We had not been asked to help out so we set about trying to buy eachother Christmas presents and presents for our secret santa which had a 20 soles limit. We had quite a successful shop but a less successful time trying to get Sam's camera fixed which had become quite temporamental since our salt flats tour in bolivia. The streets were packed with people and there was a definite buzz and excitement in the air, as Christmas was celebrated at midnight in most South American countries. This was something that we also abided by as all the volunteers, around 25 of us, were invited to Yuri's (the project's director) Mum's house for a meal and then secret santa and drinks. We headed there with the other volunteers at around 10pm. We were met by an amazing spread of food, this was followed by secret santa at midnight and then the drinks started to flow. We got home after a great night at around 4am.
Christmas day was an understandably late start. It did not feel like Christmas one bit although seeing all the family on skype did help! We spent the afternoon eating chocolate and watched elf. We had an early night ready for our trek the next day.