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Published: July 22nd 2008
For those not aware of Puno, it´s a small town sitting at 3827m above sea level on the North shores of the world famous Lake Titicaca. The main reason people go there is to visit the floating and natural islands found in and around the enormous lake.
We´d come to Puno with Joe & Anna who we´d met on the Inca Trail and it was nice to be in a small group for a change, not that we mind each others company but it´s nice to have someone else to talk to every now and again! Our taxi driver took us to a really nice and cheap hotel and we were really pleased when we found out our rooms also had cable tv so for once we were glad we´d been ambushed into going somewhere a taxi driver had recommended. Our bus journey had provided us with very disappointing snacks instead of a meal and we were all starving when we arrived so after a quick pizza we went back to our room and made the most of the numberous tv channels... it´s amazing how much you appreciate the tv when you go for so long without it!
hadn´t made any plans for our first full day so when we found our Joe & Anna had made plans to visit the Sillustani funeral towers that afternoon we decided to take the trip too. The towers used to be used to home mummies in the pre Inca times and some are very well preserved, the site is also set in the most spectacular landscape with lagoons either side where there previously would have been volcano craters. Unfortuantley for us all the trip was led by the most dreadful guide ever who made the whole experience tediously boring! He spoke so slowly and at each stop you could see people becoming less and less interested in what he was trying to tell us. This was a shame becuase the site itself and what used to occur there is very interesting and we were keen to find out more about it.
On the way back we were pushed into visiting a ´traditional Peruvian village´. This in itself was fine and we all wanted to see inside the little mud huts to see how the farmer people really live but we didn´t appreciate the glares from the guide when we refused
Houses & people
on the floating islands
to leave a ´tip´ supposedly for the people because we felt sure that it would go straight in his pocket. It is also funny how the typical farmers have lots of items laid out for sale on the offchance that a tour might stop by!
After this experience we all agreed that as much as is possible we would try to stay away from the tours where you are hearded from place to place and expected to leave tips for all and sundry!
For our second day we´d all planned to visit Lake Titicaca and a few of it´s islands including the famous floating islands of Uros. At first we were pushed onto a tourist boat which would have meant having no time to have our own experience so we jumped off this boat, asked for a refund and found the boat that the locals use to get to and from Taquile island each day. This boat was full of the island people with just a few of us Gringos to make up the numbers.
We made our first stop to Uros islands where we were amazed that the floating islands literally are a bed of reeds
floating on the lake. I know we probably should have expected this but when you actually see it for real it´s amazing, the floor of the islands is just like walking though a rabbits cage with your feet sinking into the straw. Everything is made of reeds & straw too... boats, houses, tables, high towers to view from, seats.. it´s just fantastic. Unfortunately we had also learnt that the island people only live to around 60 because of rhumatism from the moisture under the island. After a quick look round the island we were off again bound for Tanquile, a natual island about 4 hours of the shores of Puno.
When taking local modes of transport rather than the tourist ones you have to expect that things may not run entirely to plan and you have to be prepared for a few glitches along the way. Our small glitch on the way there was that the boat started blowing our smoke and promtly broke down! After the smartly dressed captain poured some water into the engine it started up again and we were off after only a small stop of 20 minutes or so.
The best thing about
Boat made of reeds
These are the taxi around here
going on the local boat is the local people that you get to sit with on your journey. The people of Tanquile still wear their traditional outfits.. black trousers, waistcoats & hats with a white shirt for the men and wonderfully coloured skirts, jumpers and bowler hats for the ladies. They are all so happy with a smile on their faces all the time. Sophie sat next to a particularly cute little boy who kept her amused for the whole journey with his cute smile and game of hi-5 which he never tired of. The ladies pass the time by spinning wool presumably to make more of their gorgous weavings you see everywhere.
After our little hold up we arrived on Taquile island a little later than we had hoped and only had an hour to have a quick look round and something to eat. To get to the little town you first have to walk up about 400 steep steps which is so difficult when you haven´t eaten and are 3,950m above sea level where the breathing is very difficult. Anyway, we made it to the top and rushed to find a restaurant where we could re-fuel. The
Dale´s guinea pig dinner
(aka roadkill!) Sorry Holly!
restaurants on the island are more like people´s houses and they are all so friendly, we chose to eat in one particular house and had the most gorgous food. Unfortunatley we didn´t have time to visit the highest point on the island at 4,050m and soon wished we had more time to fully walk round the 6km2 but it was time to go so we made our way back to the little port to get back on our boat.
As we neared the boat we couldn´t believe what we could see... the boat was packed full of locals, empty bottles, gas cannisters.. people we taking up literally every inch on the boat to the point that it was listing badly at the back corner and looked moments away from sinking! There was no way we were going back on this boat because none of us fancied swimming back to Puno in -10 degree water. We asked for the captain but he had not yet made an appearence so we waited while yet more and more people crammed onto this tiny boat. Eventually the captain turned up and sympathised with our plight.. we had paid for a return journey after
Boy on Taquile island
In their traditional dress
all and really did need to get back! There were a few discussions and streams of people along with their cargo were removed and space was made for us. We did feel a bit guilty becuase this is clearly their only way of getting to and from the mainland and we could have taken the tourist boat option but we weren´t going to pay the extortionate amount the tour boats would undoubtedly have charged us to get back again.
We left the port after about 3/4 hour of various people coming and going.. bags of bottles being thrown on and off the boat, presumably for recycling. After about 10minutes the cabin started to fill up with smoke and we wondered what was wrong now.. the boat was still clearly overloaded and maybe the engine was struggling?! The peruvian locals didn´t look concerned at all and advised us to sit on the top of the boat to avoid the fumes which we quickly did because we decided that if the boat was going down then this would be the best place for us to make a swift exit! Another 10 minutes passed and the engine stopped altogether... what now.. we
were too far away from shore to want to swim and weren´t sure if local boats have GPS emergency systems either! An old local Peruvian islander told us not to worry though and this was all quite normal so we relaxed by playing hangman to pass the time.
The boat did eventually start off again and we are happy to say that we made it back to Puno albeit very slowly with other boats overtaking left right and centre! As a treat for the late arrival we got to witness the most fantastic moonrise over the lake which more than made up for the delay. We did all agree though that we wouldn´t have wished for it any other way becuase it´s adventures like this that really make it memorable.
On our final day in Puno we decided to visit the Yavari boat which Dale had seen on Michael Palin back in 1986. The story behind this boat is incredible having been built in Britain in 1862 for the Puno navy then shipped to Arica in southern Peru, from there it went 64km by train and made the final 350km across the Andes in 2,766 pieces on the
back of mules. The whole operation took 6 years.
The boat was brought as scrap back in 1982 by Meriel Larken for £3,000 and she has spent the last 26 years restoring her to her former glory. The boat has been restored to perfection with all the original parts and it´s such a lovely story that we really enjoyed our tour round the boat learning her history. The Yavari is actually the oldest boat in the world and has been so well maintained because she is on a freshwater lake at such high altitude therefore causing no rusting. Both Sophie & Dale hope that Sophie´s grandad enjoy the photos we took as we thought of him as we looked round.
Our last afternon in Puno was spent exploring the local market where you can buy literally anything.. we then realised why they don´t need Tesco´s when you have fantastic products like this each week! Sophie was particularly pleased to get one of the ´bags´that she´d seen all the Peruvian ladies using as she´d been after one for quite a while and had no idea where to get them.. she should have known to shop locally and not in
the tourist market! We also took a trip up to the Puma lookout which sits proudly above Puno town and provides a great viewpoint of the town and the lake beyond.
So we were then off to Arequipa where we hoped to see Condors, Canyons and the famous El Misti volcano...
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