Lake Titicaca- Uros, Amantani and Taquile Islands

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A home stay with a Peruvian family…a great thing to experience, if a bit daunting!

So to get from Cusco to Puno we took a tourist bus, called the Inka Express, which made 4 stops along the way at tourist hot spots and included lunch. It took 3 hours longer than going direct but if you’ve got time to spare, the stops do break the journey up nicely. So first stop was in Andahuaylillas to visit the colonial church called San Pedro. It didn’t look much from the outside but inside all the ceilings and walls were painted in motifs and a lot of gold leaf over the wall behind the altar. It was being restored at the time so it was quite fascinating watching the restorers do their work on the mouldings and paintings. Then it was back on the bus to the next stop- and old Inca settlement called Raqchi, which means Ceramic in English. It was actually a really impressive set of ruins especially the principle temple (see pic), which was 3 stories high, with foundations in stone and then the 2 stories above built with clay and Andean grass. All of it original apart from the ceramic roof tiles they put on top. It was a shock to Inca buildings/walls so tall, but it made walking around the ruins like navigating a maze which was quite fun! After lunch the next stop was at the highest point between Cusco and Puno at 4338 meters high which is known as the line separating Cusco province and Puno province and called ‘Abra la Raya’. The last stop was at a town called Pukaro named after the pre-inka indians who lived there, 400 years before christ. They were famous for ceramics and worshiped not just the condor, puma and snake like the inca’s, but also water creatures such as the frog as they also recognised the importance of water to life. They also believed in human sacrifice and built pyramids to practice it which we also saw the ruins of along our journey.

Puno is not the prettiest city to look at. A lot of the houses remain unfinished with steel cabling poking up from the flat concrete roofs. Apparently this is intentional as it means the inhabitants and the house builders avoid paying tax on the property as technically the building is incomplete. Quite a saving I imagine but does make the area look a bit shabby! Adrian and Sarah from our Inca Trek group were on the same tour as us around Lake Titicaca so we got the same taxi, stayed at the same hotel and had a fun meal out that night at a place called Positive Rock and Reggae Bar…those 2 genres of music go surprisingly well together! The next day we got picked up and taken to Puno’s port. We picked up some wine on the way along with some fruit as a gift to our host families for that night in Amantani. On the island they find it really hard to grow fruit and the parents prefer it better than sweets for the children, so we got them some oranges and apples. Our guide for the 2 days was called ‘Bruno from Puno’ (a nick name he gave himself!) and was a little bit crazy, but it made for a lively trip. So a bit about Lake Titicaca…it is the largest, highest, navigable lake in the world and spans across Peru (60%) and Bolivia (40%). It is purely fed from the snow melt from the Andes and rain, and feds into one other lake over in Bolivia. So a pretty self-contained ecosystem. So back to the tour…the boat was small and went quite slowly, but after 25 minutes we got to our first Island community, the Uros Islands. The Uros Islands are floating islands made of reeds, each small island is home to one family (grand parents, sisters, brothers, children). The ones we visited were purely set up for tourists, out of choice the families set up home in this part of Uros to make their living. The tourist area of Uros is split up into North and South areas, and the tourist boats visit each area alternate days. The Uros island community as a whole get the money from the tour boats of which some is held centrally as a contingency fund in case of a disaster and the rest split equally amongst the families. The reed island we visited was called Santa Maria and as our boat pulled into the island all the ladies came running to the side singing to welcome us. The women all has their hair in two plaits with massive colourful woolen ball ball’s weaved into the ends of the plaits. It looked fun but quite heavy! We sat around a reed bench and the men of the island explained how the floating reed island’s of Uros are built (see pic above) . So the water around Uros is 11 meters deep and 5 meters down floats the mud and roots of the reed beds. The families harvest these in small cubes and then tie them all together to make a larger floating platform. Fresh reeds are then layered on top of the buoyant mud and root platform to make the island that we were then standing on. They then build their houses on top of this platform out of reeds and anchor the island down with ropes attached to rocks/stakes. It was really quite fascinating. And all the families were so happy, it rubbed off on you. The families also eat the reeds. We got to try some too. You take off the top, peel the outer layers and then bite a bit off. It tasted like cucumber! A couple from the island then took us into their reed home and put traditional clothes on us, and showed us all the crafts they made. We felt really pressured to buy something, but not in an aggressive way. Either way we bought a few things from them, knowing that at least that money will go straight to that couple and child and not via the Uros community leaders! We then got to ride on a big boat made of reeds to the next island Tupirmarka (see pic above). I’m first to admit that the Uros islands are completely touristy but they are really enjoyable to visit and the families who live on them are incredibly lovely and welcoming. I would definitely recommend a visit to them.

It was then back on our tour boat for a 3 hour sailing to our second island called Amantani. That was a long 3 hours! But again when we came into port ladies from the island were there in their traditional outfits to great us. We then got paired with our host families by the leader of the community. Sarah, Adrian, Hedd and I all stayed with the same family, headed up by mum, Rebecca, with 2 children called Loope (7) and Diago (15). It felt really awkward to begin with and we all didn’t speak Spanish so it was hard to communicate. But over lunch we got the jist of what Rebecca was telling us. The island doesn’t have electricity and the community are self-sufficient vegetarians. They keep sheep for wool and chickens for eggs and grow all their vegetables in a little plot outside their home. The toilet was an outside toilet, which we had to flush with a bucket of water each time so no proper drainage either. Rebecca had some lighting in her home from solar panels on the roof, and although had a gas canister, cooked most of her food on a wood fueled stove. We soon found that playing ball games with the two children didn’t require much language skills and proceeded to play volleyball and hand ball all afternoon with Loope and Diago, after helping Rebecca wash up of course! Early evening Loope led us up to the main square to meet up with the others to walk up to the Temple of Pachamama on the hill above the town (4150 meters above sea level), to watch sun set. It wasn’t the greatest as it was cloudy, but we watched all the same and then headed back down to catch the last half of a local 5 aside game, much to Hedd and Adrian’s delight! Then it was back with Loope to the house for dinner. We cracked open the wine and after glass 2 Rebecca, our host ‘mum’, was hiccupping around the kitchen! I think we got our host mum drunk! Very funny. She then dressed us up in traditional Amantani dress (see pic above) and then led us to the local ‘disco-tech’ (aka the school hall) for an evening of peruvian dancing and live band. Loope was allowed to come too and she was so excited! She had Sarah and I up and dancing every song. The pic opposite was pretty much us dancing on our own to the band. But Loope loved it so Sarah and I had to oblige. We left pretty early at 9.30pm, picking up the dad of our host family on the way. He was very intoxicated and proceeded to introduce his family to us 3 times on the walk home. Come the fourth time, he got a stern telling off by Rebecca! We can’t be sure exactly what she said but i imagine it went along the lines “shut up you silly man, they already know our names!” We got into bed just in time as then the island had a massive storm which sounded so loud on the tin roof above us.

The next morning, Rebecca made us pancakes for breakfast and then led us back to the port to our boat. After a quick cheerio and thank you’s we were on our way again on the tour boat to the adjacent island called Taquile. It didn’t look far away but still took us 1 1/2 hours to get across to the island. From the port we walked across the island for an hour to get to the main square. The islanders are infamous for their knitting skills. Both men and women knit and then they sell their products in a cooperative at a fixed price and then the profits are divided up amongst the contributing families. The men also all wear hats which mean different things. If they have a black bowler type hat on, then they work for the municiple government. If they wear a stripey beanie, with ears and a pom pom, then they are married. The same hat but white, then the man is single. So its like Taquile equilvalent of the wedding band! After lunch of steamed trout (very nice!), we were back on the boat for the 3 hour journey back to Puno. Sarah, Adrian, Hedd and I sat on the roof the whole way home which was a nicer way to travel than sitting inside, although we did catch the sun quite a bit-oops! After a shower and chill, we had a last evening out with Adrian and Sarah in Puno, before they went onto Cocacambana, and us to Ariquipa the next day. As it turned out, this ended up as a rather late one which involved a lot of 2 for 16 sole cocktails at the local club/bar! It was a great night, but the next morning our bodies did not thank us for it! Sarah and Adrian had to get a 7am bus the next morning. I have no idea how they did that….Hedd and I were still struggling with our bus journey at 3pm in the afternoon! We both felt pretty awful on the 7 hour journey. However I was soon distracted by an hour of snow on the highlands between Puno and Ariquipa, at which point Hedd gave me my first Christmas build up surprise of ‘Now that’s what I call Christmas’ compilation album on his iPod! It was such a surreal experience listening to my Christmas song favourites, in South America, with snow falling outside! But I absolutely loved it! 13 days to go….

Lake Titicaca in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Warm during the day but stormy in the evenings and at night
    • Food= Vegetarian!- rice, mixed vegetables, vegetable soup etc…
    • Drink= Cocktails, lots of cocktails (bleurgh!)
    • The cutest child we’ve come across so far= Loope from the host family
    • Lesson Learnt= No alcohol the night before a bus journey!

Hedd´s Words of Wisdom:

No words of wisdom today, only a few key lessons learnt from our time by the lake:

  • Drinking at altitude is dangerous;
  • Two cocktails for 14 soles may sounds like a good idea, but  at 3800m its a recipe for disaster;
  • Hangovers on peruvian buses are not pleasant;

 I should have probably known that already…

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