Floating Islands in Puno
Trip Start Jul 19, 2006
22Trip End Sep 19, 2006
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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)