Puno & Lake Titicaca (the Peru side)

Trip Start Oct 12, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

On this one I'm going to start with the trip down as that was probably better than Puno was. We had a choice of taking a bus trip straight, which took about 6hrs or a tourist bus which stops at a few places along the way and includes a buffet lunch and then takes 9 hrs in total (oh we could also take a train that takes like 11hrs and costs about US$250 for the cheaper train or the luxury train (like the blue train) for US$500 – yeah we decided the extra 2hrs just wasnt worth it :) or could have something to do with the fact the bus was only US$45 for the tourist stopping option :))

Anyways, so as you can guess we took the tourist stopping option (with Inka Express). And we were really pleasantly surprised. The first stop was probably the best and really a bit of a surprise for where it was. In this hole in the wall town, Andanuaylillas, only tour buses stop there (as I’ve mentioned before the Peruvian travel industry is amazing in bringing tourism to these tiny out of the way towns) but this one was worth it. So in this tiny town there is the most amazing Church. They actually call it the Sistene Chapel of South America, but that is probably pushing it!! :) It is so ornate inside with a beautiful alter and beautiful painted walls. Really is stunning. And its amazing to see the incan coming through in a Catholic Church. For example they have a painting of heaven and hell. But the painting of hell Is above the earth, where as most of our perceptions is that hell is below ground. But the Incans believe that the earth is sacred, Pachu Mama, so then hell must be above ground. Things like that – just so interesting to see how they melded their beliefs like that. Also interesting is that it was originally a Jesuit Church and then the Domicans came, so their is a Jesuit and Domincan pulpit. It really was a pretty Church to see, was something you’d expect to see in Europe actually (unfortunately we couldnt take any photos though, so you’ll just have to go see it for yourself :)).  And what also appealed to the accountants in us (yeah such nerds!!) is that its being restored and the restoration is being sponsored by an oil company as that way they don’t pay tax. Yeah, sneaky buggers.

Oh, speaking of not paying taxes. That was also very interesting to see across Peru and its extended into Bolivia too. A lot of towns have half-finished houses, and it’s because if they finish off the house they have to pay taxes. So they build two-storeys, live on the 1st floor only and have the 2nd unfinished, also leave their houses unpainted. Really makes the towns look more impoverished and some towns quite an eye-sore, but it’s all just to avoid taxes. (although I believe this happens in other countries too, like Eqypt)

Anyways, back to our tour. The next stop was for some more Incan ruins, Raqchi. Yeah pretty ruined out by now but our guide, Hugo, on the bus was actually very good and we managed to learn a few more things. Added a few pics of this site, it was interesting enough.

After that, stopped off for a buffet lunch. Which as these tourist lunches go, this was actually the best so far. So for an all inclusive trip we were actually very impressed.

Our last stop for the day; was to another tiny dusty little town, called Pukara. This town is famous as it makes these ceramic bulls. It is quite common to see around Peru that above houses, they have these two ceramic bulls ("Torros") and a cross. This is to protect the house. Much like us greeks, use the evil eye. What is interesting about this is that before the spanish the incas used to use llamas. But the spanish influence changed these to bulls and to meld in with their Christian beliefs.

So at Pukara there was a tiny museum, where we learnt a bit more about the incas. Or should I say Quechuas. Only the King was an Inca, the people were called Quechuas. So calling them all Inca’s is actually incorrect – and that is your random fact for the day :) (but hey cool the new things you learn).

Just before finally hitting Puno, the last town you drive through is Juliaco. OMG, what a sh*thole!!! I cannot believe this town actually has an airport and this is where you’d fly into. It is SO 3rd world!! No paved roads, just dirt roads. No finished houses anywere, full of graffiti, really dirty. Traffic is just chaos with cars and tak-tak type vehicles cutting accross everywere. The town was just SUCH an eyesore!! Just can’t believe it’s used as a main transport hub, it was just horrible!!!

Anyways, so we finally hit Puno. Which I must say, I was really not that impressed with. Also a bit of a sh*thole I guess. But the only reason for stopping here is to check out Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side. As from here you can take boat trips to the islands on the Lake. Oh and another random fact is that Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world, at 3,808m above sea level (I am just SO knowledgable in this entry :)).

So we’d planned a boat trip for the next day. So arriving into Puno about 6pm, we just took a quick walk down the main street, Lima street, and yeah was really not that enamoured with Puno. But I guess its ok for a stopping point but I just think it has no charm.

Anyways, so the next morning we woke up for our which started at 6.45AM (I just dunno why everything has to start SO damn early here!!!) and headed to the little port. CRAZY, the amount of boats there – all doing pretty much the same tour of the islands on Lake Titicaca.

OMG though these must be the slowest boats EVER!!! To get to the first island, Islas Flotantes was ok, bout half hour but the next island was 2.5hr trip but because these boats go at like 10km/hr (or that’s how it felt in any case!!)

Back to the tour, the first stop was, Islas Flotantes (or Reed Island). That was pretty darn cool. The local people have built reed islands and live on them. Absolutely amazing, everything is made out of the reeds, they even eat the reeds. Talk about self-suffiency!!! Was really cool, and you stop off and meet a family and then learn abit about how they live and then get to check out their little island. Each family lives on their own reed island. Pretty much they start off with this block of dirt (almost) – I guess this is the turf where the reeds would grow out of, which floats on the water, pretty much serves as the foundation. They then tie all these blocks together and then lay layers and layers of reeds on top. Incredible. Every 15days they lay more layers of reeds.  But incredible as everything is made out of the reeds, the houses everything, even their boats are made out of reeds. They even live off the reeds as food. Well the reeds, and catfish. Obviously fishing is pretty huge source of food. They even have a little “pond” cut out of the reeds where they keep the fish they caught, so almost have their own little fish farm. Was just a cool experience to see how they live.

That was definitely the highlight of the boat trip as from here it kinda just went downhill. First of all it took 2.5 hrs to get to the next island (and then 3hrs to get back to Puno), which is REALLY long going really slowly on a small boat!! Then the next island, Taquile, just seemed like an absolute rip!! There was just nothing too it. Its famous for its weaving – whoop-to-do!!!. So uninteresting!! And really just not a pretty place. Had some awsome views over Lake Titicaca, but coming from Cape Town – views over a body of water just doesn’t have such a WOW effect anymore.

And Taquile had another tourist lunch, which we had to pay for. But we opted out and just had lunch of Doritos. It just felt like a real tourist trap, reed island was cool to see but Taquile SOOO not worth it!!

Oh the other cool thing on this trip, randomly when boarding Sarah and Seymour (kiwi friends from Inca trail) also boarded the same boat. So was quite cool to chat to them again and do the tour with them. Quite funny though as very random for them to get onto the same boat as us, but was good to see them again :)

Needless, to say we were only too happy to leave Taquile and head back to Puno. Unfortunately, Puno had no great restaurants or anything to mention. Oh and OF COURSE, that evening in town they had a marching band (surprise surprise) – aargh, these holidays in these towns (the marching band curse continues!!!). Then that evening they were letting off fireworks all night – flip going to sleep was like trying to fall asleep in Baghdad.. 
As I said, I just was not that impressed with Puno itself. But really glad we got to see the reed island - that was definitely worth it.

The next morning we were up early again, to catch our bus to Copacabana and cross the border into Bolivia...
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