Well we awoke in our little hotel (Colon Inn – Colon is like Columbus, as in Christopher !!) and had our included breakfast, and were then picked up by a car to take us to the port for our tour out onto Lago Titicaca and the floating reed islands. The tour agent last night had told us we didn’t need rain jackets as it wasn’t due to rain. During the night I had heard a LOT of thunder (Janet had my extra strong earplugs in and also had taken a sleeping pill, so she never heard a thing !), and we awoke in the morning to find it POURING with rain. Ho hum – Lake Titicaca in the rain – Lets hope the boat has a roof ! We also DID have our rain jackets out of the car (remember the car was in secure parking – Locked away under lock and key about 3 blocks from the hotel) because I never believe people when it is my welfare at risk !! So after our breakfast we set of in the car, wearing our rain jackets !
Puno isn’t a big city, but it has narrow streets, a one way system, and streets that just end ! But it only took us a few minutes to get down to the port where there are LOTS of these little boats for cruising the lake, and also quite a lot of weed on the water in the harbour – Titicaca is of course fresh water, and is the highest navigable stretch of water in the world. After about 10 minutes the other people who would be on our tour arrived – all 5 of them – so it was only a small group of 7 of us who set off across the lake. As we went out, a couple of guys came aboard and we were treated to a few local songs using guitar and, of course, pan’s pipes (or whatever you call them). Actually they were quite good – But then they were not actually a part of the tour, so a tip was required……Left my small change in the car, didn’t I ??? Grr.
Then it was off across the lake with our guide giving an excellent introductory talk about the lake, the reeds, the island, where we were going, and what we would see. And, more to the point, before we got to our destination (only about ½ an hour from the port), the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out and was quite nice and warm. There are several groups of islands on the lake, some are floating (but anchored) and others are actually normal islands – But these are further out and require a full day tour. There are even over night tours, but we were happy with our chosen 3 ½ hour one. The little boats going out each go to a different Island – There are 87 floating islands in this group, called Los Euros – and we pulled up at our island and were greeted by the villagers (7 families on this island), who are Aymari. (The story goes that they all live on these islands because the escaped from the invading Incas in about 1450, and have lived out here ever since.) We were all invited to sit down on these reed “logs” on the squishy ground of reeds (damp, but not wet), and, with the help of the villagers, our guide started to demonstrate everything to us.
First of all he showed us how you can eat the white base of the reeds – But just the lower 6 inches of so. The next part can also be used, in this case medicinally – You can hold the pith against your forehead as a relief for headaches etc. Then he showed how the villagers build an island – First they have to go out to reed beds and dig up the soil like base, and use it in lumps, all tied together, to make a kind of floating raft of mud and roots – The reeds are still growing. Then they cut fresh reeds and lay them in a criss cross fashion until the whole island is dry and above the water. This is an ongoing action – They are continually adding new layers of reeds as the old ones rot and wear down. And of course their houses have to be lifted up every so often and new layers of reeds laid underneath them, otherwise they would just sink. There is a hole in the island and with the aid of a stone and rope we saw that the water where the islands are is about 45 metres deep.
Meanwhile some of the villagers are sitting with us, getting on with their knitting or crochet etc, and then once the talk was over, the villagers took us off to their huts to see inside, and to see how they cook, and so on. Very interesting – All the huts are single room, with a bed and space to move around. The kitchen is outside. Their clothes hand on the walls from nails – You can’t put anything on the floor as it would get damp ! Funnily enough it seems to be all women’s clothes hanging on the walls – Never any men’s clothes !! Our family had four children, and the man was one of those who later rowed our reed raft across the lake, and they were all very friendly. After we had been in their house for a while, it was then time for them to show us all the tourist ware that is mostly how they earn their living – So we were pretty much obliged to buy a few bits and pieces – Although that wasn’t hard – we were so enjoying the morning, and they were all so nice, that we wanted a few bits and pieces. We then all went out on their reed raft (for an extra few soles), and that was a hoot. The women villagers serenaded us off the island with a song, and the two men started rowing us across the gap between islands – I have to say that these boats are VERY cumbersome, and wind blows them easily – how Thor Heyerdahl ever made it across the Pacific I don’t know !! Luckily Janet tried the reed treatment to get rid of a headache, and then felt good enough to help row ! (Maybe I need to get some of those reeds if they are such an effective cure for headaches !!) Luckily it was a one way journey (our motor boat came across to pick us up !) and we were then dumped onto another island which boasted a café and lots more stalls with ladies selling things. Janet of course got into the kitchen to see how they made some little quinoa cakes that were yummy, and then she made friends with one of the ladies on a stall and we ended up with all sorts of bits and pieces before it was time to get back on our boat and head back to Puno. Both of us agreed this little tour was a highlight of our trip – well up there with Machu Picchu or Galapagos. We really enjoyed seeing how these people live on these floating islands, and they were so friendly and nice, it was a pleasure spending the morning with them.
Back into Puno, and our intention was to head S East towards Arequipa, aiming first for Colco Canyon which is reputed to be the deepest / biggest canyon in the world, and also somewhere where you can see condors. We have decided not to go to Bolivia – First because we know they do not like letting RHD cars in – They sometimes do, but we just don’t have the time or patience to waste if they decide not to let us in. Equally importantly, time is an issue for us, and to get back west from La Paz is not the easiest, quickest, or most direct road, so we are going to go down the coast from Arequipa to Chile.
Arriving back in Puno, the tour people took us back towards our hotel, and we were going to leave immediately because so far Puno itself had not proved to be the most attractive or interesting city. Nothing particularly wrong with it – Just other places we would rather spend our time. Then, till being on a high from the wonderful morning spent on the floating islands, the bus stopped when confronted by a seething mass of people in all sorts of costumes, music from bands, firecrackers, you name it – And the driver told us we had to walk the last 3 blocks to our hotel because the roads were all closed off because it was a big Fiesta !! Well, you can imagine, Janet was out of the van and off into the fiesta crowds before I could even gather up all the shopping bags from the islands and get out of the van !! Suffice it to say we then spent a wonderful couple of hours on the streets with all the people, enjoying the music and the parade and soaking up the wonderful atmosphere. Basically it was a University Fiesta, and all the different University faculties each had a group of maybe 40 or 50 people, drums, pipes, girls dancing, and each faculty had different music and different uniforms. And a bit like Carnival in Rio, they all had to march through the main square and were scored according to their outfits, their music, their enthusiasm, etc !! We never made it to the main square, but while they walk through the route they are all practicing their music and routines so that by the time they get to the square they are ready for the perfect performance, so we saw everything. And One faculty was studying tourism, and when they saw us they all rushed over and wanted to know where we were from, how we were enjoying Peru, and lots more. It was all so totally unexpected and enjoyable, so by about 2 pm we had not only had a great trip on the islands, but also been totally involved in a wonderful street fiesta – Our opinion on Puno was starting to change for the better !!
We then had to get our car out of the secure parking – And of course the street the parking was on was one where the fiesta groups were walking down !! So of course when our be-stickered car edges out into the throng, it was on for young and old ! Luckily we turned off after two slow blocks, went back to the hotel, picked up our things, and headed out of town.
We knew of a possible camp site only about an hour or so up the road, at an archaeological site called Sillustani Monumento. A collection of graves where the local people had built big towers as graves, and these were pre Inca – In fact the early ones were BC. The later ones were Inca. (Inca rule was really only for 100 years or so, from about 1450 until about 1550 when the Spaniard Conquistadores arrived. So it is pretty amazing what they achieved in such a short time.)
So we were going to head in the direction of Sillustani. Climbing out of Puno, we were soon back on the wide altiplano heading NW the way we had come, towards the delightful (not) town of Juliaca. Juliaca really is the pits – Not only we think so, but so do most other people we know who have tried to drive through it (the largely dirt roads and deeply potholed and narrow streets are a nightmare to drive on) and most of the guidebooks agree. Anyway, we made it through, only getting slightly less lost this time then we had going the other way yesterday, and were soon back on the road. We stopped for lunch in the middle of nowhere, and sure enough, 5 minutes later, along came a woman with her small flock of sheep and two donkeys, heading home after a day’s grazing. Not long afterwards. Along came an old man riding a donkey, while his two elderly women folk walked, carrying heavy bundles (!). One is never alone for long out in the country !!
Then it was on for the short remaining distance to Sillustani, an first we passed all these amazing stone cottages in walled compounds, with thatched roofs and fancy gateways. The little town of Atuncoli had all these houses on the outskirts, while in town was the more usual ramshackle mud brick buildings. Then we arrived at Sillustani – Paid 10 Soles to get in and we then spent a couple of hours wandering around the hills looking at these amazing towers that were used as burial chambers, but they were all of different designs some from 1100 AD, others pre-Inca (1450), and then some were Inca designs. Many of them were ransacked by locals over the years, but a few survived and yielded some amazing finds in the 1970’s. While wandering around, Janet was serenaded by two young lads on their pipes, obviously hoping for a Sol or two, but they were out of luck as we had no loose change in our pockets. But they were nice young lads.
There were lots of Alpacas grazing, including a couple of cute baby ones. While talking of these animals, I should just point out that we see mostly Alpacas – These have short stubby noses and are usually smaller than Llamas. These are domesticated and we often see them in the butchers shops, so they are a staple diet for both meat and wool. Vicunas are wild, and not seen very often, and are much smaller and daintier, and (so far) always seem to be brown and white. Quite easy to tell the difference after a while. And remember they are “yamas” not lamas – Pronounced like the double LL in “tortilla” !! Also saw some incredible prickly orange flowers – The leaves especially were really prickly when we tried to turn one up to photograph it !
By 4pm the wind was getting up, and it was cooling down quickly. We stopped for a beer on the way down the hill in a little “bar” for want of a better word, but the boy there had nothing in a fridge, and then couldn’t open the bottle, although we eventually got it open – Oh, well, all helps to keep the local economy moving, I guess ! Then coming down the hill back to the car park past all the traders selling their wares was a little girl holding a llama and asking if we wanted to take a photo for one sol. We only had a 2 sol coin so we got two pics, and then started chatting with her mother on their stall, and spent a very pleasant 10 minutes with them. They are not pushy at all, so walking amongst the traders or in markets is actually quite a pleasant experience.
Pics are here :- https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0153LakeTiticaca?authkey=Gv1sRgCNW2tc-S9O23Hg#