The altitude (4000m) has had an effect on us both and to our fellow travellers. At best it is a continual dull to throbbing headache, lack of appetite and random feelings of sickness. Any activity causes breathlessness and waves of exhaustion. We both have had headaches but these have been alleviated with tablets, but nobody has escaped the fatigue and gasping for breath. Yesterday’s trip into Puno and the archaeological site was too much for some of our party and they remained sitting in the minibus. On return to the hotel they retired early to their beds without an evening meal.
It was another early start. After breakfast we boarded a small cruiser from the hotel’s little pier from which I took photos when we arrived. It was another glorious day, flat calm lake and horizon to horizon sunshine. We were to visit the Uros floating islands around 30 minutes away. They are man-made floating islands where the descendants of the Altiplano still live on tortora reed platforms. It is a busy little place with many little boats visiting the myriad of little platforms and it is such an experience to slowly motor between them, photographing and waving to the colourful natives, keen to shout greetings and gesture their pleasure at our visit by singing, dancing and waving in return.
We found our berth alongside one of these reedy islands, dotted with little huts and a tower, apparently obligatory to keep an eye on your neighbours. If there is a dispute between them, they just move the island to somewhere else. Peruvian Brexit, Perexit?
We were greeted with song and handshaking as we disembarked. First we sat on reed seats in a semi-circle and we were given a description of the way of life on the island, followed by a demonstration on how the island was made. It was made 15 years ago and should last 30 yrs. The platform is 2m thick with 1m of crisscrossed reeds pile up on a 1m bed of reed roots that are tied together with pegs and rope. Underneath is 300m of very cold water. Lastly we were entertained by the traditionally dressed women who performed a little play around market day, very amusing and caused raucous laughter.
We were then invited to explore the rest of the village. There are 21 inhabitants and they have a chief who oversees them. We were invited into one of the huts and then given the opportunity to purchase some of the trinkets etc. that they had made. Most of us did. It was a wonderful experience and an insight into a way of life that is slowly disappearing. Many of their children (a common story) leave for a more modern way of life on dry land.
Lastly, we were treated to an enchanting ride on a reed boat (similar to kontiki). Very relaxing and I had a chance to practise my limited school Spanish with Juan on of the two oarsman. We were soothed by a youngster playing the panpipes and entertained by an enchanting little girl who couldn’t have been more than two years old. No health and safety here, as she moved around the cramp little boat I caught her from falling into the lake when she slipped. No one seemed perturbed.
Returning to our new second island home, we boarded our cruiser and headed south into the lake proper. Our destination was Taquile Island, around 35 km away and took an hour and a half to reach it. I spent the time on the roof of our boat, laying on a mat of tarpaulin and watched this unique scenery slip by, bleak but even more stunning for the reflections of the mountains, clouds and beaches in the lake. For off to the south you could see the white-topped Andes on the Bolivian side of the lake. I was occasionally joined by a few others of our party but they didn’t stay long as it was very chilly. I wasn’t going to glimpse this through a glass window, it was too good for that.
Arriving at the island we moored alongside another cruiser that had already docked. Collecting together on the shore we started to slowly climb up the hill following a well used path. After a 100m or so we met two locals dressed in traditional island garb of black and white. They were there to collect the fee to visit the island from our guide. The 2000 population of this island is indigenous, not sullied by the Spanish. As such they independent of the Peruvian government and make their own laws by consent. Again, they are also suffering from depopulation.
We slowly continued to the top of the island with many stops to catch our breath and take photos. Descending down the other side we reached a small homestead situated above a lovely beach. Here we were treated to a meal, and it was a treat! Quinoa soup (delicious) followed by lake trout and vegetables (amazing flavours). Well satisfied, wer had around half an hour to amuse ourselves. Sue and I chose to visit the beach and paddle in the lake, and it WAS cold.
I don’t really remember the return journey as I fell asleep up against the window on the sunny side of the boat. I woke when the guide gave us instruction for the following days journey to Cusco, to find that Sue had spent the time at the back of the boat enjoying the views.
We chose again to eat in the hotel rather than catch a taxi into Puno and find a restaurant there, as some of our party were planning, Al Paca was on the hotel menu and it had to be tried. Both our meals were fabulous, Al Paca is a lean meat, slices like butter on the knife, has the texture of chicken and tastes like a delicate pork. As a bonus we were serenaded by a Peruvian band, they were so good I bought their CD and DVD.
Yes it is another early start tomorrow, 6.20am!!!