Puno

Next on our two-week trail was Puno, our base for two days of navigating the islands of Lake Titicaca. Like Arequipa, this town packs some serious altitude so make sure you have woolies and a good dosage of coca products before and during your stay. Coca sweets and coca tea are helpful and you can even try chewing the leaves with chalk which is pretty horrible and makes your mouth go numb, but works all the same.

Uros IslandsOnce settled, take a wander along the small streets of Puno which funnel out into the Plaza de Armas and take in the plethora of bars, restaurants and shops (Hint – souvenirs are much cheaper in Cusco´s market or from street seller´s you will encounter on tours of the Colca Valley). If you like Italian food, you´ll be right at home as this is the main fare on offer by the restaurants here alongside traditional Peruvian dishes. This region is notorious for it´s river fishes and the trout is especially good. Puno is pretty touristy and you need to venture off the main strip if you are looking for something quieter and more authentic.

After a quiet evening acclimatising (don´t stand up too quickly!), we rosWelcome the Urose early and headed for the ferry terminal. The boats seat approximately 30 people inside the main cabin and have a little seating area on the roof to soak up the sunshine. Suncream is advised as it gets pretty hot, but in the shade the temperature plummets drastically so be prepared.

It is a short distanceThe People of the Uros Islands to the nearby Uros, or floating, islands where we disembarked to listen to a presentation on island life and how the islands Flamingos on Urosare made. The islanders collect large roots that resemble blocks of compact peat and tie them together as a base, reeds are then used to bed the surface. Interestingly, in the event of a dispute between families, islands can be cut in two with the warring factions choosing to live seperately from then on. Our guide proudly announced that due to a healthy diet and medicinal plants, the only ailments that afflict these people are Rheumatoid arthritis and inbreeding, which caused a ripple of chuckles amongst the group mainly because of the enthusiam displayed by the guide on imparting this information.

Demonstration showing how the islands are madeIt is a fascinating albeit difficult way of life for the Uros people and the ingenuity of the islands speaks for itself. The islands now have solar panels for electricity which has lowered the average birth rate per family because, according to one islander, the gents now spend the evening watching television whilst the ladies weave tapestries to sell to tourists . Tourism is how they make their living and I can´t help but wonder whether the islands would still be inhabited were it not for this element. The whole visit is pre-planned: We are greeted by the inhabitants who all wear traditional brightly coloured clothes; there are little gardens with Waterway entrance to the Uros Islandsflamingos in the middle; the people set out stalls to sell you their handicrafts; and they sing songs to you when you depart in English, Spanish, French, German and Japanese (yes, really). I tried speaking in Spanish with one of the little girls who was following us around and when I asked her name she replied “money” with palm outstretched and I guess that sums up this part of the tour.

Views from Tequile IslandFortunately, the tour didn´t continue strictly in this manner and we were fortunate enough to meet a really nice bunch of people which made the longer boat ride to Amantani Island a good laugh with the group exchanging traveller´s tales. Amantani is picturesque – wild flowers in brilliant shades of red and yellow dot the landscape, there are small fields of corn and maize individualy cultivated by each family and all this is set against a backdrop of the sparkling waters of Lake Titicaca with the white-caped Bolivian Andes rising silently on the far horizon of the mainland. After meeting our host family, we enjoyed a traditional islanders lunch, which was delicious, and spent an hour snoozing in a field of wheat with the lake sprawled out in front of us and the sun beating down from above.

A Storm Approaches Amantani Island

Wild flowers on AmantaniThe afternoon involved a hefty hike up to the island´s peak which is no small feat, especially at these altitudes. We arrived close to dusk and had a fantastic view of all the surrounding islands and the mainland. To the west, a huge storm was doing its worst and from our vantage point we could see the grey-blues of the skyline and fantastic forked lightning cracking through the heavens set to a soundtrack of rumbling thunder that echoed ominously across the landscape. It was time to get back to town.

Some Local Brits on Amantani IslandThat evening, I was awoken from a post-dinner nap by our hosts who arrived bearing traditional Peruvian costumes that we were to don for the night. Moving slowly in the drizzly, darkness by the light of a small torch and feeling rather ridiculous in our outfits, we entered a kind of village Some Local Canadians on Amantani Islandhall where we met the rest of our group and the locals to dance the night away to a traditional Peruvian band. This was a lot of fun in the end despite my abject humiliation.

Amantani IslandThe next morning we bid our respective families farewell and headed to Tequile Island by boat where we hiked to the vllage square atop a large hill in the rain. Already exhausted from yesterday´s activities and the altitude, this was a difficult trek, but thankfully a short one. After a wander around the square and a traditional lunch of freshwater fishes, we descended the hill to the port where we received our reward for the morning´s labour. The sun had decided to make an appearance and our descent offered us magnificent views of the Islands East face and the glistening waters below.

The Rock and Reggae in PunoOn arriving back at Puno we decided to make a night of it with our new found friends from the tour and enjoyed Pisco Sours in the Rock and Reggae Bar followed by some pretty shocking Karaoke next door. This tour was a unique cultural experience that offered some truly stunning natural scenery. We organised this trip through Colca Trek from Arequipa.

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