Trip Start Oct 17, 2012
Trip End Mar 27, 2013

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Flag of Peru  , Loreto Region,
Thursday, January 3, 2013

Its not just a silly name for those of us on the english speaking realm. The Nazcas, one of Peru's pre Spanish indigenous groups, believed that human beings were formed from Lake Titicaca. Something to do with aliens... It is also the largest, high altitude lake in the world... whatever that means. The former has always intrigued Lydia making it a must-see for us while in Peru.

Like every other town in South America, Puno is chalk full of "travel agencies" trying to make a buck off of the gringos. Can't blame them, but this makes for some serious confusion when it comes to planning your itinerary. Do you need one of these guides? Is anything available to do on your own? We ended up going to the iPeru government run tourist info booth with these questions and they were more than helpful. We learned that we would be able to go to the dock in the morning and take a public boat to several islands that day. This would be unguided, which we were happy with, and included a much smaller price tag.
We get to the dock at 7am, find a boat that is headed to two islands that day and head out for some street eats for breakfast: egg and squeaky cheese on a roll, a banana and some coca tea.
On the boat, there is a mixture of savy tourist, like us, and some actual Peruvians. The boat is slow and it takes 45 minutes to get to our first destination. Meanwhile a guy gets up in front and introduces himself , talks a bit about the islands and the lake and makes all of us state our name and where we are from. I guess we did get something of a guide anyway.

The first stop is the floating islands of the Uros. There is an additional fee of 5 soles to enter the island, paid directly to the "island president" that comes out to our boat. This is met with some backlash with other passengers as one tourist came to that island yesterday and they only charged her 3 soles. At any rate, we enter and are amazed at what is going on here. The islands are entirely man made consisting of weaved reeds piled on top of each other then anchored in with rope and a stake at the bottom of the lake so that they float but do not wander. The Uros tribe escaped the main land to the lake to avoid being conquered by the Incans. This did work, though the Incans did find them on the lake, they did not see it necessary for them to be conquered as they were not a threat living on handmade islands and being a small population. Since then, they have continued existence with a population of about 200 today. Their blood lines, however, are no longer pure having had some mix with a second indigenous group. Their entire existence is dependent on these reeds that grow from the lake. Not only are the floating islands made of the reeds, so are their homes, boats and knick knacks. They even eat the roots of the reeds. We come to an island which is set up for tourists where we sit on benches made of reeds, are explained how the islands are built by our nonguide and then are able to explore a bit. Each individual island is relatively small and houses around 7 families with about 25 islands in total, all very close together. After, we take a boat ride in one of their reed boats to yet another island where they are selling handicrafts. The fact that tourism is so prevalent in their small culture is quite sad and obviously cheapens the experience. However, we are still fascinated by the Uros and their unusual ways.

Back on the boat to the next island of Tequille ( not tequila). After over 2 nauseating hours, we arrive and are greeted by a dozen or so children on the dock all dressed in traditional clothing. This consists of a knee length puffy skirt and blouse for the ladies and calf length black pants with a blouse that ties around the neck and a short vest for the males. These kids are absolutely adorable and, we assume, are just off school. To get on to this island, there is yet another fee of 5 or so soles, but this fee was included in our boat ticket price for some reason. We have two hours to spend on the island where we can walk around wherever we want. The island is small and consists of lots of small farms. All people are dressed in traditional clothing. The men especially are interesting to note due to their long knitted cap reminiscent of Ebenezer Scrooge's long night cap. The caps the men knit themselves representing marital as well as social status depending on the colors used. This island doesn't seem to be quite as effected by the tourism as the previous island since it is bigger and they obviously have additional trades (farming and knitting to name two). The island of Tequille was conquered by the Incan's back in the day and there are some ruins to see.

We start our walk up a long and continuous hill. If we weren't aware of the altitude before, we are now. This is killer. Along the way, there are kids selling adorable woven bracelets of thousands of colors for 1 sol (40cents) each. Of course, we indulge getting a few at every 3rd stand or so; the kids are so cute and the price is just right, not to mention we need a minute to catch our breath. It's around this time our not guide comes over to us to chat, get our names for a third time and offers some munce leaves. Munce smells a bit like spearmint and holds some of the same properties as coca leaves when it comes to being at high altitude, not to mention it tastes way better. We were happy to learn of this new plant but were really trying to shake this guide off as he is clearly showing signs of a crush on Lydia. We get to the, very tiny, center of town where there is a clock tower, church, a large workshop of knitted wares, a small museum and a handful of restaurants. We plan on eating lunch somewhere around here when our guide finds us again and says we are all to eat together in 30 min or so. We walk around the handicraft shop and are awestruck at the fabulous handcrafted goods. Once again our guide finds us and purchases a bracelet for each of us. In hindsight, we should not have accepted the free bracelets. Looking back, we also wish we would have purchased a few souvenirs here. The quality was the best we have seen in Peru for handcrafted knitted pieces and the price the same. At the time, it was only our second day in Peru and we didn't understand what else was out there and felt weird buying right away (or even at all given our strict budget). If anyone goes to this island remember to buy here for yourself and please pick us up a scarf or something :)

Our group met up and we continued walking to have lunch together. We go in to what seems like a private home and have soup, and trout (complete with its' tail attached) with rice and veg. Though its obvious our guide gets some sort of kickback on this, the food was good and we got a chance to eat some trout from the lake which this region is known for. Trout, by the way, are not native to the lake and are only 1 of 2 types of fish that live in Titicaca. After lunch, our guide brings out some traditional costumes and goes in to detail about each one. When he gets to the cloak worn on he head once a woman is married he calls Lydia up to try it on. Oh man, how embarrassing. After the meal, we continue walking to the opposite side of the island to board our boat. Throughout the remainder of the walk we have to constantly walk faster or slower, avoiding the guide at all costs. He's getting very touchy and vey talkative. After many Kodak moments are created we get to the boat and Lydia immediately pretends to fall asleep to avoid the guide. The boat takes several very long hours to get back to Puno. Once we finally arrive, we are once again bombarded by this guy who asks our evening plans and for our email/facebook, whatever. As if once we leave, we could create an online relationship? After a few awkward hugs and several lies about leaving that night and boyfriends in the states, we are finally free to leave. We leave feeling creeped
out by the exchange but still very happy about what we saw today. It's amazing that there is so much culture that isn't tapping in to what the USA gives off. Throughout Uruguay, Argentina and Chile we have felt disappointed at times when we realize the influence our own culture plays on these countries. Its nice to see something new for a change.
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