I finally got to see Lake Titicaca! We had a three-day weekend and a group of five of us from the school went to Puno. We left early that Friday and caught the bus. It was a 6 hour trip and I was grateful once again that travel knocks me out. I slept most of the way there but when we arrived I found out that I had lost my local phone somewhere on the way. It must have slipped out of my pocket while I was reclined on the bus. I only used it for an alarm clock anyways so I have been living without a phone for the last month. Anyways, we were picked up by our tour agency and taken to our hotel. It was quite a nice place- we had two rooms of two and one room with one person. We went out to eat soon after- there was no food on the bus- and we found a decent place with good prices. One piece of advice: only order pasta in Peru if you are really hungry because the servings are huge. After eating our lunch/supper we returned to the hotel to take showers (we could actually regulate the temperature! Yay!) and relax.
The next day the tour agency picked us up after a great breakfast provided in the hotel and took us to the dock. We caught a boat and settled in for the short ride to the Uros islands. These are floating islands that people live on but now the main reason to live there is tourism. They started when the Incas tried to conquer that tribe in the Puno area but the people started making floating islands instead. That’s the reason why the people who live in los Uros speak a different native language than the other island inhabitants because the others were settled after the colonization when the Spanish brought in Cusqueñans to work on their islands. Quechua, the language of the Incas, is the most dominant native language but there are many tribes in the jungle with their own language. Unfortunately, quechua is being lost in the cities because it is seen as shameful or backwards to speak quechua. There is also discrimination against the quechua speakers, especially in Lima. Tangent aside, everyone in tourist areas also speaks Spanish with the exception of some elders. We visited two islands in los Uros, passing between the two in a boat made of reeds. They use reeds for everything: the islands, their houses, extra nutrition, boats, and crafts. The islands were organized in a cooperative to make sure that each island got the same amount of tourism. This is very common in Peru because there was a socialist dictator between 1968 and 1975 that started an agrarian reform, which would normally be a great idea but in this case didn’t turn out well at all. The farm laborers all formed cooperatives because that was the political ideology of the dictator and also because it preserved the unit of labor from the Inca times. However, the cooperatives didn’t know how to take care of the land since they had always been told how to do it and they didn’t use fertilizer or study agriculture. After the reform, the quality of Peruvian products dropped so dramatically that now the Peruvians prefer to buy foreign products because they generally are made better. I have been learning quite a lot in my history and culture classes at the school. Anyways, after los Uros we had a three hour ride to the island Amantani. We met the families we would be spending the night with and had supper there before climbing to the top of the island. We were lucky and got one of the few families with electricity on the island. There are 10 different communities on the island and each host family receives tourists once or twice a month. We had muña tea (like mint) to help with the altitude (lake Titicaca is higher up than Cusco) and then went on our little walk. While there are cement/stone paths on Amantani, they are ridiculously steep. We arrived at the top with a few stops along the way to catch our breath and the view was amazing. The lake was huge and we could see snow-covered mountains in the distance (photos on FB). I stayed up on the top until sunset and then came back down to the house where I was staying. After that, they dressed us all in tipical clothes and we went to a little party with lots of dancing. That was really fun. First we put on the loose, embroidered shirt, then the embroidered skirt, and then a very colorful belt. There was also a colorful shawl-like cloth that we were supposed to wear on our heads but it kept slipping off. The young daughter of the family led us to the party across the village in the dark and none of us got lost or fell into the creek. BTW- bring a flashlight if you travel in South America. Althought the lake gives off enough heat at night to allow the islands to have agriculture, it is very cold at night. All of the beds had three thick blankets and my bed in Cusco only has two. They had running water for sinks and showers but we flushed the toilet with a bucket of water poured in the bowl and there was no hot water other than the tea. Therefore, I skipped my shower that night. Side note: the public toilets in Puno (city) didn’t flush either.
The next day we had a breakfast of pancakes, tea, and I don’t remember what else. It was great. After that we caught the boat to the next island, Taquile. Taquile is unique in that it is the only island where the guys knit. They make their own knitted hats and many other articles of clothing to sell to tourists. The women weave a special blanket that takes them at least a month of hard work and they have designs that tell stories of their past or of the seasons. We hiked up to the main plaza and looked at all of the work for sale. Taquile is also run by a cooperative so we were told which restaurant to go to for our lunch of fried trout (or an omelet for those who didn’t like fish). All of the restaurants serve the same food and cost the same with the reasoning that everyone should benefit equally from the tourism on the island. After we ate, we descended over 500 stairs to the port on the other side of the island where our boat awaited us. We had a long ride back to Puno but the lake wasn’t too choppy so I was able to take a little nap. The other reason I took a nap was because I tried to read a book about the local fauna and it put me right out. I also spent some time talking to my new friends, Bill and Anne. They are a retired couple from California and it turned out that we had a lot to talk about. When we got back to Puno, the tour agency bussed us back to our hotels but since we didn’t have a room anymore we just hung out in the lobby. We met up with our new friend from Australia for supper and then got a ride to the bus station for the journey back to Cusco. We arrived in Cusco at 4 in the morning on Monday, just in time to grab a nap before going to class/volunteering.
A few days later I bought an alarm clock because I couldn’t keep waking myself up in time for school because I don’t get much rest at all when I do that. I was never late for class but when it is light at 5 and you don’t need to get up until 6:45 you don’t get much deep rest.