Lake Titicaca

Trip Start May 15, 2009
Trip End May 20, 2010

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, July 24, 2009

Our last stop in Peru before heading into Bolivia was the city of Puno, on the banks of Lake Titicaca. At an altitude of just over 3,800m above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and its surface area is enormous.   Puno itself is only worth a short stop - the town is freezing cold at night (and in the day if the sun is hidden behind clouds), but it is a good base for visiting some of the islands.

We went out for a good dinner of Cuy (guinea pig) - whole and fried - a bit like getting a plate of roast vegetables with a large fried rat on top. The meat itself was actually very nice - a bit like chicken only richer - but it was a lot of work for little reward - too many bones and not enough meat! Now we know why the stir fried variation is recommended - someone else has done all the hard work for you!

The next day we visited the Uros floating islands, where the local population have built their own islands from reeds to live on. It was very touristy, but quite interesting to visit this community to see how they lived and we enjoyed it none the less - the locals were friendly, and mostly make their living from the tourist trade. Reeds are used to build the islands, boats, houses, are burnt for heat and are even eaten - the green ends are peeled and the white part inside tastes a bit like salty lettuce!!  Walking on the islands is a strange experience as towards the edges or other parts where water has soaked the reeds it feels like walking on a waterbed.

Using a model they showed us how the floating islands are built and anchored to the bottom of the lake - in the wet season the anchors can rip from the floor of the lake and the islands will move across the lake. When this happens they use motor boats to tow the islands back into place!! There were 4 or 5 families living on each of the two islands we visited and it was especially interesting to hear that they will cut an island in two if families have unresolved disputes - apparently this happens a couple of times a year on average! The traditional reed boats were really impressive (check out a couple of the photos), originally used to transport people and goods around the lake, they are now used to transport tourists between the islands.  The colourful clothes worn by the locals contrasted to the islands, houses and traditional boats all made from reed and we had not previously seen the colourful pompoms worn by the local women at the end of their braids.   

 We picked up a few souvenirs and then hopped back on the boat to head to Taquille Island, for the first day of their annual Fiesta de Santiago. The costumes of the locals were bright and colourful, and we arrived in the main square of the town to music and dancing. We’ve uploaded a video we took from a balcony overlooking the square which shows the colour and movement which were fantastic.  We counted ourselves very lucky to be in town during the party season, as we’re not sure if the visit would have been worth it without the fiesta!
We returned to Puno to another freezing night and booked a bus to La Paz via Copacabana (not the beach in Rio). The next day, after crossing the border into Bolivia, we stopped in Copacabana for a couple of hours to change buses to the Bolivian bus company. Copacabana is a great little town by Lake Titicaca and we enjoyed wandering through the street markets and up to the Moorish style Cathedral where the locals were decorating their cars with flowers in preparation for a festival. 

We boarded our bus bound for La Paz and this part of the trip offered some beautiful views of the lake. When it came time to cross the lake, we all hopped off the bus and onto a boat and were surprised to see the mode of transport used to transport the now empty buses across the lake. Check out the photos of the bus “ferries” which were wooden barges with a motor - until we actually saw the buses being floated across the lake there was no way we would have believed that the wooden barges would have successfully done the job!!

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