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Published: April 13th 2008
We arrived in Puno on 4th April with the intention of spending some time seeing Lake Titicaca and also trying to arrange our transport and accomodation for our next stop Copacabana in Bolivia. Luckily for us, we thought, we were greeted off the bus by Jaime or "Jimmy" who immediately seem to take charge of our situation, we didn´t even have time to reflect on the fact that we hadn´t arranged to meet him or even knew who he was... some very basic traveller rules were being broken but, hey, he seemed like a nice enough guy and what´s more seemed to know everything about our needs - trip to the islands on the lake, bus to Copacabana, hostel in Copacabana.. he even commented that he thought our hotel was expensive for what it was and he knew of a better one if we needed it.
We didn´t see the signs... cheap leather jacket permanently done up, "official" looking pleatherette folder, a mouth untouched by modern dentistry (not that unusual in Peru it had to be said)... We booked a trip to the islands, plus a bus ticket to Copacabana plus asked him to book our hotel in Copacabana, which
apparently was owned by a friend of his. The prices seemed a little on the high side and we attempted some negotiation but this guy knew his patter... we got what we could.
As it happened, we didn´t sleep that well in our hotel... friday night is clearly "drink as much chicha as you like night" (Chicha = corn fermented into beer - smells revolting, apparantly lethal) and the combination of Peruvian frivolity and a particularly high wattage street light right outside our window did not allow for a good night´s sleep.
We were tired and vulnerable when we met Jaime´s the next day... arranged for 9.30, he showed up at 10am - we should have known. Like a hyena he sensed our vulnerability and immediately suggested we change hotel - he knew a much much better one, much cheaper, better standard, with windows but not noisy, better breakfast (actually breakfast had been excellent - scrambled eggs... mmm), he would arrange everything.
The following day we were picked up by Jaime´s tour bus (battered old taxi driven by his mate) at 7am heading for the boat to the islands. The whole trip involved visiting the islands
on the lake - Uros, Amantani and Taquile - over 2 days and staying one night on Amantani with a family - we were really excited about it. We boarded a "cruiser", to give it it´s generous name, and then watched as what felt like 1500 other backpackers boarded it too - the 30ft tub was literally creaking and pumping out the most revolting looking noxious fumes. I was worried, but i needn´t have been, the boat coped with the weight of all the recently bought Alpaca and the journey was just beautiful. The light around the Lake is just incredible - the lake is a deep blue and because it is so high (4000m) the air is unbelievably clear and pure - photos will demonstrate hopefully. First of all we visited Uros, which are a group of floating islands made out of reeds... we had been warned that this could be a bit touristy with the inhabitants performing "ceremonies" and singing for tourists etc. This was true but it was also very interesting to visit the islands and feel the reeds under your feet as it were, actually it was a sensation like the reeds would collapse any second
and you would fall through into the lake - could be a combination of being a big, fat tourist and wearing shoes - but actually one of our party did just that as the reeds gave way under him and he got soaked - too much scrambled egg perhaps?
Then the boat moved on to Amantani - it was so beautiful - and we were greeted on the quayside by representatives from our families in traditional dress - we were then allocated our home for the night. The unlucky islander was Martina, who took us wordlessly to her house. There we met her cousin Leticia who was to be our joint host for the night - Martina was 15 and Leticia was 17. Our room was undoubtedly the best in the house and was extremely cosy - no electricity so thank heavens for head torches and the loo was out the front - best not to examine that too closely plus an unusual smell pervaded the air - eau de sheep.
The deal was the family provided lunch, dinner and breakfast plus a room for the night - we paid 100 soles each for the whole trip including
boat etc (this is about 15 quid each) but were really unsure how much money went to the family - they seemed to have very little indeed. During the course of the two days it was very pertinent to see just how the family lived, they ate nearly all vegetarian stuff, meat was only for special occasions, hardly ever left the island and just led a very simple, very basic kind of life which they loved. It was a very peaceful place, or at least we thought that until dinner time!! After dinner amidst much giggling between Martina and Leticia we were handed a bundle of clothes and instructed to put them on before going out dancing. China White´s this was not - we donned our traditional gear - poncho for Nige, much more for me please see photos for full effect - and headed out to the Disco. Actually it was more like a youth club-come-cow shed with a table of particularly miserable looking types selling beer and coke in the corner and the band on the stage at the dark end, because the lightbulbs had blown. Poor Leticia, and all the other girls entertaining gringos, were forced into
dancing with us - mortifying for a teenager - and could hardly look us in the eye. It was all great fun, like a cross between morris dancing, greek dancing and reeling but much more frenetic. The music was awful and each "tune" lasted about 15 minutes so no polite excuses for a while. However the real stars of the show that night were the stars themselves.... we have never seen so many, so vividly - it felt like there was a blanket of stars in the sky - amazing - we slept like babies in the lamb chop air.
The next day we said our goodbyes to Martina, Leticia and a newly apparent father and set off for another island, Taquile, which was incredibly picturesque (just like Greece at 4000 metres!), had a trout lunch there and then enjoyed a very pleasant and warm trip back on the boat (the way out had been freezing). During our casual chit chat with the other passengers - environmental health officers from UK, software programmers from Austria, Students from US - we discovered that we had seriously overpaid for our trip - nevermind, what did we expect!!! We were really looking
forward to our new, plush hotel..... long and short of it.. it was a dump - noisier, dirtier, unfriendlier, worst breakfast and not even that much cheaper. Peru´s answer to Arthur Daley was at work - plus he hadn´t left our bus tickets and we were due to leave Puno at 7.30am sharp the next day. At 7.25 Jimmy shows up with another taxi mate and we make it to the bus in the nick of time.. only to discover he had schtupped us on the bus fare as well with a tasty 100% mark up!!! Again, what did we expect, you live and learn... We arrived in Copacabana fully expecting our alleged hotel reservation not to exist but as it turned out Jim had rung them after all, that morning, and luckily we got the last room in the house - the owner didn´t seem to know who he was at all!!!
So we spent a day and night in Copacabana - slightly less exotic than the name would suggest!! Though our hostel, la cupula was lovely and now we are in La Paz - initial impressions - bonkers !! Will update in next blog.
Louise and Nige. xx
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