The Guide With The Golden Penis

Puno Travel Blog

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Ok, it sounds like a title of a spoof James Bond Film (maybe the studio would like it as a working title?) but all will be revealed as to why my blog entry is thus named.

My bus trip to Puno didn't have the best of starts, the bus company that I'd bought the ticket from had sold me a ticket for a bus that didn't exist (their scheduled bus had in fact left around half and hour before I arrived) so I had to go with another firm, luckily an English speaking tour guide was on hand to translate the problem and help get me on the bus, cue yet more sprinting as the bus was literally pulling out of the station. The ride itself was particularly tedious but at least it was less uneventful that my last bus journey but I sure was sick of the sight of the rather scruffy town of Juliaca I kept passing through to and from Puno.

At least my hostel in Puno was nice enough and run by a really friendly family. I'd arrived later than I'd anticipated (why was I surprised by this?) and had forgotten it was Sunday so i couldn't to scope out all of my options for a trip to the islands on Lake Titicaca so decided to stay another night in Puno to give me Monday to check things out. It meant at least Monday was a fairly relaxing day, I arranged my tour, did some souvenir shopping, bought gifts for the families on the islands and some snacks to keep me going. 

The tour company picked me up bright and early to take me and my fellow tourists down to the docks to get our boat. The group was a little larger than I would have liked (around 20 people) but everyone seemed nice enough and the company I'd chosen had a good reputation for its contributions to the people on the islands and the way it treated them, I particularly liked the way I would be paying my money directly to my host families rather than leaving it to the company itself.

It took us about an to get to the famous floating islands of Uros, these are a bit on the touristy side but it was still great to see their unique way of life, so its kind of understandable why it draws people from all over the world to come and see them. The islands are built up from layers of Tora reeds collected from the lake and these are overlaid onto living reeds whose roots sit in the water. The dried reeds are overlaid in different directions to provide strength and are replenished as the older layers rot. It gives the effect of walking on a really springy mattress, you just have to watch out for weak spots or your foot/ leg gets a bit wet! The islanders gave us a traditional welcome when we arrived and our guide explained the history behind the islands and one of the tribes surrounding the lake had been forced to live on the lake itself to avoid conflict with other waring tribes.
We then got to visit a house of one of the locals, most of the houses are built from the same Tora reeds but some now have tin roofs. They are fairly small and can be quite cramped depending on how many family members there are. I was also surprised to see animals on the islands and one precocious cat liked to jump between islands by climbing on board the boats. The villagers subsequently tried to sell us their wares, the weavings were beautiful but my Bolivian one was taking up all the available space in my rucksack. We then took a 'Tora Taxi' over to another island to see an example of a fishery and also to see how the plastic bottles they collect are recycled as part of the fabrication of their boats (for the small canoe we were in it took around 2000 bottles lashed together, covered in tarp and reeds to make our boat).
Then it was back on our boat and onto the island of Amantani, when we arrived our host families were waiting and I got to share with two cool chicks from Alaska (whose details I didn't end up getting but they have mine and hope they get in touch), our madre for the next 24 hours, Hermhilda, was as it turns out somewhat of an influential character in our village. She led us up the many steps to the village and to her families house, we decided to share a room together as it had three beds and we didn't want to inconvenience our family by them having to clean two rooms after we'd left. The room was much better than I was expecting and Kerry's bed even had He-man sheets - jealous, moi? Hell yeah! We explored the house and garden taking photos and talking to one of the sons, anything to take our minds off our grumbling stomachs (it was close to around 3.
30pm by now and we were all famished). Lunch, although a simple meal, was really delicious, soup (Peruvians and Bolivians make awesome soups), then different types of potatoes, one of which was purple, and an egg, potatoes and flour fritter. All of the cooking was  done over a rudimentary clay or earth oven with cast iron pots, all of the herbs were fresh, as were the eggs and the veggies I suspect were all from the families garden. The next family pet, a black kitten called Negro kept us amused while we ate lunch, after helping do the dishes we decided to head off early to go trekking to try and explore more of the island on our own. We climbed to the top of the island to get a better view, encountering ruins and arches along the way, the local women climbing up to sell their wares to the tourists as they flocked to vantage points to watch the sunset.
There was no one around save the three of us and it was a calming experience. We saw further ruins on the brow of another hill and set off to see what they were, unfortunately this was where the tranquility ended as we stumbled across the rest of the group that was staying in the village. The views were beautiful but trying to capture the serenity of it all without someone ruining your shot proved problematic and we regretted moving away from our original spot. As the sun slunk away we headed back to the village. Dinner consisted of more soup but I never tire of these wonderful creations, and another carb loaded main course. We'd been told by our guide that the villagers were putting on a dance in the community hall and we'd be taken there by our host families, the only issue with this was that we were going to be dressed in local attire, now while I'm a fan of going local I was definitely not a fan of doing it under these circumstances.
We didn't want to offend our gracious hostess and before we could conjure up the words in Spanish we were trussed up in local garb, as I'd still got my down jacket on under this outer layer I looked even more ridiculous, like someone in a giant fat suit. I was not feeling glamorous by any stretch. We helped Hermhilda carry crates of drinks down to the hall as it appeared she was somewhat of an important person in the village and was running the whole show. We made a pact that we'd suck it up for an hour then slope off, it wouldn't have been so bad if when we'd got there it was the locals dancing and putting on a show for us  but watching tourists prance around looking like total monkeys was not my idea of fun. We thought we'd managed to escape unnoticed when the daughter of our family came running after us, mostly I think to see if we needed help getting home, we thanked her and said we were ok and headed back.
I climbed into bed pretty much as soon as we got back while the girls went out star gazing. I was supposed to have been staying in the next island Taquile for another night but nothing so far indicated I was going to gain much more from the experience by doing so, also I found out later that there were strikes planned and if I stayed on Taquile then I'd have to wait another day in Puno as I wouldn't be able to leave, the French could learn something from these protesting Peruvians! Although I suppose its better than sitting on your backside complaining about the state of things but doing nothing about it like we do at home.

The girls went trekking again early the next morning as I slept like a log and they arrived back in time for breakfast I was soaking up the sun and taking in the view when they arrived and then we were all treated to pancakes by our madre.

The kids were all getting ready for school and looked so smart in their uniforms, wolfing down their pancakes in a rush to get ready. There seemed to be some of Christian's friends who'd stayed over so Hermhilda had her hands full feeding the 5000! 

We were back at the docks by 8.30am saying bye to our hostess before leaving for Taquile, it was only a short ride away (about an hour) by boat and then we were off trekking the island. We made our way halfway up the steep route to the main part of the island before our guide stopped to give us more info on the history of the islanders and their customs, including what the local hats meant by their designs and how they told you if a man was single, interested in a girl or married, the same too with the women's headdresses.

She also told us how a marriage ceremony is conducted and how the build up lasts a month so that the couple can be sure they are ready to go through with the marriage before entering into the ceremony. Peruvians also do not wear wedding or engagement rings in some parts of the country (here being one of them) where older traditions are still followed. We made it up to the main part of the village where the locals were wearing a different kind of traditional dress native only to this particularly island. The elders seemed to be in some sort of meeting in the square and the local school girls were playing hopscotch. The views from Taquile were just as those from the Isla del Sol and the water turned a turquoise and aquamarine as it got closer to the shore and beautiful brightly coloured bushes with fuschia pink flowers cascaded over pathways, it reminded me a lot of many of the Greek Islands I've been to.
After a brief exploration of Taquile's small centre we went for a somewhat early but delicious trout lunch caught from the lake. Our guide gave us further explanation on the local traditions including the thick and colourful waistbands which the women make for their future husbands part of which is made with their own hair! We headed back to Puno around 12pm descending down the incredibly steep flight of stairs and a beautifully decorated stone archway topped with stone faces. On boar the boat I noticed something unusual hanging from our guides bumbag, a golden fallus - very mysterious! Just to make sure I wasn't imagining things with my dirty mind I asked the girls to take a look and they confirmed what I'd seen, giggling like schoolgirls we decided to ask her about it, she turned red with embarrassment when confronted.
She then went onto explain that it was to try and bring good luck with men, even though she was married, random but very funny! I wander if this is the Peruvian equivalent of wearing your heart on your sleeve for women, a penis on your bumbag, who knows!

Due to the proposed strike everything was frenetic to say the least when I got back to Puno, I had to secure a bus ticket and pick up my bags and get back to the bus station pronto, so that I didn't arrive too late into Arequipa I booked myself on a 5pm bus, it was 3.30 when we got back so it was game on to make it, good job Puno is not that big or suffers from any kind of traffic congestion otherwise I'd have been screwed! I also had to hurriedly add further days onto my reservations that I'd made in Arequipa as the hostel was pretty popular and I didn't want to have to stay somewhere else then have to move, I had to give taking a shower a miss as there simply wasn't time, personal hygiene when you go travelling can fall a bit by the way side at times.

At the bus station I had the fortune of meeting up with my now good friend Anna, who I ended up travelling with for about a week or so, it turned out we were taking the same bus and heading to the same hostel and also had the same itinerary planned for this next week or so. We'd already booked our seats so were sitting separately but said we'd wait for each other when we got off the bus in Arequipa. This bus journey was a bit mental to say the least, I was sat next to some hyperactive teenager who proved that teenagers are the same world over (I feel old writing this) when it comes to irritating habits like playing their music out of their phone for everyone else to endure whether they like it or not, luckily though we had similar tastes in music so it wasn't really all that bad.
Actually the worst part was the couple opposite who decided as the bus journey wore on to treat me and the teenager next to me to somewhat of a porn show, like to think of myself as far from prudish as you can get but doing that in front of a kid is just bang out of order. As it turned out Anna's bus trip wasn't much fun either after having her ear talked off by some old lady and had the old dears pooch resting on her feet. You've got to love the journey part of any trip, they often produce some of the most memorable moments,although not necessarily for all the right reasons!

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photo by: lrecht