Puno and Islands in Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  ,
Monday, February 12, 2007

The 24 hour marching bands during festival time in South America is not confined to Bolivia. We arrived in Peru after a very simple border crossing at about 4pm on Sunday afternoon to the sound of drums and trumpets. We didnīt know Puno was in the midst of its week long festival which basically meant a week of marching parades, music and lots of dancing on the streets. We hadnīt booked ahead and as we usually do when we arrive somewhere new, we walk around and check out a few places to stay.  The tuc-tuc driver couldnīt take us into the city center as the streets were blocked.  We couldnīt walk to the city center either because the streets were taken over by parades stretching over a mile long. We were exhausted from walking around in crowds in the mid day sun with our heavy rucksacks looking for a place to put our heads down. Every hostel/hotel we found was fully booked for the fiesta. We were beginning to get a bit anxious but luckily after an hour and a half of trying we struck it lucky and found a place to stay (it wasnīt the best but did the job).  We immediately dropped the bags and headed out to the streets to celebrate whatever everyone else was celebrating! Still a bit gutted over the rugby, we soon got into the spirit of things.  The costumes were amazing.. the dancing and music fantastic, these Latin Americans really know how to put on a good fiesta.  We were 10 minutes out on the streets and we were destroyed with sprays of white foam, of course, us being gringos, we got the worst of it. We were both destroyed every time we stepped out on the street, even for breakfast one morning. It tasted rotten and blinded you when it got in your eyes but we just had to go with it. We soon copped on and bought our own spray cans and got the rascals back!  
The Peruvians, like the Bolivians, donīt stop partying and they dance and march to blasting live drums and trumpets around the streets all day and night. By the end of each night, you could see they were physically exhausted but they kept going.  
To take a break from all the street partying we headed out to see some of the magical islands on Lake Titicaca, the most famous being Isla Uros (Floating Islands).
We caught a local boat at the pier in Puno and headed off. After about an hour we reached the Isla Uros.  The story goes that the Uros people isolated themselves from the Incas and Spanish centuries ago by building floating islands out of the tótora reeds that grow abundantly around the lake.  Today 32 islands still bob on the water's surface isolated from the rest of the world. To keep the islands afloat, the Uros must frequently rebuild the top layers, as the bottom layers rot and return to the lake's bottom.  Its hard to believe how these people live in such a confined space in tiny shelters built of reeds.  Although now very touristy, it was still worth a visit and was amazing to meet some of these people to see how they live. The reeds are used for absolutely everything - they even eat them!
We carried on in our local boat to another island called Isla Amantani , there are no hotels or hostels here so travelers are met at the harbor by mothers of local households offering you a bed and evening meal for the night in their homes. We ended up staying with the captain of our ship as I think we befriended him on the way there when we offered him some of our Pringles! He lived in a tiny house with his wife and two gorgeous kids. We stayed there with Peter, a Dutch guy we met on the boat. There was no electricity, running water or heating and the toilet facility was a hole at the end of the garden. We were surrounded by fields of vegetables, donkeys, sheep, pigs and Lake Titicaca. There was no road, just tiny stone pathways so it was very easy to get lost. We did just that and within seconds a local came out of their house to direct us down another path.  We ate dinner with the family in their tiny house, the 3 of us huddled around a small table while the family sat on stools around the fire which was also the kitchen, the room ("house") was lit be the fire and some candles. It was an incredible experience, at times the 3 of us just went quite and looked at the family in awe - it really was straight out of another world.    After dinner at eight o clock it was bedtime for them so we all retired to our room.  We snook in a few games of cards before hitting the pillow. Bright and early the next morning we were awoken by the donkeys and we were up at 7am, as early as it was we had our best nights slept in a long time. After breakfast we said our goodbyes and headed back to the boat escorted by little Diego (the captains son) running along ahead of us, showing off his cartwheels and karate kicks! They were such a wonderful family and really made our stay memorable.
Once everybody was aboard the boat, we sailed to the next island on our list, Isla Taquile.  The island is again similar to Amantani.  The locals are completely self sufficient, they grow all their own vegetables, eat a lot of fresh fish and spend their days working on the land. We walked the millions of steps to the top of the island were the main plaza is, again the locals were friendly and greeted each of us with a big smile and a Buenos Dias! After a few hours of walking and taking in the spectacular views we headed back to the boat and onto Puno.  On the way back we hit a massive storm out at sea, our boat broke down 30mins from shore, we were left bobbing in the water with thunder and lightening heading in our direction fast.   It started to hailstone massive lumps of ice, fork lightening hit the water all around us and held for 3 to 5 seconds.   We have never seen lightening like this before or so close!!  The thunder was deafening, we were all a little scared.  After about 10 minutes the captain got the boat going again, the storm stayed with us for another 15 minutes until we slowly escaped out of it and reached the port.  Another scary moment to add to our long list of adventures!   We arrived in Puno to the sound of drums and more marching bands.  They still hadnīt stopped!  Today we head to Arequipa which is meant to be a stunning city.
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