Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lake Titicaca and the Islands

So, it's taking me forever, but I FINALLY finished going through all my photos today, so I should be able to wrap up the Peru posts soon! Yay!

For any of you who are curious, you can find all of the photos here and here.

Anyhow, from Arequipa, Alex and I took a bus to Puno, the main port city on Lake Titicaca. The bus ride there in itself was an experience. As soon as we boarded, I was a little suspicious of our company, as the bus was clearly not in good repair. We were scheduled to leave at 10:30, but that clearly was not going to happen. Most to my surprise was that the Peruvians on the bus did expect to leave on time and were yelling Vamos! Vamos! to the bus driver trying to get him to leave. Once we finally got moving, we were entertained by a constant barrage of traveling salesmen. These guys basically put on infomercials for everything imaginable, from herbal cures to good parenting books.

Much to our surprise, we actually arrived in Puno basically on schedule, even after a few unscheduled stops. Who knew?

Upon arriving in Puno, we made our way to our hotel and huffed it up the three flights of stairs to our room. Arequipa was a little ways up, but in Puno, at over 3800 meters, you can definitely feel the altitude. I thought Alex was going to have a heart attack after carrying our pack up the steps! Although I felt decently ok, aside from being short of breath, Alex definitely came down with altitude sickness and we spent the next day or so just taking it easy.

Our main goal in Puno was to spend some time on the islands of Lake Titicaca. This was something that wasn't decided upon lightly. In fact, at first we weren't even going to come because we had heard the exploitation of local cultures in the area had reached pretty awful levels. This is something we both feel really strongly about and don't want to take any part in.

However, after doing our research we found that it was possible to visit the islands and still experience all the beauty the lake had to offer without going through a tour agency and contributing directly to the livelihoods of individuals living on the islands. We decided that this option would work out for us and I'm so glad we did, visiting the lake was one of my favorite parts of the trip by far.

Port at Puno.

Looking back at the city.

We ventured our way down to the port in the morning and asked the locals for the boat to Isla Amantani. As there is only one boat that goes there, we figured we'd get the local one. Success! We paid our captain directly, who spoke basic Spanish at best (they speak quechua on the islands) and looked as though he had weathered his fair share of storms on the island, and set sail at 8:30. It was great! We were on board with a few other islanders, one Frenchmen, two French ladies, and a girl from Austria. It was about a 3.5 hour trip to Amantani, but the scenery was beautiful and it was a gorgeous day so no complaints.

Headed out on the lake.





On the way we stopped at the Uros islands, which are the part that have been over touristed, but the section we stopped at was much quieter, and we didn't stay very long. The Uros people are very interesting in that they build their islands and boats completely out of reeds from the lake.

On the Uros islands.




From the lake we could also see the bordering snow capped mountains, which were pretty far away, but still beautiful.

Isla de Amantani

Once we reached the island, we got off the boat and the captain divided us up into groups and told us where we would be spending the night. Alex and I as well as the girl from Austria, Karin, were sent off with the Captains wife. After walking up the rocky beach we headed straight up hill, the wife in her sandals clearly easily out walking all of us huffing and puffing behind her.

Their home was perched overlooking the lake with a little corn and a number of sheep. They had a small guest house attached to their main house where they allow guests to stay. It was nothing fancy, but perfectly quaint for our evenings accommodations.

I forgot to take a picture of the inside, but here's the house from the yard.

Corn in the courtyard.



Also, baby sheep are ADORABLE!



The wife cooked us lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning and all were delicious. Vegetable soup, a main dish with squeeky cheese, potatoes and rice and hot tea. For the 25 soles each we paid her, about $8, for 3 meals and accommodations, I'd say it was well worth it! Considering we also felt so much more a part of the culture, if you head to this area, I highly recommend a home stay.



After heading out to explore around the island, we got directions from the Captain and headed up to trek to the top of the island where we heard the sunsets were amazing. His wife led us most of the way, and then we trekked up the rest. It was quite a hike, and FREEZING once the sun went down, but it was certainly beautiful from the top.



A little more to go!

We made it!



After making our way back down after the sunset (much easier, but a little tricky in the dark) we enjoyed dinner and got to bed pretty early. However, we did make sure to step out and see the stars though. Holy moly. I have never seen so many stars and galaxies in my whole entire life! It was breathtaking.

The next day after breakfast we caught the boat and headed back towards Puno. On the way we topped off at the other main island, Taquile, to do some more hiking and enjoy a few more lake views.

On Taquile.






Alex and I just couldn't get over how beautiful the lake was! If we had had more time, I would have certainly stayed longer!

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