First of all apologies for the lack of activity on the blog for the past few weeks.. it’s been a whirlwind of activity and it’s been tough getting a consistent few days of wifi to update you properly (getting the excuses out of the way nice and early!).
Anyway, we’re currently writing from Medellin, Pablo Escobar’s home turf in Columbia and the multiple recipient for the award of the planets most dangerous city. Since our last update we’ve passed through two whole countries in Peru and Ecuador. Unsurprisingly there’s a lot to tell so we’ll do our best to fill you in over the next few days. Prepare to be bombarded!
Having done most of what we’d wanted to do in Bolivia, there was only one thing left for us to see: the famous Lake Titicaca. Arriving at the bus station in La Paz it soon became clear that there would be no buses going to Copacabana, the area in north Bolivia in which Lake Titicaca is situated, for at least a day. We therefore changed our plan and booked a bus to Puno, a town in south Peru which, because Lake Titicaca lies across the border of Bolivia and Peru, is another place in which you can experience the lake.
Arriving in our hostel that night, we went to sleep with no real expectations of what to expect. We had heard that it was one of the largest lakes in South America as well as the highest in the world (situated at 3,812 in the Andes mountains) but nothing could have prepared us for how huge, as well as how pretty, it was. The next morning we walked 5 minutes from our hostel down to the lake (which should really be considered an ocean?!) and booked ourselves onto a boat for the following day.
We spent the rest of the day trying out the local transport (one of our favourite things to do in a new place). Anyone that has been to Asia will know of the Tut Tuts, a hilarious and very cheap way of getting around, but we also tried out a rickshaw which was cycled by a man so old we almost told him to stop before our hostel because we felt so bad for him!
We also passed the time that day by climbing up to the ‘Condor viewpoint’ which gave us spectacular views over the lake as well as of the giant Condor statue erected at the top. We also explored the town with its many markets and fabulously old architecture, all of which reflect Puno’s colonial and naval identity. Indeed, Puno is known as the folkloric capital of Peru, having been said to be the birthplace of the Incas, and whilst we were there there were many festivals and parades with everyone dressed in the traditional attire.
The following day was our boat trip onto Lake Titicaca itself and we were very excited. Being at altitude, we assumed it would be very cold but the sun shone brilliantly meaning that the water, which always lies completely still, was brightly reflective of the surrounding mountains and clouds – very pretty.
The Floating islands were fascinating as these islands were artificial, being made from the totora reeds that can be found in abundance in the lake. The Uros people also use these reeds to build their houses and their boats as well as for a tasty snack during the day. There are around 70 of these floating islands in the lake and the Uros tribe who inhabit them pre-date the Incan civilisation. Of course, having intermarried with the Aymara tribe, the indigenous people of the Andes, there are no longer any pure blood Uros left and yet the people living on these islands still practice the old traditions of fishing, trapping birds and living off the lake. They also speak Quechua, an extremely difficult and complicated language but very interesting and the particular tribe we met sang us their traditional songs. This way of life began over 500 years ago when the Uros people wanted to separate themselves from the Incas and the experience of visiting these strange islands gave us an insight into the old traditions of ancient Peruvian and Bolivian tribes.
After visiting the Islas Uros we then carried on to the Island of Taquile, a couple of hours on. Our boat had a top deck on which we could sit and so we passed these hours quite comfortably in the sunshine. When we arrived at the island it struck us as looking more like a Greek island than a mere island in a lake! We disembarked and climbed to the top whilst seeing more local tribe people and observing their way of life on the way. Around 2000 people live on this island and are completely self sufficient. They are known as the Taquileños tribe and we learned all about their traditional dress, much of which is used to indicate whether a person is single or married. The Taquileños live their life by sharing everything with everyone, which seemed rather communist. They appear to live an idealistic life, however, and live by the simple rules: ‘do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy.’
After a yummy lunch we walked around for a while longer, soaking in the sun and marvelling at the ruins and very old architecture. We then began our descent, still marvelling at the beauty of the lake. The boat ride back to Puno was spent lying on the top deck again and thinking about the amazing day we had had.
Ultimately, we were glad that we ended up having to change our plans because seeing Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side saw us learn much about ancient cultures and traditions as well as being able to see the floating islands which are only accessible from the Peruvian side. An absolutely stunning lake and, if you’re ever going to see it, Puno is the less turistic and more authentic way to see it.