Inka Express Bus from Cusco to Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Leaving Cusco on the Inka Express bus (allegedly the best bus), we headed off to Puno. The journey was 8 hours long, but there were 5 planned stops on the way for sightseeing. The price included lunch and a guide. We did not expect much for lunch. The guide must have used the phrase 'my friends' at the start of nearly every other sentence - and he did manage to keep talking for almost the entire 8 hours. Clive did not appreciate this a great deal and tended to wander off for a bit at each of the stops to avoid "the chat". The stops included a church (nicknamed the Peruvian Sistine Chapel, due to its painted interior), some Inca ruins, which ran alongside another part of the original Inca Trail and a short stop at the highest point of the trip (around 4500m, to see a snow capped mountain). Lunch was at a restaurant in a town along the way and was much nicer than the polystyrene box meal that we had expected.

Puno was a lively town. When we arrived there was a fiesta in full swing. Westayed three nights and each day there was some sort of march or street celebration happening in the streets and plaza. Lots of dancing teams and bands all showing off their skills and finery. Excellent fun! The army also had to get in on the act by marching double time around the Plaza with machine guns and rifles with bayonets fixed! Maybe they thought the dancers were going to get a bit too lively!

Our trip on to Lake Titicaca was a highlight of our time in Peru. We started off the day rather early and jumped on a "Fast boat" at the docks . The Lake is 165km long and has the distinction of being the highest navigable lake in the world. It is also the largest lake in South America, is fed by melting glaciers, and is positioned in both Peru and Bolivia. Of course, we got to see only a small part of the lake and its inhabitants.

Our first stop was Uros, a group of the "Floating Islands" found all over thelake. These were really interesting - they are artificial islands, built by the islanders from the reeds that grow in Lake Titcaca. All the women on the islands were dressed in traditional and very colourful costume and were waving to us as our boat passed by to invite us into their island. Hopping off the boat onto the island was a strange feeling as the island itself was bouncy, a bit like walking across a matress!

The locals wanted to explain (mostly in mime) about their way of life. Luckily our guide was able to translate for us. The islands are more like platforms that are about 2m deep, with about 2-3 families living on each. The islands are anchored in position to the bottom of the lake, as though they were around a village green (except of course, that it is water between each island). If they decide they do not like their neighbours, the residents simply move their island to another position. If they don't like their family members, they simply saw off part of the island and tow that away!

Life for the islanders is all about the reeds. Their houses are built from the reeds, as are their boats, and their tall lookout towers. The reeds are also used for food (not particularly tasty!) and for fuel. The island we visited has three families living on it, plus a few chickens and guinea pigs (which had the most palatial guinea pig housing - made out of reeds - that we have seen so far).

After "chatting" to the women, we went for a ride on their big reed boat, (a bit like a gondola) around the other floating islands that make up Uros. Two 20 year old women rowed this huge boat around. What was a bit surreal, was that that the remaining women on the island serenaded us from the shore, complete with arm actions to the songs. At first we thought they were singing traditional songs, but then we noticed that they gave us a rendition of Skye Boat Song (Speed Bonnie Boat). Auld Lang Syne and a few other well known ditty's. (Clive named them the "The Four (Muffin) Tops", for reasons which will become obvious if you look at the photograph!).

Leaving Uros, we jumped back on our fast boat and headed off to Taquile, a real island a further 35-45km out in the lake. The boat dropped off nearly all the other passengers at the main jetty, a bit of a tourist spot, where they were faced with the famous 525 steps up to the village. We, and Spanish couple, stayed on the boat and it took us 6km to the opposite end island where we hopped off to trek back to the main jetty, stopping off on the way for a chat with some locals to hear how they live on Taquile, some lunch and a spot of traditional dancing. The trek took about an hour and at one point we could look out across the lake to see the snow capped mountains in Bolivia as the day was so clear.

Unfortunately, I was a bit sick (altitude sickness or tummy bug, not sure which), Fortunately for me, the other couple seemed to be therapists of some sort and were able to make me feel much better by using pressure points on my back and hands. They were from Spain and although conversation was limited by our Spanish and their English abilities, they were a lovely couple and I felt much better with their help. Clive did not though, as he had to carry both his bag and mine, which were a lot heavier than they might have been as we were originally thinking that we would stay on Taquile for a night.

Next stop Arequipa.
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