28.06.2014 - 02.07.2014 19 °C
The 5.5 hour journey from Arequipa to Puno (located on Lake Titicaca) was really enjoyable. We chose a tour bus this time which was a small mini-van with guide and some stops along the way to break it up.
El Misti, one of the big volcanoes in this area
During the drive we reached a height of 4,500m which will probably be the highest point of our whole trip. It's definitely enough to feel the effects... a bit of a headache and shortness of breath. The locals living at altitude have more oxygen per blood volume than the rest of us, giving them the ability to cope with the reduced oxygen in the air. Apparently at 4,000m the oxygen level is only about 60% of that at sea level.
Puno is a relatively new city, and the first thing that strikes you is it's a very 'brown' town. The majority of the buildings are identical in colour and really blend into the background hills when viewed from a distance.
Rather than jump straight on an overnight tour of Lake Titicaca, we gave ourselves a day off to chill out and do some 'travmin'. There's not a great deal to do in Puno itself but we found a fab restaurant in the evening and browsed a few shops. The main square was small but attractive with a beautiful compact cathedral.
It's really sad to see older women wrapped up sitting on cold streets selling wares to make a few Peruvian soles
Our B&B was good - our room was decorated in bright reds, oranges and yellows so it looked very cosy but the first night was pretty cold. Thank God for our New Zealand head to toe thermals! The altitude is 3,800m and at night the temperatures plummet to around -3c. During the day the sun is fierce, it's very warm in the sun but quite cool in the shade so it makes dressing appropriately a challenge.
Our tour started early and a boat trip took us out to the Uros islands, the floating islands made of reeds. There are 80 islands in total, thankfully most are not 'open' to tourists.
We saw a demonstration of how the islands are built. From the many reed beds in the area they use the deep root systems, which naturally float, as a 1 metre foundation. They then cover this with a metre deep surface of layered reeds. The base lasts 30 years before rotting away.
The experience was super touristy... after the demo, we were ushered to the women sat down with all their crafts and wares and we all felt pressure to buy something. We didn't appreciate that part but it was interesting to see the reed islands and how the communities live.
Puno viewed from Lake Titicaca
You gringo! Buy stuff!
We headed on to Amantani Island which took about 3 hours! You probably know this already but Lake Titicaca is the world's highest navigable lake, and when you're on it it does feel a bit like being at sea, albeit much much calmer.
Amantani was where we were staying the night in a family home. We were paired up with another couple, Karl (UK) and Malin (Sweden), and we met our host - a mother, Rosalia - early 30s with the cutest baby carried on her back.
Our accommodation, as expected, was very basic - two single beds, no heating (cripes) and an outside loo.
Our front door was tiny!
What a cutie-pie!
Karl and Ant playing footie with our hosts' young son
The small blue door was the outside loo
We met the rest of the group (around 20 in total) to tackle a hill just behind the village for views of the lake and sunset. It wasn't a massive hill but it's no mean feat walking uphill at altitude and we all took it slow and easy. Several mamas from the village had already got settled up the hill with various goods laid out for sale, not missing an opportunity to take the gringos' money. Bloomin' inflated prices too... we bought a KitKat as a summit treat for about £1.50!!
Dinner was served back in our respective homes. It was a welcome sight to see a real fire burning on the stove after being up on the cold hill. The food was simple but delicious, particularly quinoa soup for starters.
It was very cute to see the family go about their daily business, feeding the baby and the other two children helping out. We met the father who was as welcoming as the mother, and we couldn't help but feel we'd been matched up with such a lovely family. Their living conditions were very basic, it really does make you think about how much stuff and comfort we have in our lives by comparison. It's very humbling.
The village put on a 'fiesta' for us, which again felt super touristy, but the band were excellent with traditional uplifting South American music. All the gringoes were kitted out in traditional dress which was very heavy (and tight), although I was actually quite grateful for the extra layers.
Us and our lovely hosts. Because we were fully dressed underneath including woolly jumpers, the clobber was muchos unflattering... adding some serious girth!
We stopped to admire the night sky for a while which was incredible. There's no light pollution, and being at elevation the sky glistens with more stars than is normally possible to see. The Milky Way was so clear, and because some of the stars are close to the horizon it felt like being under an enormous sparkling dome. A very special moment.
And so to bed, and our very cold bedroom. Bed attire consisted of top and bottom thermals, two pairs of socks, a scarf, a hat and a fleece! I was just about ok although my legs were cold whenever I moved in the night, as was the air in the room. The thick heavy blankets were pretty good at pinning us down and trapping the warmth, but we were grateful it was just the one night.
We had breakfast with the family and big goodbye hugs and kisses, even from the kids - bless!
Bye bye Amantani... the middle hill was the one we walked up to see the sunset
The final part of the tour was a trip to the island of Taquile. It was so beautiful, and felt like a Greek island at the end of a hot summer. The brilliant blue lake shimmered like a sea as a constant backdrop, the terraced land was golden and the smell of eucalyptus filled the warm air. We were instantly transported back to Australia on first whiff!
It was just stunningly beautiful
UNESCO declared Taquile's textiles a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Tangible Heritage of Humanity' in 2005. Bit of a mouthful but basically their handmade textiles are so fine and detailed they look like they're machine made.
The locals seemed a bit tetchy. We were told they don't like their photos taken and we should ask first (fair enough), but I was taking a photo of some sheep along the path and a grumpy old woman stuck her hand out asking for money. I said no as I deliberately didn't take a photo of her and she angrily waved her hand in the air saying "no photo!". Payment for a sheep photo? They didn't seem put out by the experience. Baaaaaah.
The islanders have developed a unique method of differeniating the married men from the singletons. The single men wear a red and white hat, which is then worn slightly differently once they are in a relationship, and once married they only wear red hats. Genius! Must make life a lot less complicated. You could also make out the married ones as they looked the most unhappy... ha ha.
A highlight was lunch in a rooftop restaurant overlooking the village and across to the snow-capped mountains in Bolivia.
Such a fantastic trip, certainly one of the highlights of our time in Peru!