Lake Titicaca & The Floating Islands of Uros

Trip Start Jul 14, 2011
Trip End Dec 01, 2011

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Flag of Peru  , Puno,
Friday, September 2, 2011

Next morning we were spoilt with a fantastic sunrise over Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable sea on earth- 3800 m above sea level. 

Our day plan was to go on the trip to the floating islands of Uros and then  catch the bus 6pm to Copacabana. Initially we had planned to stay on one of the islands over night and another night in Copacabana, but that literally went down the drain in Cuzco. We had no time and would have to catch a bus to Bolivia in order to get the morning flight from La Paz. We had a quick breakfast and double- checked with the reception that the boarder to Bolivia is open 24 hours (as it said in several travel guides) and yes, we were assured "no problem"! We had it all planned. The schedule was tight but doable. 

We gave our luggage in storage (again), went to the pier and boarded our boat bringing us to the floating islands of the Uros. Honestly, it is absolutely shocking to see the sheer numbers of tourist boats. And we were even more shocked to see, that at least half of them got ready to bring 30-40 tourists over to the people living on floating islands. oh my gosh. We boarded our boat and felt awkward to be one of literally thousands of those invaders. Soon, we found out, that our engine didn't work and a 30 minutes odyssee started. We chatted with the couples around and by chance Jens shared our day plan: full day trip to Uros, then catching the bus to La Paz. By coincidence Jens had talked to a couple travelling from south to north and just came over that very boarder point. Both looked at us disbelievingly and slowly start to shake their head. Unison the brazilian couple said that the boarder checkpoint closes at 6pm. Now it were Jens and I looking disbelivingly at each other. Within seconds at least 3 other couples got out their travel guides and and a discussion started. There were two opinions, but basically everyone traveling south to north, already coming over this borderpoint said it operated only from 8am to 6pm. In the end we decided that we couldn't risk it, as the whole bunch of connection flights to our next destination Fiji  would have to be rescheduled: La Paz- Lima- El Salvaldor- Los Angeles- Fiji! Most likely impossible!!! 

Panic-stricken and ready to go off the boat right away, we asked our tour guide if we could change our full day trip into a half day trip. After a few phone calls he had organized that we would join this tour but would not go on the second part of the trip and would stay on the islands, where another boat would pick us up and bring us back at 12 pm- just in time to catch the 2 pm bus.  Woohoo... That almost went wrong. 

Finally the engine was repaired and we left Puno. Actually most of  Lake Titicaca does look more like a swamp than a lake. Full of reed and only a few feet deep. The further out you get, this will change slowly. It was a 30 min boat ride to get to the islands and already at the entrance you get an idea HOW touristic the whole trip is. There is somebody in a hut on stilts checking the tickets and allocates the boat to one of the islands. Then you cruise through the village of around 130 floating houses and as soon as you approach one of the islands, the locals get quickly dresses and prepare for their performance: all starts with standing on the landing dock and singing a song, waving franatically. We were warmly welcomed. The reed was even colder and damper than we thought, but not surprisingly at the freezing temperatures here. Pitying we looked at the naked feet of our hosts in their colorful dresses.
Everyone took a seat on reed stacks and soon the head of the island would come introduce himself and the woman in the background and started his presentation of how the islands are build. With a few sentences and couple of handholds he would present how a miniature version of the floating island is built.
Don't get me wrong, this is really interesting but you can easily tell how often he has presented his island builing skills, how often he told the jokes. Still a lovely guy.    While the women of the island would get ready for the sale session (everything from fridge magnets to blankets, bracelets, hats and scarfs etc. etc.), we had time to ask questions. We were given reed to taste it as they use not only to build their houses but also eat it and basically  most of their stuff is made of reed. Then we were quickly shown around: the 6 houses for 5 families of 4 generations, the kitchen, the fishing equipment. Then the sale was opened.  Jens and I tried to make us invisible, while the sun climbed higher and higher. 

Not much later we were invited to get on the Uros- boat to get a ride to the next island. As soon as we stepped on board we were asked for 100 pesos/pp. Two ladies rowed us the 70 metres to the next island: more shopping plus a restaurant. This would be the place where we would wait for the other boat. The ride took just long enough, that two kids could sit in our middle start to sing -well, sing, howl all the same (honestly, they should NOT sing!!)  and pass a hat around. Great! 

As soon as our tour boat left, it got quiet on our little reed island. The high blue sky above us, the sun burning down now. We dozed in the sun for an hour, watched the coming and going from far and heard the welcome songs from nearby islands.    I must say that was the best part of our trip to the floating islands of the Uros. 

As promised we were picked- up by the other tour boat and went back to Puno. What started a bit bumpy turned out very smooth. We stopped at the bus terminal to buy our ticket, went back to the hotel to get our luggage and had a quick lunch. The restaurant we went to had this awful picture of the natinal dish "qui" (guinea pig) on the menue of which we would speak the next weeks and months and will always remember: A roasted guinea pig, stretched out on it's back, the cut on the belly widely stretched, mouth wide open, front paws chopped off, back paws still there. Horrific! Who ever orders it here should see a psychiatrist. We had chicken.... 

Then it was time to go back to the bus terminal and get ready for the 2 hours bus ride to Copacabana and the following ride to La Paz. By 11pm we would arrive in La Paz. We enjoyed a scenic bus ride aling the lake and regretted that we hadn't more time in Copacabana. It seemed to be a cozy place. We boarded another bus and off we went to the bolivian boarder. There we had to go off the bus, get the passport stamped from the peruvian authorities and then march the 200m to the checkpoint of the bolivian boarder. Then we were allowed to enter the bus again. We have no idea if anybody screened our luggage... I am pretty sure nobody did.

When we reached the narrowest point of Lake Titicaca, where the bus would be loaded on a humble looking ferry and all passengers crammed into an aqually humble looking boat, it was already dark. Against all odds, bus and passengers made it over the lake and where reunited after 30 minutes (the boat ride itself took 4 min! The bus needed a little longer!) 

And then another 2 hours to La Paz...
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