Puno, a city at the shores of the grand Titicaca Lake at an altitude of 3800m(!), would be our last stop in Peru before we crossed borders with Bolivia.
There is not so much to see in the city itself, but the people are gentle and the pizza’s are tasty. We were also very lucky to be there at the beginning of their carnaval and enjoyed men and women playing music and dancing their heart out on the street in colorful costumes. (A movie you can find on our facebook page Jack Noen.)
Besides being an attraction on itself, being the biggest lake of South America and the highest navigable lake in the world, there are 2 main activities on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca: the floating islands, Islas Uros and a weaving Island, Taquile. Both can be visited on the same boat tour.
In the morning we went to the floating islands. A very peculiar thing those are. Ages ago the Uru people tried to escape slavery from the Inca’s and built boats out of reeds on which they lived. Later they found a way to build floating islands with the same plant they used for their boats and they still live the traditional way, very primitively. I think the biggest improvement is that their kids are sent to secondary school on the mainland, which is a good thing for the youngsters, but a bad one for the culture, since many of them don’t want to return to their primitive homes and way of life on the islands.
Each island houses about three families (living each in a tiny house, made of reed as well). Once a week they go to the market in Puno to buy supplies, but they mostly use the lake for food. They eat the roots of the reed, ducks and eggs.
According to Wikipedia and our guide their original language isn’t spoken anymore, but according to the chief of the island we visited, he still speaks the original Uru language.
The chief took us on a traditional boat and explained about the life on the island.
In the afternoon we sailed to Taquile, the weaving island. To get to our lunch we had to climb about 500 stairs, not an easy thing to do on an altitude of 4000m! There live about 3000 people on this island and their handwoven textiles are seen as among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. We didn’t buy any, since we spent all of our budget on the caps in Cusco, which we got complimented for by some local man. Pretty cool, eh?
The men are the only ones that knit. The women spin and color the wool and farm their land. They wear traditional clothes: the women wear a black cape with colorful pompons at the ends. The men wear three different kinds of heads: the young or unmarried men wear a cap with a white ending. The married and thus more wise men wear the same cap, without the white ending and the political powerful men wear a colorful cap with on top a sombrero.
Since long the islanders could only marry other islanders, but since genetics don’t agree on shared genes too much, the politicians changed that policy and the Taquileños are now free to marry who they want.
We enjoyed the beautiful island very much.
Jan was frequently troubled by the altitude though. He was feeling restless and a bit anxious about not getting enough oxygen in his longs. On the lake he felt better, but once back in the hostel, the restless feeling came back and he couldn’t sleep.
Our host, Norma, took good care of him by giving him muña tea and calling a free doctor that came to the hostel. He checked Jan’s blood pressure and oxygen level and everything seemed fine. The mind really is a very powerful thing I believe, because after this doctor’s visit, Jan calmed down at first, but in the afternoon the anxiousness came back. I didn’t really know what to do at first, but I told him he had to relax, that doctors over here know what they are dealing with and that worrying about oxygen, wouldn’t help to ease his mind. It was a bit scary to do so, because I wasn’t 100% sure nothing was wrong. But it seemed to do the trick and Jan slept like a baby the next night. We did decide it would be a good thing to descend quite soon, since it was no doubt it was due to the altitude we were both pretty tired and not feeling at our bests. So we planned to skip the Bolivian side of the Titicaca Lake and head straight away for La Paz.
The bus ride itself was super cool. After the border crossing, we had to cross the lake again. We had to get off the bus and travel by boat. The bus itself was put on a kind of raft and brought to the other side. 🙂
When we arrived in La Paz, it seemed we had chosen a very nice hostel with a beautiful view on the city.
We went to the English pub for a drink and some nice food. That turned out quite expensive, so the next day we decided to go to the daily marked to buy food ourselves. And that was a very pleasant surprise. There were almost no tourists and it felt like being lost in a totally different time.
We also took the teleferico to El alto to enjoy the beautiful view on the snowy mountains that surround the city. Alas, we can’t say we’ve been in the highest capital of the world, since Sucre, and not La Paz, is the official capital of Bolivia. What a bummer. 🙂