After my stay in the Amazon rainforest, I took the 1 hour flight to Cusco. I hopped in a taxi to the Pariwana Hostel (same hostel I stayed at in Lima). I reveled in having internet again and after assuring my parents I was still alive, I went straight to the tour agency desk within the hostel to plan out my next week. I first booked my Inca Jungle Trek for 4D / 3N to coincide with the date of my Machu Picchu + Wayna Picchu ticket.
This left me with 3 days until my trek began so I decided to check out the floating islands at Lake Titicaca. I realized that if I wanted to do a homestay with a local family and make it back in time for my trek, I had to take the overnight bus to Puno that night. Fortunately, my hostel was cool with me un-checking in and so after repacking, I headed out that same night after dinner.
My TourPeru bus departed from Cusco at 10pm and arrived in Puno around 5am the next day (costs 25-50 soles each way depending on which bus company + 1.50 sol exit tariff). Definitely do not skimp on overnight buses as the cheap ones can be dangerous, non-direct, and not climate controlled (I was on one bus where the luggage was frozen). I got the cheaper seats on the second floor that don’t recline all the way but it was still much more comfortable than an airplane. I positioned myself to lay on top of my bags as there are often pickpockets on the bus that will steal your stuff while you are sleeping. A couple girls I met had their sunglasses and jackets stolen on my same bus! Luckily, I made it with all my belongings.
After arriving in Puno, I just hung out at the bus terminal for a couple hours until the scheduled tour pickup at 7:30am (this tour company Inka Express didn’t have the best logistical planning…) The tour group was then transferred to the port to catch our boat tour around Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca is home to many quaint islands where islanders still their maintain traditional agrarian cultures. The tranquil beauty of this area is not to be missed– the waters are deep blue, the rocky islands are topped with ancient ruins, and the snow-capped Bolivian mountains over the horizon provide a gorgeous backdrop. The elevation here is approximately 3,800 m. Luckily, I have not gotten altitude sickness ever since the first time climbing Mt Kinabalu in Malaysia.
The tour I booked was very standard and included visits to the floating islands of Uros, a homestay on Isla Amantaní, and visit to Isla Taquile the last day (approx cost for 2D/1N tour is 50 usd, includes 3 meals with a local family). It’s very commercial and touristy, but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless. You can also visit the islands independently with a ferry ticket, which I think you can arrange at the port. There are also more “authentic” islands to visit, but with my limited timeframe I went for the easy cookie-cutter trip.
The boats are excruciatingly slow and it took about 1-2 hours to travel to each island. Even the river boats we rode in the Amazon were faster when trying to sneak up on alligators at night. But the scenery was gorgeous and you have a LOT of time to take it in during the journey.
Our first destination was the Islas Uros, which consists of about 42 unique floating islands that are built from many layers of totora reeds that grow all over the lake. The reeds are also used to build homes, boats, and can even be used as food. The inner part of the reed is edible and tastes sort of like a sponge-y version of hearts of palm.
The Aymara-speaking people of Uros have lived on these floating, mobile islands ever since pre-Incan times. They most likely moved to these islands as a defense tactic to escape the hostile Colla and Incan tribes that were swiftly and brutally expanding their territories.
For 5 soles, you can take a short ride on one of the totora boats around the lake. In the center of the island is a marketplace where islanders sell their handmade crafts to tourists. I bought a small bracelet with a dream-catcher charm; I got yellow for the sun as according to Incan belief, the lake gave birth to the sun.
I loved the colorful dress of the islanders — brighter colors usually implied the wearer was single whereas black meant married. Women wore dark bowler hats with long braids that had bright pom-poms tied to the end. They would wear many layers of skirts; 4 layers normally and up to 7 for special occasions. The fuller skirts are considered attractive as they emphasize a woman’s child-bearing hips! Mothers carried their babies on their back wrapped snugly with a colorful blanket. I even saw a little girl playing house by carrying her stuffed rabbit on her back.
The men wore sandals made of recycled rubber tires and, if they were married, would wear intricately woven waistbands their wives would make for them. The couple’s life would be detailed in the waistband with symbols indicting where they lived, how many children they had, etc.
After departing Uros, we headed to Amantaní where we would be spending the night with a local family. Read more about this in the next post.
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