Floating Islands in Puno

Trip Start Jul 19, 2006
Trip End Sep 19, 2006

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Where I stayed
Posada Real

Flag of Peru  ,
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I set off on a five hour bus ride from Arequipa to arrive in Puno around 6:30pm. I was greeted in the terminal with the usual taxi/hotel pushers. "Buscas un hotel?" I ended up finding someone who was offering a hotel for the right price, in a good location, and with hot water. It was dark, so I was mildly concerned about being robbed and the guy didn't seem too trustworthy, but sometimes you just have to take your chances. Besides, I've taken four jiu jitsu classes. If anyone tries anything, I'll just jiu jitsu them to the ground. And by anything, I mean if they punch me directly in the center of my chest with their right hand. Slowly. Then it's all over. Best four classes I ever took.

The taxi driver (who actually ended up driving one of the motorcylce/carriage hybrids, not a car) was true to his word and brought me to Posada Real where I would end up staying for the night. The same guy from the taxi then walked me up to my room and pulled out some pamphlets with information on tours of the various islands in Lake Titicaca. Puno is the major city from which tours shove off into the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. He offered a tour that would take me to the floating reed islands, as well as a couple of other islands, including all transportation and one night's stay with a local family on the islands. The cost was 10 soles ($3) more than what I had heard it should be, but I figured I would just pay the extra money for the convenience of having everything set up for me from bus terminal to hotel to boat to islands.

That night I decided to wander around the city of Puno a little. Most places seemed to be closed, but I found the main street where there seemed to be a fair amount of activity. It felt very strange for me, though, because I was the only gringo walking these streets. Everyone else had that dark, indigenous Peruvian look to them. It was a stark contrast with the gringo-infested streets of Cusco. I was so glad to finally be somewhere where I didn't belong.

I ended up finding a club that had a crowd of people outside waiting to get in. I felt terrible because the bouncers signaled for me to come in...past all of the locals who were waiting. They must've seen my gringo face and had american dollar signs spinning around in their minds. I only bought one beer while inside. It was a nice club, packed full of people. Again, I was the only gringo in the entire place. It was great. I stayed for about an hour, and left after I had heard Shakira for the 100th time (don't get me wrong, I love Shakira...it just seems to be an obsession here). I was happy about my first night in Puno, things were looking good.

I woke up bright and early at 8am the next morning to the rushed greeting of a van driver who would be taking me to the docks. I didn't have time for a shower, and I had found that the water was actually cold anyway (sometimes, they lie about hot water). We arrived at the dock to see that the boat was packed full of people. There were maybe 20 people on our boat as we shoved off into the murky waters of Lake Titicaca. I had found where all the gringos were hiding.

So this island floats...
I was mildly disappointed with Lake Titicaca at the start of our trip. I had heard about how beautiful and clear the water was, and how spectacular the views were due to the dizzyingly crisp high altitude (did I mention that Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world?).

The water was green. Disgustingly green. And I was surrounded by obnoxious tourists. Perfect.

I sound very negative here, but the views really were spectacular...and the water cleared up as we got farther away from shore. Eventually, we chugged out of the maze of reeds that we had been navigating for the first hour or so and we entered the Island system of Uros (the "reed islands").

The "reed islands" are pretty self-explanatory. They're islands, made of reeds. And it's not just the islands. Everything is made of reeds. The houses. The boats. The beds. The towers. The people there even eat the reeds! This was a golden paradise nestled in a quiet cove of the world's highest lake.

The indigenous people living on the reed islands had a history of hundreds of years living hand in hand with the reeds, using their buoyant world as an escape from other aggressive peoples. Little had changed since they first moved to their floating homes, although now you could see solar panels powering their lights. I suppose it makes sense since the alternative is to see your island where absolutely everything is made with dry reeds by the menacing illumination of candles. Also, the people now had about 30 tourists roaming their island every day. But I'm sure that didn't affect their culture any...

Livin' la vida local
After bouncing around on the springy reed islands, we shuffled back onto our boat to head towards the island of Amantani where we would be staying with host families for the night. As we pulled up to the rugged docks of Amantani, a large group of identically dressed women materialized on shore. They each wore carefully stitched white shirts above flowing black skirts. Their heads were draped with long black shawls baring uniquely designed patterns sewn in brilliant colors. These were our host moms.

We were split into groups and I ended up staying in a house with Janet, mainly because we were the only people there who weren't in any kind of group. Janet was an American, about 40 years old, who had been traveling around much of the world. She appeared to be quite an adventurer, with an insatiable desire to climb every mountain she could find. She had been climbing a mountain in northern Peru that I think is called Huarez. She also told me about a time when she had attempted Cotopaxi some years back but turned back during the trek due to poor weather conditions. She still seems to regret not having made it to the top.

After a short 45 minute hike to the top of the highest peak on Amantani, we returned to our host families for dinner. We had heard from other people that their host families were giving them large meals including guinea pig and other tasty treats. I think our family must've been particularly poor because our meals very simply consisted of soup followed by some sort of potato. The kitchen was carved out of earthen bricks in a small room dimly lit by a solitary candle. I couldn't help but wonder whether this was really how the people here lived, or whether they had a real house just over the hill with electricity and a heated pool. It would have been a clever act, a sort of Indigenous Disney World. But I think these were real people. And they really spoke Quechua, a language used by the Incas centuries ago. This was as close to the real deal as I could find.

There was a small fiesta for everyone later that night. It included a live band (playing guitars, drums, and pipe flutes), festive dancing, and local outfits for all of us to wear. I got a large gray poncho while Janet got an outfit similar to our host mom's only lacking some of the patterns on the shawl. Overall it was a pretty fun evening.

After our fiesta, we returned to our respective host families for a good night's rest. I ended up chatting with Janet a little while. Her path in life was bold. She had done a great deal of traveling, but had done little to save any money for her future. Her husband was the same way. She was a physical therapist who recently went back to school to get a teaching degree but now she was unsure of whether she really wanted to teach. Either way, her future was uncertain as she had very little money saved up. She was living for that day. She was living for the day before it. She was living for every moment up until the edge of tomorrow.

She took a look at my knee and decided I probably had an inflammation in my IT band that was causing the intense pain I had felt on Cotopaxi and in the Colca Canyon. It didn't seem like it would be too serious. I was relieved to know I wasn't causing myself any permanent damage.

The next morning we said goodbye to our host families and then rushed down to the boat that would take us to our next destination: the island of Taquile. Other than some beautiful views and some rich history, Taquile didn't seem much different from anything else I had seen in Peru. I enjoyed the island for what it was, but didn't take anything special away from it. It was nice.

South American Amigos
On the boat ride back to Puno from Taquile I met a group of travelers that included two Portuguese, two Uruguayans, and a Brazilian. I got along very well with them so we all decided to meet for dinner later that night. I ended up switching to the hostel where the two Uruguayan girls were staying and I shared a room with the Joao Carlos, the Brazilian guy.

The next morning, Joao and I said our goodbyes to Uruguayans who would be continuing north into Peru. Joao and I had our eyes set eastward towards Copacabana, the Bolivian town overlooking Lake Titicaca. We hopped a crowded van over to the border. I was happy to have found an interesting and laid-back travel companion. The next leg of the trip was sure to be exciting.

Quantifiable Summary
Bus from Arequipa to Puno (Flores, 15 soles/$5, 5 hours)
Sleep at Posada Real (15 soles/$5)
Floating Islands/Amantani/Taquile tour, including everything (60 soles/$20)
Bahia hostel (12.5soles/$4)
Van from Puno to Bolivian border (2.5 hours, 10 soles/$3, very cramped)
Still alive.
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laorfamily on

Great Blog
You don't know us, but we enjoy reading your adventures.
If you get a chance to go to Macchu Picchu don't hesitate, also go to Torres del Paine.
It's a must.

Good luck and stay safe, we'll be following your exploits.

rickwastaken on

Re: Great Blog
Hi! Thanks for the post! Actually, my trip is already over :-/ I made it through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. I even went to Machu Picchu!

I just got very backlogged on my entries and somewhere in Bolivia I decided I didn't have enough time to keep up with it.

However, I did take notes every day on what I was doing and where I went and who I met. I am planning on finishing the travelogue very soon so that the rest of my adventures will be posted. It really was an amazing trip.

Again, thanks for the message! I hope your travels are going as well as mine did!

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