Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Aug 26, 2009
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Where I stayed
Amanti Island - Home stay

Flag of Peru  , Puno,
Sunday, October 18, 2009

We bussed it from Arequipa to Puno the day following our underwhelming trip to the Colca Canyon and we were excited to be on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I feel as though I have been hearing about the lake for ever and have wanted to visit for years. Not that I knew much more than its the highest lake in the world (have since learned this requires the disclaimer of īnavigableī) and people live there on floating islands...

We were doing another organised trip since its difficult to get to the outer islands without going with a group. This one though turned out to be a really good one, in part because of the guide Oswaldo. He made us repeat his name a few times because he says that everybody always forgets it, I think that might be in his imagination only because I wouldnīt have thought its a forgetable name... he was quite funny and Iīve included him in my really small sample to determine that Peruvians have a good sense of humour.

The first stop on the trip was Uros Island and it took maybe an hour to get out there through a channel through the reeds. The water is still and murky, greenish in places possibly from the reeds which grow maybe 1.5 - 2m above the water level. I find the story of Uros fascinating because there are so many intriguing things about it - Uros is actually a group of reed islands, maybe 80 - 100 little islands with 7 or 8 families living on each, although most of the islands are very close together, side by side. Back in the Incan time the Amaryn people who were indigenous fled to the lake and hid amongst the reeds in their fishing boats to avoid the Incans. They replenished the reeds their boats were made out of directly from the lake as they disintegrated so that they could continue hiding. Eventually they ended up building houses on their boats and then the islands.
The island itself felt very spongy, your feet sunk down into the reeds
so that you really had to lift your feet to walk and it felt almost as
if, if you were to jump, you would surely fall through to the lake below. Most of the islands accept tourists for visits in the mornings but all the groups are spread out, one per island, so you didnīt feel as though it was crowded. Each island has different colour schemes for the womenīs dress: blue and pink, green and pink, green and yellow etc so the area is very colourful. Because they get a lot of tourists its a well staged production - they had prepared a couple of demos for us, complete with miniature props, to show us how they built the islands and the boats and houses. Also how the women barter for goods in Puno. After that they showed us their houses, let us play dress-ups for photos :), showed us their handycrafts and took us on a little boat trip in a traditional boat. As we were leaving the island they all lined up to sing us a farewell song, in Amaryn, Spanish and English (the English song was an unusual version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star... LOL). It was all really entertaining and interesting.

After Uros we were back on the lake for our next stop, one of the outer islands - Amanti. They donīt have hostels on this island so all the families share host family duties. After we arrived we were introduced to our new mummies and daddies (Oswaldoīs vernacular, not mine), and promptly shown to our home for lunch. The walk uphill was gruelling, we were above 4000m at this point and in addition to my pack I was carrying an extra 2L of water and about 3kgs of fruit to give to the children, so it was a real struggle for me. Luckily Isabella understood and stopped frequently. Isabella lived with her two young daughters, Pisarra who is 4yrs and a girl of 8yrs whose name I couldnīt pronounce. Lunch was quinoa soup, cheese and two different types of potatoes... I can see why they were glad to receive the fruit!!

After lunch we headed up to the town square for a game of soccer with the locals. The pitch was cement so I politely declined and comfortably spectated... Half an hour into the game and the rain came - this was their first big storm for the wet season and it was coming down in buckets so we all retired to the īcafeī (a little house with a front section that had room for about 8-10 people) for cinammon-y hot chocolates. Not long after we arrived the older daughter from our house came to collect us to take us home, in case we got lost in the rain or something :) It was so sweet, but we had only just ordered so we convinced her to stay for 10minutes thinking maybe the rain would ease. You could tell she was restless though and anxious to get back home, she was probably worried what her mother was thinking, so almost as soon as we had finished we followed her back out into the pouring, and now freezing rain to get home. I didnīt have my rain jacket with me so I was feeling a little sorry for myself, but the poor girl had only sandals on and it was really, really cold. When we got home she had to put her feet virtually in the fire to warm up.

After dinner of more potatoes, we played dress up again. Oswaldo had told us earlier that day that it was going to be a costume party but I didnīt really believe him seeing as we didnīt have much stuff with us... However Isabella lent us some of her traditional clothes which we put on over the top of what we were wearing - two layers of the thick, bright cotton skirts, an embroidered blouse and the embroidered waistband to tie it altogether. And to complete the outfit, an embroidered head scarf which they wear here like a nun would... and then we were off to the discoteque for some traditional dancing. This was good fun and we looked hilarious, not really any boys to dance with though sorry so no stories from that angle... On the way home I slipped over in the mud from the earlier rain but the strangest thing happened - I didnīt get any dirt on Isabellas bright clothes, or on mine underneath. Now I know how their clothes always look so clean here, they have magic dirt!!

The next morning we were up early to travel onto another island - Tequile Island, about one hour away. Out here the water is crystal clear and very blue and it was a spectacular day. The lake really shined and in the distance on the other side of the lake you could see the sparkling silver of corrugated tin roofs in Bolivia. We hiked up and around the outside of the island to get to the town square where there wasnīt really much to do. We took some photos and had a bit of a look at their artisan market and a small photo exhibit of the local people and their customs and then sat down in the square for a half hour or so in the sun.

The best part of the trip to this island though was learning about their local customs, some of which are very unique, which Oswaldo told us about over lunch. For instance, only the men are allowed to knit on this island, its considered a very important skill! When a man wants to marry he has to prove his skill in knitting by producing a waterproof hat for the prospective father-in-law prior to getting permission to marry. If the hat leaks then the man has to go away for another year to improve his skill in knitting :)

Unlike other communities where we have visited where the women wear hats to signal their relationship status, on this island it is the men. Its a beanie type hat with an extended end (think the shape of a santa claus hat) - the end goes to the back for married, to the left means he has a girlfriend, and to the right means heīs looking... Also, couples must live together for one year before they marry and during this time the woman weaves a belt/back support thingy depicting stories of their year together. This contains their real hair inside the weaving for strength and the man wears it when working for ever after... I thought this is a lovely tradition.

After lunch we walked down the ī500 stepsī, which are apparently quite famous, though donīt really compare to the OMG stairs on the Inca trail... down to the dock to get back on the boat back to Puno. We arrived back at Puno late in the afternoon and decided to stay another evening and get up early the next day to travel to La Paz. The trip to La Paz turned out to be one of those frustratingly annoying ones where nothing turns out the way you expect. We made it to the bus stop by 6.30am in the morning hoping to get the direct ītourist busī - it costs more but in the scheme of things whatīs $20 when it saves you a few hours that might allow us to see more of La Paz that day - only to find that the tourist bus was running 4 hours late from Lima... So we took the īlocalsī bus that went via Copacabana (not the beach in Rio unfortunately).

It turned out that that bus really was designed for people terminating in Copa. since it stopped there for a couple of hours and we were meant to change to another bus to go onwards to La Paz. It wasnīt entirely clear which bus was going where so I count ourselves lucky that we ended up on the right one. We were in Bolivia by now but unfortunately the town has only one ATM that doesnīt take foreign cards, and we had no money... we had been told to come back to the street corner we were dropped at in an hour and a half but when we got back there were no drivers in sight (there were three buses waiting to depart). Then they turned up and one realised he had locked his keys in the bus so that drama had to be solved first... we were back on the bus more like three hours later. The view around the lake was really beautiful I have to say, but to get across you have to get off the bus so the bus can cross on a barge. I thought it might be easier and faster if everyone stayed in the bus while it went on the barge, until I saw the cross. Its really windy there and the water was quite choppy so the bus got a good 45degree angle swing on it from side to side as it crossed. I was glad to be taking a little boat instead... That added more time and by now it was clear that we werenīt going to make it to La Paz until at least 4/5pm. We were back on the road and I was just thinking what a crappy travel day it had turned out to be when I spotted some snow capped mountains out the window. We were high on the antiplano now and the Cordillera Real was on the horizon - grasslands with sheep and the odd house directly out the window with black, snow capped mountains as backdrop. Spectacular!! I took a heap of photos but given we were moving only a few turned out OK. Iīve put the best one in to finish off the blog.

Iīm īrecoveringī for a couple of days now in La Paz before heading onto Rio :):):)

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