Lake Titikaka

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June 13th 2009
Published: June 13th 2009
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From Cusco we got up early in the morning (again) to get a bus to Puno (which is situated on the shores of Lake Titikaka, the highest navigable lake in the world and c. 8,000 sq km in size). We had not booked a bus in advance so rocked up at the station at 7.30am (which was reportedly when the buses generally ran from). After a bidding war between two rival tour operators we eventually got a bus for 10 Soles for the 6 hour journey to Puno (about 2 pounds vs the 55 dollars we spent getting from Lima to Cusco). They say you get what you pay for and you know you are on a classy bus when there is a sign on the toilet saying "no pooing".

We met an Irish couple on the bus who were coincidentally staying at the same Hostel as us and so we went out for a meal and a drink (only one as all these early mornings are taking a toll on our ability to stay up past about 9 - which has resulted in us being virtually tee-total throughout the whole trip) with them. The restaurant was apparently a hit with the locals, although within about 10 minutes of being there we were the only people in the whole place. It did serve some "local cuisine" including guinea pig (cuy) and llama (alpaca), so being the true cosmopolitans that we are, Joey went for guinea pig and Sarah for the alpaca. To be honest, both meals were OK but nothing to write home about; the guinea pig in particular was served with the head and claws still attached and, whilst this was a bit weird, once you got over this it was actually pretty tasty but there were only about 2 mouthfuls of meat in the whole dish.

The next day we went on a guided tour of the islands of Lake Titikaka. This involved a boat trip to 3 of the Islands on the lake, Uros, Amantani and Taquile. First stop was Uros, which is actually a set of smaller man-made floating islands formed from alluvial deposits covered with several layers of reeds. We were greeted by the local inhabitants upon disembarking from the boat who were all dressed in day-glo coloured clothes. The island we visited is home to about 5 families, whose lives revolve around making handicrafts to sell to tourists and fishing/hunting for their food. We were given a demonstration of how the islands are made and were taken on a trip around a few other islands on a traditional reed boat.

We then headed for Amantani where we were to stay the night with a local family. Here we were met by our "mother" for the night - Marsalina, who took us up the hill to her home. The homes on Amantani are pretty basic - no electricity, DIY flushing toilets in the back garden and cooking on a wood burning stove. The house was set around a central courtyard, with a smaller courtyard off which the kitchen was situated. Our room was in one of the buildings on the main courtyard, which was surrounded by pretty flowers. We were provided with 4 blankets as it is that cold here.

We had lunch after arriving, which again was basic but tasty. The islanders are too poor to be able to afford meat so we were vegetarians for the day. We were served some local specialities including quinoa soup (apparently quinoa is the best thing since sliced bread as it has few calories, is gluten free, will make you live until you are 112 and has many other mystical qualities if you believe our guide - i.e. we don´t) and muñya tea (again full of mystical qualities, including the ability to ward off altitiude sickness, heal the infirm and fly faster than a speeding bullet). All that aside, the muñya was actually really good, a proper herbal tea in that you put a sprig of the herb in a cup and pour hot water on it.

Later in the afternoon we went for a small hike up one of the sacred peaks on the island, known as Papa Earth. Well small in distance but it took quite a while as we were all so out of breath from the altitude (4,000m above sea level so the concentration of oxygen is lower than in Reading). We watched the sunset here and got harassed by small children to buy stuff, so of course Joey bought a wristband (he wouldn´t let me say bracelet), which seemed to label him as a buyer so we were harassed even more after that.

We ate dinner with our family, again simple but tasty. They didn´t sit with us to eat at the table, eating their meal at the other end of the kitchen, but then given our sketchy grasp of Spanish and complete lack of Quechua (their mother tongue) it would have involved quite a few awkward silences or even worse our usual tripe in which we say how beautiful everywhere in Peru is. After dinner, Marsalina dressed us up in the local traditional costume by candlelight as we were off to a local dance. Quechuan women seem to be the only women in the world who wear a skirt that deliberately makes their bum look big. They wear several layers of skirts, an embroidered blouse and an embroidered black shawl. For Joey, he got off lightly with an alpaca hat and a poncho. Everyone (there were about 20 people on our tour, plus their host families) met at the community hall for music and dancing. The local style of dance generally involves swinging your hands back and forth for the first half of the dance then being yanked around the room and under other couples raised arms for the second half of the dance until you think you are about to have a heart attack with all the physical exertion.

After breakfast the next morning we said goodbye to Marsalina and sailed off to the last island, Taquile. This is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is a very peaceful island with a lovely sandy beach at one end that we hung out on for a couple of hours - including a stint of beach football for Joey (which only lasted for 10 minutes as running at this altitude made it feel like your lungs would explode - good fitness training though). After lunch on Taquile we sailed back to Puno, and had dinner with some of the people from the tour.

We were pretty glad to leave Puno the next morning as we had found the altitude problematic, particularly Sarah who got pretty sick and couldn´t breathe at night. We loved the islands on the lake, but couldn´t remain there for any length of time due to the lack of home comforts. It was also quite political whilst we were in Puno as the Peruvians held a national strike closing down businesses and transportation over the government´s treatment of indigenous people in the Amazon region. Apparently the governent are attempting to take the indigenous people´s land to exploit oil, resulting in riots a couple of weeks ago in which 100 indigenous people were killed. Luckily the strike didn´t affect us and we made it to Arequipa as planned.


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