Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Around the Lake to Puno

After breakfast and a sad farewell to The Schatzies, who had been fantastic travel companions for our entire Bolivia trip, we boarded the bus bound for Puno, Peru.  The border crossing was easy: the bus stopped, the driver pointed us in the right direction for the customs office and we walked through, receiving the required stamps and then we reloaded the bus and continued on our way.

We’d read that Puno was the less interesting version of Copacabana and that the only real thing to do there was to head out and see the floating islands.  However, Dave had managed to find a great hostel (the Walk On Inn) and we enjoyed a day of relaxing with some good food while we found a reasonably priced tour to visit the Uros (floating islands) and also Taquile island.  (We had planned to visit the islands on our own, but it turned out that taking a tour would only cost $1 more and would save us trying to negotiate boats/times etc – what was also great was it meant we would be picked up from our hostel instead of having to walk to the harbour at 6.30am).
Waiting for a shipment of tourists...
The other major tourist attraction in town, was a large lookout topped by a giant eagle statue, visible  from town.  We were promptly advised by locals, the guide books, the nice lady in the tourist info office and other tourists not to climb up, apparently it was a certainty to be robbed if we tried.  Amazing – since they’d obviously spent a lot of money on the infrastructure but had no police presence to dissuade the bandits!!

The next morning we boarded our tourist boat and headed off.  Our first stop on the tour was the famous islands made of reeds.  The islands themselves are fairly small, with 3-4 families sharing an island.  The one we visited was obviously set up for tourists, but it was still interesting to walk on the reeds and learn how the islands were constructed and maintained.  If two people from different tribes get married they simply rope the two islands together and the families live together, and the reverse happens if the families have a disagreement.

Uros island and a reed boat

We didn’t take the touristy option of taking a reed-made, paddled boat between the floating islands.  This ended up being a good idea as we had the time to take some good photos once the majority of our tour group set off for their slow boat trip.  We got to watch the locals pack up their market goods and resume their daily life while we waited for the other boat to get far enough ahead so we wouldn’t overtake them in the motor boat.  It was strange sight to see the dogs, kittens and bunny rabbits hop around on a man made island and hide inside the huts, while the locals went about cleaning.

At the top of Taquile Island

From the Uros islands it was a long trip to Taquile during which we caught up on some sleep.  It was a steep hike to the top of the island, and since we were still at altitude everyone was out of breath by the time we arrived at the top main square.  The island of Taquile is actually famous for their hats and clothing; the men wear special hats (that look like sleeping hats) which they change the colour of depending on whether or not they’re married, and the women wear coloured, elaborate skirts based on the same logic.

We had the touristy lunch at a house which is chosen prior to our landing by the ‘island council’ – this is done in order to ensure all families get a chance to profit off the tourist.  The food was unfortunately completely overpriced and not really tasty, but that’s to be expected and at least the family received the money.  Afterwards we just walked down the other side of the island to a second port where our boat picked us up for the long haul back to Puno. 

Sail boats crossing lake Titicaca
On the way back we were hit by a storm and it was freezing cold by the time we reached our destination.  To make the trip a little longer, our bus driver had no idea where our small hostel was and after driving round in circles we just jumped out and made our own way back from the centre of town.  After defrosting we braved the cold in order to find dinner and managed to find a Chifa, which is a Peruvian Chinese restaurant, and we absolutely feasted for $1.20 each.  We went a little crazy on the food and pretty much had to roll back to the hostel, but it was worth the ‘pain’…. Smile

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