Today we are on the bus again for a day-long trip through the Altiplano region to the city of Puno, located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake.
Puno sits at about 3800m elevation ASL. It is similar to the other Peruvian cities we've seen so far, with it's hilly, narrow streets, short buildings, and lack of greenery-partially from the altitude and also because it is the dry season right now. One disturbing thing is the amount of police presence here, on the streets and at our hotel door. The last few years Peru has been attempting to increase it's tourist traffic, so this may have something to do with it, ie protecting the likes of us from petty theft.
Anyway, we arrive late, so not a lot of time to check things out- just have a good dinner- found a place finally that has Malibu rum, yesss! Tomorrow we go to visit some islands in the lake, and have an overnight homestay with a local family- should be interesting!
This am after bkfst, we catch our 'limousines'- two-person carriages on a bike frame, propelled by an energetic Peruvian! We have races down to the port, about 10 min away. There, we buy gifts for the family we will be staying with- rice, sugar, cooking oil, and paper and coloured pencils for the kids. Our boat is waiting there to take us first to Taquile island, about 3hrs away.
Taquile island is populated by about 2000 people of mixed descent, but primarily Incan. They still live as they might have 100 yrs ago, with the exception of intermittent electricity from a generator, and the TV antennas you see on the little adobe houses. We are treated to a typical lunch at a local 'restaurant'- seems to be someone's back patio! The food is good- quinoa soup, a staple here; and choice of omelet or broiled trout, served with arroz (rice) and papas frites (fries). We then explore the town a bit- so quiet here, no roads or cars. Then it's time to get back on the boat for an hour trip over to Amantani island, where we will stay tonight.
Amantani is very similar to Taquile island in it's peoples, culture, etc. The locals on these islands speak Quechua, a dialect descended from the Incas. Some of them speak a little Spanish also- good thing, because my 'poco espanol' is better than my Quechua- ie, a list of 10 things on a paper the guide gave us, that I promptly forgot.
When we arrive to Amantani, we are greeted by some of the local women- our 'mamas' for the night, ie our hosts. For tonight, Ingrid and I are staying together with Juana and her family; Ingrid's dad Walter and Hans will stay with our leader Johana in another home. Everyone gets farmed out to a family and we follow Juana back to her house. She stops to pick up a bundle of firewood, probably about 15 kg she throws in a cloth on her back. We try to offer our help, but she just says 'no' and trundles up the hill, Ingrid and I breathless behind her!
Juana's home is on a hillside surrounded by farm fields. When we arrive, she shows us to a cute little room on the second level- the doorway is about 4 ft high! (Peruvians are very compact little people!) We duck through into a room about 7ft high- Ingrid and I can both touch the ceiling. But it looks clean and comfortable. We unpack a few things, then meet everyone else to climb up 'Pachatata' or 'Father Earth', at the top of the hill, where we will watch the sunset. It is said of you walk around the top of the hill 3 times and make a wish that it will come true...??
After our hike, we return to our host families for dinner. Juana's kids Liliana, William and Fernando are home; husband Ernesto is out at a town meeting- he is an elder in the community. Ingrid and I guess that Juana must be around 30- people get married at 16-17 here, and her oldest is 13, but the Andean sun and lifestyle are hard here, and Juana appears older than her age. Juana serves us soup and rice and vegetables out of her primitive kitchen- all excellent. We then have a bit of time to rest, but there is a 'dance' in our honour tonight, and shortly Juana appears at our door to dress us in the local custom (see pic). Ingrid and I both look like giants in Juana's clothing! We head to the community centre to meet the rest of the group and have a good laugh at everyone's outfit. The men and women here dance on different nights- so the local women only are here tonight, and have great fun asking the guys to dance, but they ask us girls if there are no men left! We dance for about an hour, but we can't keep up, and soon ask to be returned to our homes. We fall into our beds after using the outdoor banos; no heat but the five heavy blankets are warm and I fall alseep almost instantly.
We wake up to a rooster crowing and a donkey braying in the yard, seems so quiet without the city sounds! A knock at our little door at 0645 is Juana with our breakfast- banana pancakes smeared with jam, cafe con leche for Ingrid and coca tea for me. We eat at our little table in our room, then pack up- we have to be down at the port for 0800.
We say goodbye to Juana's family, and she leads us back down the path to the port. When our boat arrives, we all say 'muchas gracias' and wave goodbye to our 'mamas'.
Our next stop is the floating Uros islands. The Uros people live on man-made islands of reeds, each island about 2m thick! It is the strangest thing to see and walk on. Sometimes the winds will push the islands around and the locals will move them back by pushing them with a boat. We spent about an hour here, watching some local women cooking lunch and making their blankets and other handicrafts. We then took a ride on a reed boat that took two men about two weeks to build. I took a turn trying to 'row' the thing from the stern the way they do- didn't get far!
We then get back on our motor boat and have lunch during the hour ride back to Puno. We have a free afternoon ( I'm typing my little heart out!), then tomorrow a full day on the bus and a ferry ride, and we will cross the border into Bolivia, and be in La Paz tomorrow night.