And so the adventure to Peru begun….we boarded a coach which was to take us to from Bolivia to our destination – Puno in Peru. To get there we needed to cross Lake Titicaca; the largest lake in South America (190km by 80km) and one of the highest in the world, bordered by Peru and Bolivia. In order to get from one side to the other, we had to disembark and take a passenger boat across the lake, whilst our bus was transported on a bizarre floating raft across. Once on the other side, we went through immigration and onto our destination – Puno.
Our bus crossing lake Titicaca
From here, we got up early to take what can only be described as bicycle tuk tuks to the port. With the cycle situated behind the passengers, our cyclist drivers raced against each other to get us there first.
Once at the port we took a passenger boat to the Uros – a group of artificially made islands. These absolutely amazing feats of engineering are constructed from rafts of Totora reeds. The roots of the reeds intertwine and develop forming a two metre thick layer called Khili. The islands are anchored with ropes attached to poles driven into the bottom of the lake. The islands can be moved around Lake Titicaca. The reeds at the bottom of the islands rot away so new reeds must constantly be added to the top. Families live on these floating rafts in reed construction houses and if another family wants to join the community, they enlarge their island to accommodate them. The male head of household in each family takes it in turn to be chief of the island and arrange for the divvying up of food and supplies between the families. The island dwellers greeted us with songs before demonstrating how they constructed the island. The people wear traditional dress and for our visit they wore their finest outfits. The local language on the islands is Aymaras ( a lot of the rest of the country speak Quechua – a language spoken widely across a lot of the South American countries, particularly in the rural areas).
After the awkwardness of the people on this tiny six hut island trying to sell us their goods, we opted to pay for a short tour on an incredible boat constructed from reeds. Apparantly the life expectancy on these floating islands is fairly low…and you can see why when you consider their tiny size and the lack of opportunity to exercise as well as the inevitable poor diet they must have
After our stop off, we continued on to the hilly island of Taquile for lunch and to watch weaving and handicraft. The island is regarded as having among the finest handicrafts in the world. On this island it is only the men that knit, starting at the age of eight. The islanders follow the aim a moral code do not steal, do not lie and do not be lazy – so there is no need for police or other authorities. We were also introduced to their dating traditions. If a woman is 17 or older and wearing a red top she is married, any other colour and she is available. The men on the other hand have a more difficult task – they all wear self made wooly hats. A red and white hat means a man is single, red and blue means he is engaged and all red means he is married. The direction of the tassel on the mans hat also indicates whether he is looking for a relationship or not.
Following lunch we boarded our boat again to the island of Amantani where we were allocated our host family. Phil, Sabrina, Christian and I were all placed with the same family which made the whole situation a lot less awkward! The boys in the group played football against local kids, whilst the girls acted like cheerleaders. After waiting for a magnificent thunderstorm to end, we left the football pitch and ventured back to our host house for dinner – largely based around quinoa and potatoes. We presented our gifts of fruits, rice, oats and potatoes to our host family before our host “sister” then dressed us all up in traditional clothing and took us to a local party, where a live music band played and we all danced – although it oddly largely consisted of strange conga type lines snaking around the room.
The following morning, after a pancake breakfast we were put to work in the field behind their house. Firstly we had to pull out all the bean and maize crops by hand to clear the field. Having cleared the small field and feeling rather satisfied with our handiwork, we thought we had finished. But our “sister” came back outside and set us on our next task- harvesting the beans from the plants we had just pulled out. Really hard work in the heat of the day! Eventually the family returned to let us know lunch was ready. After a fond farewell we took a three hour boat ride back to Puno.
That evening we had a brief explore of the small city and ventured up to a view point before having a relaxing dinner and watching traditional music and dancing. We were ready to board the night bus to our next stop….