Monday, July 21st, 2003

Lake Titicaca and Puno, Peru

Our host family dressed us up in traditional clothes to go dancing with the locals

From Cusco we headed south and up in elevation about 500 meters to Puno on a 7 hour very comfortable bus ride. The bus station a complete circus! It was crazy! People pushing and shoving everywhere. Managed to get to our bus ok though and we had chairs that reclined a lot so it was great. Puno sits on Lake Titicaca, which straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia (the Peruvians say the titi part is in Peru and the caca is in Bolivia) ....


Took a two day boat tour of the islands on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3800m. Lake Titicaca is an absolutely enormous beautifully clear lake filled with different kinds of fish including trout which are brought in to Canada.


First we visited the very touristy Los Uros, since they're so novel and close to Puno. These people have made floating islands from reeds that grow near the shores of Titicaca, using the roots as the base and then piling the reeds on top so that the island is a meter or 1.5 m thick. The islands are lead by one "leader island" that controls where the other islands move to. The islands are filled with houses and towers, also made completely of reeds, and the islanders use boats made of reeds to get around and fish, which is mainly what they live off of. They don’t really need the tourism as they don’t pay taxes and money doesn’t mean as much to them. The islands felt squishy to walk on, was neat. Everything was made of reeds and they even eat the bottom of the reeds. We tried it, didn’t have much of a taste, sorta the consistency of eating snow... was interesting. Got to ride in one of their reed boats to another floating island near by, those boats were surprisingly sturdy!


Went to Amantani Island next, the least touristy....I think we were told that tourists only started visiting 25 or 50 years ago. We stayed with a native family over night. It was such an amazing and unique experience! Ate their traditional food which was very simple but very good as well. They’re pretty much vegetarians, only eating meat every once in a while. So much food though, couldn’t finish it, but felt bad leaving it so we ate it. We stayed with a lady, Sebastiana, and her kids...she has 7 but 2 of them were off visiting their sick dad. We climbed to the top of the island to watch the sunset, was absolutely amazing! Such nice colours and scenery. Walked back down with Walter, the 8 year old boy of the family. chatted with him a bit. Super shy but such a cute smile! After he sat in our room (super big!, comfy beds with a reed mattress, mud constructed hut). He had never played cards so taught him how to play go fish and memory. He got the hang of it after a while. V and Walter played on the same team for go fish and he played alone for memory since its a simpler game but he won both and looked happy. Was pretty cool.


That night the islanders organized a party for us where they played traditional music and we danced their dances….loads of fun. Our family dressed us up in the traditional clothes. Tony wore a poncho and a typical Peruvian toque. While us girls had to wear a ton of clothes! First put a blouse on, then a skirt which as tightly tied, then another very puffy skirt which was also really firmly tied, then another wider sash that was also tightly tied…hard to breathe. Then they gave us this big black blanket like head scarf thing to wear...so much clothes! Heavy... One of the daughters, Monica, probably about 10, took us to the party. Traditional music and dancing. Monica, quite shyly, asked V to dance. So much fun. Sebastiana got Tony up on the floor at one point too. We were so hot in all the clothes we were wearing! But it was great, the locals were right into it! And so happy all the time! Such great people!


As we were leaving we gave Sebastiana 20 soles, which works out to about $8 Canadian, to thank her for everything cause we had a great time. Her reaction was fairly unexpected... she became close to tears as she blessed us and wished us all the best clutching the note to her chest and bringing it up to her mouth before tucking it away safely in her breast pocket... it was quite moving. Wished we had given more after that, especially since we had such a great time with her and her family. Got her address though so we can thank her again in the future.


The last island we visited was Taquile Island where there are no police because there is no crime, the whole island is run very well, everyone works… It’s almost like an instance of communism that is actually working. Nobody owns land there, it’s all shared. Walked around here for most of the day. Lots of different traditional dress, which mean different things. For example, the men wear specific hats which represent their relationship status (i.e. whether they are single or not)... same with the women and their shawls. The men carry around special handbags filled with coca leaves and before starting a conversation with someone they exchange coca leaves and chew them as a sign of respect. Really interesting.


Puno itself hasn’t lived up to its reputation of people hassling you all the way down the streets till you get to your hotel, instead has proven a lot less touristy than Cusco, although there doesn’t seem to be too much to do here... we already have our tickets to take a bus tonight to Arequipa, which I have heard good things about. Hotels have gotten much cheaper here and we went to breakfast this morning and were waited on like a very high class restaurant in Vancouver, which was kind of odd for us, but it was great food.



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