Published: July 29th 2012July 10th 2012
Other than reading about Lake Titicaca in Guiness Book of World Records
as being the highest navigable lake, (I loved that book when I was in seventh grade) I knew little about that region and didn't really understand all that it had to offer. Originally, I wanted to go to Puno as a starting point to head over to Bolivia, but given the short amount of time I had, negligible Spanish, and the tiniest bit of fear, I decided instead to explore the region of Puno, the lake, and a group of people I had heard of who lived on "floating islands." I was intrigued.
I began by taking my trusted "Cruz del Sur" from Cuzco to Puno on a Friday afternoon so that I could visit Lake Titicaca and see some of the surrounding terrain and the inhabitants of this area. I enjoyed the time on the bus writing in my journal and generally just the opportunity to slow things down from all the usual hustle of traveling. The trip lasted about six hours but went quickly since I enjoyed the scenery so much. About two-thirds on the way to Puno, the bus pulled over on the side of
the road. All along the side, framed by the Andes Mountains, was a little open-air market filled with colorfully clad sales-people, souvenir stands, snack carts and roaming llamas. As soon as I got off the bus for our little break, I walked around to the other side and saw the image so popular when one thinks of Peru. A traditionally dressed woman, most likely an octagenarian, bowler had, a skirt of many colors, scarves and the like, sitting regally on the side of a stone fence which may or may not have been built by the Incas. I saw her and thought, "Wow, what a great photo-op" and then realized she probably had the same thought. She was already in her pose for the photo before I even said anything. So I paid and took the picture, ignoring the touristy feeling and just got it over with. But I do like the picture.
I shopped a little bit, perfecting my response of "Not now, but perhaps soon." It wasn't long before another opportunity of all things Peruvian presented itself when a young lady escorting a beautifully coiffed llama strolled past me. Yeah, it was certainly orchestrated, but it was
a photo I didn't have, so I asked about the pricing of said picture, (one solis) had a bus mate snap my photo and paid two solis. The young lady didn't have change, or so I was told. I bought a few snacks, held off on the souvenirs as I didn't want tons to cart around while traveling, and boarded the bus.
I was met at the "bus port" as I like to call it by Carmin, my guide for this leg of my trip. (I think Peru is filled with one-half Peruvians and one-half guides) who then procured a taxi and took us to my hotel, the Conde de Lemus,
a beautiful building across from a Spanish style Cathedral. Carmin sat me down in the lobby, where we discussed the itinerary for my stay in Puno. Essentially, my entire next day would entail being on Lake Titicaca visiting the people and islands of the region. In the meantime, I still had Friday night to plan.
I remember briefly reading about a WWII ship that was still docked in the harbor of Lake Titicaca. I decided that would be a good bit of history to explore, so I
asked the receptionist at Conde de Lemus how I could get to the WWII ship. Because it was on the other side of Puno, I decided to take a taxi to the hotel/ museum rather than try to hoof it. I had to pass through the hotel Sonesta Posada del Inca Puno first and then walk along the dock to the steam ship, Yavari
It was smaller than I imagined, which is not surprising since I have an overactive imagination. I had pictured a WWII Battleship with gun turretts, huge smoke stacks like the Titanic and army green, battle-ready color. That's not quite what I got. The Yavari was somewhat smaller, kind of like a battleship, Junior. I should have remembered though, this was a lake, not an ocean, with no real need for the type of ship I had envisioned. I thought it best to try and work through my disappointment, even after I saw the very plain deck and unassuming decor. But I didn't have to wait too long before all that would change, for very soon I would meet my guide, an efficient storyteller, knowledgeable seaman, and all around great guy who took great pride in
showing me every detail of his ship.
He asked me if I spoke English or Spanish, and I grew a little over confident and replied Spanish too quickly, because that's all he spoke to me from that point on. He took me to each section of the ship, pointing out every detail, many stories, and I think he told me that he used to work on the ship during the war, but, I'm not sure I would trust his answer given my Spanish. I made a little donation at the end of my tour and stopped in the hotel to have a speciality drink they made called "Lago Titicaca." How could I pass that up?
The next morning was pretty difficult as I had to get up at 6:30 a.m. for my day of sailing. I met Carmin down in the lobby, ready to jump in my cab and head to the dock. Only it wasn't a cab, it was some sort of cart / bicycle transport that I was supposed to ride in the front of while an elderly gentlemen in the back pedaled us to our next destination. At first I was like, "What, I love
it, this is crazy." Then, after a time, I realized everyone would be watching as I rolled down the middle of the street in Puno. Another crazy tourist. I think, though, what was really funny is that we soon picked up other tourists who were also supposed to ride in these colorful looking "floats."
On the same excursion as me was a family from England, a mom traveling with her two college-age students and two couples whose accent I couldn't quite put my finger on. It sounded like German, but with a Swedish accent. I later learned they were from South Africa; it was Dutch. I was the only one without an accent - wait, is there an American accent? Probably so.
We boarded our ship and headed toward our first destination, the Floating Islands of the Uros
. Sally, who took over guide duties from Carmin, gave us a little background on the two places that we would be visiting. The first islands we would stop by were actually made by humans out of a reed that grew in Lake Titicaca. We sailed through many of them as we left Lake Titicaca-it was exciting. It took us about
twenty minutes before we saw the indication of land, or reeds, I guess I should say.
While the ground beneath us certainly did not feel like land, I wasn't really that worried about sinking, although I did wonder how exactly it all worked. But I didn't have long to wait. Sally served as a sort of Floating Islands "profesora" and gave us about a thirty minute lesson on all things Uros. We sat in a semi circle around her while she shared with us how the Uros clean their teeth by chewing on the reeds, how they set up small houses, how the islands are constructed and the like. She also addressed the fact that the woman were a little larger than most women due to the fact that they did not get much exercise living on such small spaces. We also were taken inside the homes where we were able to ask questions, assuming we spoke Spanish. It was interesting to note that many of the homes of Uros were also powered by solar energy.
After visiting their little souvenir shop, we then took a small boat ride on one of their dragon boats made of reeds
for about ten minutes around Lake Titicaca. I had a chance to get some cool photos, speak with one of the women who rowed the boat, and take everything in. One of the coolest parts was climbing on the top part of the boat so you could see much more. That would conclude our trip with the Uros, except for their farewell, which included a few songs in their native language along with a few dance movements. They finished up with a song in English, their rendition of Row, row, row your Boat
The next leg of our journey would be over two hours long as we travelled to Taquile, a bona fide island for sure. It was a long trip and I spent time with the South Africans on the back of the ship, talking about their travels and mine. I also spent some time with the English family, who were also avid travelers. The majority of my time on this trip though was spent above deck, accessed by a small ladder. The railings weren't very high and it seemed to me that one rough wave could cause you to go tumbling over the side. But this
is where I had a great time. I listened to some great music while surveying all around me. It was quite peaceful and I was quite content to stay there until we reached Taquile.
Once we pulled into the harbor, Sally explained that the altitude here might also be difficult to contend with, and she wasn't kidding. The first thing I saw as I disembarked from the ship was a gentleman in brightly colored clothes looking over a railing at the sea. A picture perfect moment that helped set the tone for our visit to Taquile. The path we had to scale to get to the Plaza de Armas was incredibly steep. The stone steps were littered with exhausted tourists who had temporarily given up due to the lack of oxygen, trying their best to recover. I managed pretty well, and when I started getting too far ahead, I would stop to admire many of the items for sale along the way. For some reason, on Taquile, I seemed a bit obsessive about the woven bracelets for sale and I bought quite a few. These would be to help me remember my time in Peru, and to feel a
little rebellious, a world traveller, and laid back.
Almost at the top, I ran into a British couple I had met at a bakery in Puno who I had to help order stuff with my Spanish. Yay! They were super nice and we talked for a little bit. Then I committed a traveling faux pas in that I told them that aboard my ship was another family also from Great Britain. As though all people from that country must know each other. I was embarrassed and found an excuse to get out of there quickly.
At the top it was beautiful. We had to stop for a moment to let a herd of sheep run past us as we climbed, young boys and girls serving as shephards. We had a few moments before lunch so we had a chance to roam the small square and take in the beautiful scenery of Lake Titicaca and Taquile Islands. They had one of those posts pointing to the different directions of the world, although probably not accurate, fun to have your picture taken by. They also had a shop where local citizens of Taquile weaved, sewed, knitted the wonderful Peruvian hats,
scarves and chompas (sweaters) so popular here in Peru.
Taquile is run by a council of Elders who also serve as the peacekeepers. I guess they must be in pretty good shape since there are no cars on the island, but Sally said they almost never have any problems. It did seem to be a very tranquil place.
Lunch consisted of trout, rice and bread and drinks, all outside overlooking the lake. The conversation was wonderful, as the American, Brits and South Africans took in the surrounding and discussed all things traveling. After lunch we took a more scenic route back to the boat, bought our final souvenirs and head back to Puno after a busy day.
There are more photos below