Published: September 8th 2011June 28th 2011
At last, the strikes in Puno ended as planned and we made our way there 14hrs later than we planned. We are so glad that we didn´t have to miss the trip around Lake Titicaca (or pronounced Titihaha depending on what language is spoken).
On the overnight bus, we roasted in the heating and when the bus stopped in Juliaca, the other town affected by the strikes, an American girl had her bag swiped from under her seat by another passenger. She didn´t notice until too late and spent the next hour crying and talking to her dad....3am, poor dad.
The hotel in Puno graciously allowed us to use a room for free in the hour we had to prepare for the lake trip....like Machu Picchu we had to live out of our day packs. This time we even slept in our clothes. Unlike Machu Picchu it was far less comfortable.
The 2 day boat trip, at a very leasurely pace took us first to the floating reed islands (about 60) where 4000 Uros people live with cattle, pigs and fish ponds. How strange to walk around on thick spongy layers of reeds laid over the floating
roots. We took a ride in a reed boat across to another island.
The floating reeds are over a large area in the north of the lake and are a natural filter system keeping the lake water clean. the village islands are in a wide channel running through the reeds. The villagers share equally in the income from the tourists and it's these tourists that keep some of the culture and customs alive, eg the building of the large reed boats.
Then we continued on a 3 hr trip to our homestay island, Amantani, rocky and terraced. We had plenty of time to learn some basic Quechua, the language of the Incas and still widely spoken today. We were met at the dock by our hosts in their best outfits and led up a short, rocky path to the house. You must stoop as you climb through the doorway over the 30cm door step, into the small dusty courtyard. All rooms lead off this courtyard with a similar doorway. Our room was up a steep concrete stairway but we had to stoop as we walked along the verandah to avoid the roof. The only mod-con was a fluro
this is how we make an island
the reeds are cut off at the base and laid in one direction, then the other till a few meters thick. Floating sections are tied together and anchored. Houses are built on top, reed matting around a wooden frame.
light, solar powered I think. We used an outhouse near the sheep pen but there was no bathroom.
We were served a delicious lunch of vege and quinoa soup followed by fried fish with 4 boiled spuds (gradually working thru the 3000 varieties). It was cooked on a small wood-fired clay stove. The guinea pigs, about 15, lived in the hutch behind the stove and occasionally came out and ran around the room. This room also had a small table on dirt floor. The dishes were washed in a pan of cold water and dried with a dirty apron. One of my gifts to them was a tea-towel.
Jill and I explore the village. There's hardly a soul around. We meet 2 women from our boat. They are also exploring. The other option was to climb the hill for the sunset. Sounded like too much hard work to us. We find the villagers in the hall preparing for the dance.
That evening we were dressed up in local garb (over our own clothes) and taken up to the dimly lit comunity hall for the party. The path was through fields, over rock walls and small streams and
finally a rough path, all in the dark. Jill nearly ended up in a stream. The floor inside was of round gravel on which we all danced, a simple dance in pairs, walking on the spot to get our skirts swirling but quite exhausting at 3800m.
Everyone got involved. The band came in, with guitars and pan pipes. The women do the asking, even dancing with babies on their backs. Traditional dances were performed, similar to what we'd seen in Cusco and Colca Canyon.
Back at the house we climb to our room and into bed fully clothed, under 3 blankets that weight a ton and are as stiff as cardboard. During the night they slowly side off until the cold awakens you and you heave them back into place. The wind is now howling and rattling around the house. It sounds like a storm brewing and there are dark clouds hanging low in the sky next morning, but our guide assures us that it never rains in winter. Wednesday
We are up a 5 and see that we've brought sheep poo in on our boots. They deliver a shallow pan of hot water to wash with
and our last meal is gooey pancakes, straight, and the usual tea. We leave them with some simple gifts and depart. There's a market down on the beach.
The weather clears as we make our way slowly to the next island, Taquile, which is World Heritage listed because of the unique life style of the inhabitants. We hiked across it, up a long sloping path for an hour to the village then later, down steep steps on the other side (I'm glad it wasn´t the other way around). We were educated about the island over a great trout lunch at the village with a lovely view of the lake and island. Across the lake the large snowy volcanoes of Bolivia can just be seen.
As there aren't any public toilets away from the villages, if one is urgently needed, we are told to pick a spot with a view. We took that advice later in our travels.
Back in Puno, we see the damage caused by the strikers when they threw rocks at the banks in the mall. I think the banks are leaving the cracked and mashed security glass in place till they know the strikes
are well and truely over. The strikers are afraid that new mines will pollute water coming into the lake.
I can't really comment on Puno as we never really saw much of it. The view from our hotel was not at all pretty, although from the dining room on the top floor we could see beyond the buildings to the lake. Thursday
From Puno the road runs along the lake through semi-arid farming communities, fish farms on one side, agriculture, the other. Quinoa and wheat is harvested and stacked in tee-pees in the small fields.
At the border, we change all our Soles for Bolivianos, even the coins and almost forget to get our passports stamped before we walk up the hill to Bolivia. A few kilometres inside Bolivia is Copacobana. The hotel is very nice, high on the hillside and overlooking the beach, which is lined with swan shaped paddle boats and rickerty jetties. It´s pretty and ugly and dirty all at the same time. The hotel has deck chairs and hammocks in sunny gardens but don´t sit too close to the edge, there are pig pens below.
During dinner, lightning flashes outside and after
dinner as we return to our rooms, snow starts to fall. It's snowing????? Friday
Our guide, Juan Carlos, takes us down the scenic route to the beach to board a boat to Isla Del Sol. We wait ages and a few locals join us. Finally we're on our way, racing at the usual very leisurely pace, several other boats, packed with tourists on both upper and lower decks. With cold drizzle and light snow falling we arrive an hour later and as we start hiking up the hill, the rain stops.
Juan Carlos leads us along an Inca trail past a spring with 3 spouts, don't lie, don't be lazy and don't steal. The don't steal spout has dried up. That must account for all the theft. We follow a vague path between the terraces then down to the temple of an Inca fish god. We politely decline to leave him an offering.
We're then back on the slow boat to Copacobana. Early afternoon we're leaving for La Paz so we have just enough time to look around town, the square with it's pretty church and the markets and shops.
No 2 level buses in Bolivia
the reeds float
and the driver is closed off from the passengers with a door. This bus isn't heated so all are wearing hats, coats, scarves and gloves. We can only look out our side windows and those keep fogging up as it's a mixture of drizzle and snow outside. The road runs high along the lake and over mountains.
At one point we cross a narrow stretch of lake, the bus taking a barge while we go by small motor boat. We buy a ticket and are handed an old orange life jacket (just a token safety measure) as we enter the boat. It's engine cover is missing. This boat is a lot faster than the barge - and that's not saying much, but we don't know that. The passengers of several buses wait huddled under narrow awnings on the footpaths as a cold rain falls. Every time a bus comes along we wonder if it is ours, trying to remember what it looked like.
It's getting late as we enter upper La Paz, all factories and small business - flat, dreary, dirty, unfinished buildings. Then down into La Paz city, past the poor areas on the side of steep
slopes, houses of brick and mud brick.
Our hotel is in the middle of the business district right next to San Fransisco Square which is being remodelled so the street is closed off to cars.
From La Paz, we had wanted to ride down the Death Road, a 3m wide gravel road - big cliffs, down one side and up on the other - that winds 3000m down the mountains from over 4000m to the jungles below. 60kms without peddling. We had made a booking a few days earlier but it's highly recommended that you don't do it if it's wet because it's dangerous enough when it's dry. And it was wet. We rang Bernie of Downhill Adventures who said he was cancelling our ride the next day, but offered another company. Hmmm, I don't think so.
We were rather disappointed as that was the only day we could have done it. If we'd been younger and I didn't have a dodgy wrist, maybe we would have gone.
Bolivia is so cheap. Dinner for 2 for $7.50
There are more photos below