Why Bolivia has a navy

Trip Start Jan 28, 2011
Trip End Apr 29, 2011

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Where I stayed
Amantani Island homestay

Flag of Peru  ,
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

We jumped on a (surprisingly comfortable) bus from Cusco and headed to Puno. Our experience of Puno was initially bright and sunny - enough to get changed into shorts, T-shirts and sunglasses for a look around town. That lasted about 5 minutes then a big black cloud appeared and promptly emptied itself in hail form, giving us an ideal excuse for a cerveza and an early dinner of alpaca. The next day we boarded our peddle-powered tuk tuks at 7.30am for the trip down to the port to spend the next two days on Lake Titicaca.

First stop was the floating  Uros islands. These are islands (around 50 of them) made of floating reed beds (about a metre or so thick, with 2 metres of cut reeds on top) anchored into place about a one hour boat trip into the 6500km2 lake. We are still at nearly 4km high too. The Ayamara people fled to the reeds to avoid the Spanish conquistadors who were wanting to enslave them, and have maintained floating islands ever since. The islands are now mainly a tourist attraction, with tourism the prime source of income for the Uros islanders. We had a history lesson on the islands, then a boat trip on the ´bus´ to another of the floating islands, which had a trout farm, excellent pollo sandwiches, a sheep, and most surprising, a public telephone (a mobile landline?).

We then headed off further into the lake making for Amantani Island, where we were to stay the night with a local family. We met out host, Patricia, at the harbour and walked up the hill to her home. There we gave gifts to her and her children (only the youngest of whom was there at the time) and were fed what would be the first of our Amantani double carb meals - quinoa and veg soup, followed by potatoes, rice and fried cheese, washed down with fresh mint tea. Our very limited Spanish meant a few awkward silences, but the presence of small children attempting to blow up balloons (the most popular of the gifts by far) helped a lot! After the carb-loading lunch we headed up to the football stadium for the start of a walk up Pachatata hill (Pachamama - mother Earth´s other half), where custom had it that you should circumnavigate the summit three times anti-clockwise and make a wish. Duly completed we headed back down to Patricia´s for another carb attack, and met the other children and her mum!

After dinner was party time - outfits were brought up to our bedroom. Pete´s involved a huge poncho, but Helen´s was a little more involved - full campesina get-up. We headed up to the school hall / social club, guided by the sound of the band for some Amantani style dancing and a couple of massive bottles of beer. The dancing seemed to mainly involve two, arm swinging moves, which were easy enough to master, but then there would be some more complex, whole group moves which would through us. We were about as good at it as we at Ceilidh, though it was a lot more fun. Although it was pretty cold outside, dancing around a packed hall at 3800m in either a heavy poncho or several layers of campesina skirts made it pretty hot and tiring stuff. We were also given a demonstration of a couple of traditional Amantani dances - one which involved the women dragging the men along like unruly horses and another which involved dancing with some kind of axe.

Went to bed tired and happy, to be woken by really heavy rain drumming on the tin roof above our heads, but we were snug and happy under our 100lb of alpaca blankets.

Pancakes for breakfast and goodbyes to Patricia and family and then we were off to Taquile Island to see men in hats before chugging back to Puno. The men knit the hats on this island, which naturally makes them very expensive. There are different hats, and styles of wearing your hat depending on whether you are single, married, looking for, have a girlfriend, or if you just want to keep the sun out of your eyes!

Tomorrow, more bus fun and Bolivia beckons.
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