Jen and I with our host family
I´ve heard of Lake Titicaca before, but like most places, I didn´t know where it was until I arrived. I literally landed in Lima and thought the city was on a lake when it was the ocean across the street. Then Jen arrived and I read through her guide and realized, there are a lot of interesting things to see here.
After leaving Arequipa and the faded memories of the robbery behind, we arrived in the town of Puno, 3800 meters above sea level.
Our guide rips this place apart, so I wasn´t expecting much, but it is not as bad as some places I´ve found myself. Our main reason for stopping was Lake Titicaca, the highest navigatable lake in the world. A visit to the islands on the lake required signing up for yet another tour, but luckily it was cheap and only lasted two days. My attention span is waning. Jen is attentive as ever and I find my mind drifting back to times I was in India, thinking about my disastrous money situation, wondering about a job when I get home, and just stressing for the first time in about a year really. Jen will remark about something the guide said and snap me back into the now, but it´s been a struggle. However, our first stop on the tour got me really jazzed.
So some time ago the Uros Indians fled the land to the middle of the lake and began living on floating islands made out of totura reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake.
These islands date back to the time of the Incas, but are still occupied by the Uros, although I believe it´s mainly done in anticipation of arriving tourist boats rather than in an attempt to flee conflicts with other tribes. Anyway, they are cool, and standing on the islands was probably one of the most unique experiences I´ve had on this trip! You literally motor out into the lake among the reeds and then all of a sudden, you see reed homes on islands. Apparently the roots of the reeds float when they are dead, so those are harvested and are about one meter thick. Then they add layers of reeds about another meter thick on top, adding a new layer every two months. The root base lasts about 10-20 years. The whole thing is anchored so that passing traffic and inclement weather does not put them adrift. There are about 5-6 families per island with about 800 Uros in all inhabiting them. It´s so damn cool!
Uros outside a hut. You can see how thick the base of roots and reeds is here.
As a part of our tour, we stopped at one island and were told how they made them and then shown an individual´s home.
The Uros were dressed in very colorful traditional clothing and speak no Spanish, but they knew enough to show us their t.v. and sell us stuff. As usual, they were eager to sell us handicrafts, and as usual, we both broke down and bought something due to the novelty of it. It was just a strange and interesting place.
A little girl in traditional hat. Adorable!
From there we set off to Amantani Island about three hours away. On arrival, the locals greeted us and we were introduced to our host families as we all were doing homestays there. What I didn´t know ahead of time was the need to climb up to the home. We each had a pack on and with the altitude, it was a long, tedious climb to get there (OK, it wasn´t that bad). The locals obviously had no problem, but they stopped to let us struggling visitors catch our breath as we made our way up.
The entire island is terraced and the homes are made of mud brick. There is no electricity or running water on the island either. This was a major bummer given the fact both of our sets of rechargeable batteries for our cameras were about to give out. After about 45 minutes of hiking up, we made it to our home for the night. It was a nice little place with an amazing view of the lake. We had lunch with the family and then met our guide for a hike up to the highest point on the island since we hadn´t hiked enough that day, and went to a temple now just ruins to catch a great sunset.
Inside one of their homes. She was braiding her hair.
Afterwards we went back to our familes for dinner. Now I´ve done a few homestays on this trip, but it is always a little awkward being in someone´s home, not knowing their language and just sitting there, eating their food while they talk among themselves, likely about how weird you are, with you just staring at them and their home.
They did speak a little Spanish, so we were able to ascertain that we were staying at the homes of two brothers and their families and well, that´s about it. After dinner we were dressed in the local garb and set out into the night to attend a little fiesta of sorts. The guys got off easy on this one. They wore a wool poncho and hat. I tried to tell them ¨Soy hombre¨ but that didn´t work. Jen and I had to put on two layers of skirts, a top and then this belt that was wrapped around our waists very tight. I still had my fleece and jacket on so my difficulties breathing in the altitude were compounded by my dress. I was warm though. We made our way down to a community center where they had a band playing instruments and the locals grabbed us to dance. At one point the entire room was dancing in a big circle. The songs lasted an eternity though and I was exhausted after each one.
One of their fancy boats. I got to go for a ride in one.
After an hour or so, we were ready for our warm beds.
Poms poms in their hair.
This morning we got up early, had breakfast and then headed to Taquile Island. This place is similar to Amantani, but not as tourist-friendly. They are working on that, hoping to host tourists as well for a night. We just walked around the island and had a lunch overlooking the lake with a view of Bolivia and the Andes under a beautiful blue sky. As Jen and I like to say at times like these, ¨we´re livin´ the dream!¨ From there a three hour ride back to Puno.
Thank goodness we are due for a break from tours.
We hit Cusco for the Inti Raymi Festival tomorrow and then after that, days of just acclimating until we set off on our Inca Trail trek. I´m a little more worried about it given how I was feeling trekking up the hill on Amantani. I´ve trekked in high altitudes before, but I wasn´t carrying my own gear and I was in better shape. I´m also having difficulty sleeping. You may have heard of restless legs syndrome. Well, I have restless body syndrome. It happened before when I climbed Kili. At night I felt like I had to move my arms all the time. Now the last few nights I´v spent the most part tossing, turning, and squirming, wanting to punch and kick the air. If anyone out there has heard of such a thing (I have to think it´s altitude-related) give me a holler. I can only drink so much coca tea that apparently cures all that ails you. Other than that, I can take to drinking a few cocktails before bed each night.
Guinea pigs - they are not for pets, folks!
At least at this altitude you don´t need much.
The ladies never let a moment go to waste. They are always sewing and making things.
Aside from this obscure affliction, I´m having a good time enjoying my last few weeks as a free traveler, trying to push thoughts of home away until I find myself actually home.
By the way, for an alternative view on my last few days (and weeks ahead), and to see pictures of our host family and us in the local garb (my batteries were dead) check out my sister´s blog on travbuddy - www.travbuddy.
Demonstrating how they build the base for their islands.