Squishy islands and terrible food...

Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
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Trip End Dec 11, 2006


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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Richard

Having had a good night's sleep on Amantani, which did my back the world of good, we had a breakfast of corn pancakes and jam with more muņa tea before thanking our family, taking some photos of everyone together (once I could get the timer working on the camera that is...) and waving goodbye. Lusmila then took us down to the dock to meet the rest of our group where we could compare notes on our experiences. The views were mixed with some people having had a good time (us included) and others struggling with the language barriers, particularly where there were no children to help out as their Spanish tended to be much better than their parent's. It was also a little sad to see how much of a commercial enterprise the home stays are, there must have been about 30-40 tourists staying on the island that one night alone and we were told that each day a similar number would arrive and stay. Some of our group also told how their families were disappointed only to get two people when they had enough room for four. I'm not sure why I thought the stay would be more special and select than it obviously is, it clearly provides much needed income for the island and I supposed that in this day and age it is not surprising that anything which can be expanded as far as possible will be. If you are going on a home stay on the island than all I can say is that we had a good time and you do see a very different way of life, however, you should realised before you go that the whole set up is quite commercialised and it can be difficult to avoid the feeling that you are on a conveyor belt of tourists coming and going from the island.

After leaving Amantani, but not Lusmila who was catching a lift to Puno with us on the boat (more on that later), we headed back out onto the lake towards the Uros floating islands. The floating islands are part natural, part man made, the local communities using naturally occurring totora reed beds and then placing cut reeds on top to create islands large enough to live on. The islanders are traditionally fishermen but tourism, naturally enough, is now their biggest earner.

We went to the island of Khana Uru where our local guide explained how the islands were made and then gave us some of the totora reeds to try. After stripping off the outer husk they tasted rather like celery/cucumber; not bad but I wouldn't want to live on them. Fortunately, the islanders are mainly fisherman and don't just eat reeds and we saw some of their locally caught trout drying in the sun. On the island we saw the traditional forms of teepees made out of reeds (although strangely the only such teepee on Khana Uru housed guinea pigs not people!) and the more modern huts now favoured by the islanders. We learnt that the huts are re-thatched every year and can be moved around with just one man at each corner, necessary when the island and the huts are constantly being tended and remade. After squishing around the island for a while, it was like walking on a bouncy castle made of reeds, we were taken on a boat also made from reeds for a tour around the local area. Fortunately, the tour did not last too long as the two small men paddling us around with two tiny paddles really had their work cut out. Needless to say their obvious efforts at pulling ten tourists around the lake using tiny paddles earnt them a sizeable tip from the group!

After the reed boat ride it was back on our more modern craft for the trip back to Puno. On the way back I mentioned to Fiona that Lusmila and the boat captain seemed quite cosy but was told that I was making things up. Shows what girls know as it turned out that Lusmila and the captain had been seeing each other for six years and were planning on getting married! Having performed my victory dance to the tune of that old favorite "I told you so..." it was time to return to dry land again and our hotel in Puno. Thankfully our room was different and although I felt sorry for whoever was stuck in our old one at the top, I was just glad it was not us again. Unfortunately, having had a great day so far our evening was spoiled by what was by far the worst meal I've had in a very long time. We went to a different restaurant from our first time in Puno and the change was not a good one. I ordered chicken and mashed potatoes (my stomach was still recovering from the altitude, hence the baby food) and while the chicken was okay, the potatoes were vile. I've never had chewy mashed potatoes before and it's an experience I am not in a hurry to repeat. Some of the other food ordered by the group was equally bad: Ann, our group's lone vegetarian, ordered the vegetarian pasta and received dry pasta topped with half a bag of frozen vegies and no sauce whatsoever, and Fiona's pasta sauce looked like ketchup diluted with milk and tasted grim. After the great meal we'd had on the first night in Puno it was a real shame to have had such a bad meal and it certainly left a nasty taste in our mouths as we headed home...
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