Okay, let me start by saying, you really have to want to see Lake Titicaca to get to Lake Titicaca (sound familiar?)! The options from Cusco include a 12 hour train ride or an eight hour bus ride. Flights? There are none. Unless you want to fly back to Lima and then to Arequipa and then take the flight to Juliaca (45 minutes from Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca)…and they fly there only twice a week.
Yes, I know Titicaca sounds like a bad word. Or two bad words! Titi actually means “Puma” and caca means “strong”. Strong Puma in Inca. The puma and the condor played an important part of history in Inca civilization. Carvings of the puma were found in all of the ancient Inca temples and in their pottery.
Lake Titicaca is on the border of south eastern Peru and western Bolivia. It is the largest lake in South America. Even more interesting is that it is the highest navigable lake in THE WORLD. It is nestled in the mountains around 13,000 feet. There are a couple of higher lakes, but those have no fish in them (because they cannot get oxygen that high) and there is no boat traffic on those lakes.
Lucy and I opted for the Inca Express bus to the town of Puno. It actually turned out to be quite pleasant. We had several stops along the route: one to an old cathedral, one at Inca ruins in a small village (pilgrims from all over the Inca region used to go to the temple there with offerings) and lastly we stopped at a museum with well preserved Inca carvings and pottery.
We even had lunch along the way at a neat little restaurant. The bus driver pulled into this one-horse town with dirt roads and and the now common sights of poverty…barefoot kids, packs of dogs, shanties. I thought to myself, “There is really a restaurant in THIS town suitable for eating?”.
Well the next thing you know, the bus driver is backing the bus through a skinny gate into a lovely, walled courtyard. It was like the whole little town was in black and white and then suddenly there was this beautiful little courtyard in vibrant colors. Inside there was a restaurant with a traditional Peruvian buffet…chicken, beef, rice, lentil beans, green pasta…colorful tablecloths, music, a little souvenir shop and
alpacas and llamas roaming in the grassy area inside the courtyard. They are friendly animals with very sweet little faces. I fed a couple of them there. It seems like Peru (and much of South America) is notorious for beautiful little surprises behind the walls and gates.
The bus rolled into Puno, the little town on Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side. We were dropped off at the two star Sillustani Hotel. Kind of a scary place and true to the hotel inconsistencies we were experiencing on this tour. The hotel was located downtown on a dirt road with beggars and harassing shoe shine kids right outside the door. The streets were loud. The hotel smelled, the carpet was raggedy, there was a constant banging noise and there was a fine pack of snarling dogs in the barrio outside our room window. If the solo bare light bulb in the room and the dirty towels was not bad enough…the toilet overflowed and we could not be sure to have hot water 24 hours a day.
Well, Lucy said this kind of room was fine for my backpacking days in college, but this was not going to be one of her last memories of Peru, where she was afraid to walk out the front door! Adios Hotel Sillustani.
She had the front desk call the agency in Lima and find a better room in Puno. I was secretly thrilled as I was suffering from a bout of altitude sickness, having climbed another several thousand feet. I was thinking that the banging in the barrio and the pack of dogs was not going to do much for my splitting head. Not enough coca tea to help this one!
From two star to five star we went. Across town to the Hotel Libertador right on the shores of the lake perched on a mountain with a security gate. We walked into the the immense, brightly gleaming marble lobby and the gentleman behind the counter said with a smile, “We have been expecting you”. Word travels fast from Lima! What a pleasure at that very moment to be traveling with mom and her “fat wallet”! 🙂
The next morning we took a boat ride to the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca. The Uros people are said to be one of the oldest races still in existence on earth. What is really fascinating is that these islands are made of reeds and they FLOAT! No kidding. They are made with layers and layers of native reeds that grow in the lake. The islands are probably 4 feet thick. As the bottom layers start rotting, they just put down new layers on top…about every three weeks to once a month.
Some of the islands are small and only have 5-6 houses on them, also made of reeds. These “houses” consist of one room.
Basically for sleeping. They have solar panels, so there is a light bulb…and some even have a TV! No running water, to toilets. However, they are just steps away from the lake with fresh water.
To cook, they use a large flat stone over the reeds and they burn reeds on top of the stone for the pot to cook. You can peel back the reeds and eat them. They really taste like eating a damp sponge but we were told they are a good source of fluoride and iodine. The Uros survive on that, birds, and fish from the lake. It is really a hard life. The weather is often chilly, but it rarely snows there because the lake keeps the air warm in the winter, despite the high altitude.
There are about 45 Uros islands. The larger ones have schools. The kids actually take reed boats over to the school. The schools on the islands only go to eighth grade. After that, they go to high school in Puno. We rode a reed boat from one island to the next for about 10 Nuevo Soles (US$3.50). Probably a rip-off, but definitely a once in a lifetime boat ride!
It has been an amazing journey!
In my entire time in Peru, I only saw about 10 women with short hair. The traditional way to wear the hair is in two long braids. But even the modern younger girls had very long hair. I asked one of our guides and he said the tradition is to never cut their hair except once in a lifetime. That is when the girl gets married. She braids that cut hair and gives it to her husband who wears it as a belt for protection. I didn’t see any men wearing “hair belts”, so I suppose it is just on the wedding day…or honeymoon.
There is an election coming up in November in Peru. Every town and district had “mayoral” races. What is really annoying is that they have 12 and 13 candidates. How can anyone even get a majority vote? There are billboards everywhere. In the small towns (and the cities)they paint walls and houses!
Can you imagine a picture of Governor Rick Perry painted across the entirety of your house?! They also have those giant loudspeakers on their campaign cars spouting off all kinds of political propaganda as they drive slowly down the streets. It reminds me of the big loudspeaker that the Blues Brothers strapped to the roof of their police car when they were trying to get everyone to go to their concert.
I have to go back to the USA for some legal issues, so I will (sadly) miss out on my Chile leg of the Journey. However I will back on the road in a couple of weeks. More later from South Africa.
Lots of love,