We finished up our visit to Machu Picchu and Cuzco and decided to spring for the $100 visas so we could visit Bolivia. At 12,500ft (3,812m) Lake Titicaca sits between Peru and Bolivia and just had to be explored. There were many points of interest; the city of Puno on the Peruvian side, the floating reed islands, Islas Amantani and Taquile, the city of Copacabana on the Bolivian side and Isla del Sol. Our friends the Loonies, Iain and Aly joined us for the adventures on and around the highest navigable lake in the world. Learn more about Lake Titicaca at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_titicaca.
We arrived in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca by bus. It was a largely uneventful passage with beautiful scenery and only a small altercation with a cockroach. We checked into our hostel and started exploring the town on a beautiful weekend.
As is true in all of the Latin American countries that we have visited, soccer is played by everyone. We stumbled across a game between two women’s teams. The women spectators watched from one side of the field while the men drank and got rowdy on the other side.
Not sure what was in that orange drink there, but these soccer fans were feeling no pain! We gracefully declined a swig and moved on.
Weeeeeeeee!!!!! This giant slide was a hit with the families. The little girl at mid-slide was clocked at 30mph on the radar gun. Talk about ‘hot pants’!
We saw others enjoying the weekend on the shores of Lake Titicaca in a much quieter and sober way.
Down at the port of Puno there were paddle boats, many restaurants and a fleet of tourist boats waiting to take people to the islands. In the background you can see the town of Puno.
We walked back into town from the port and saw a huge gathering of people at a street market. We guarded our cameras and dove right in. At first we thought it was just a regular weekend market, but soon realized that this was a bit different. We were in a witches’ market where fortunes could be told, luck could be changed and llama fetuses could be purchased for that really special occasion. This woman was burning a collection of trinkets representing what the customer desired. According to the locals this ceremony brings you what you want.
Witches need to eat too. This was Pat’s favorite stall at the witches’ market. A whole bag of cookies cost about 43 cents. Yummy!!
The next morning we headed to the port with a huge cookie hangover to take a 2-day tour of the Reed Islands, Isla Amantani and Isla Taquile. We were comforted to see that the waters were patrolled by the Coast Guard.
The man is pointing at our first stop on Lake Titicaca, the floating Reed Islands of the Uros. Notice how the word ‘Titikaka’ is bisected by the Peru-Bolivia border such that ‘Titi’ is on the Peruvian side and ‘kaka’ is on the Bolivian side. This is apparently a long standing joke between the two countries. In Bolivia they print ‘Titikaka’ upside down so that Peru gets the ‘kaka’!
Our boat carefully made its way between the reeds in the shallow waters in this part of Lake Titicaca.
Wow! All of these reed houses are on islands made entirely of reeds. The ‘islands’ are anchored to the bottom of the lake and can be moved or cut in half if a dispute arises between the neighbors.
We arrived at one of the reed islands and were greeted by singing Uros women dressed in colorful traditional clothing.
In case you are interested, here is the method for building your very own reed island. Fresh reeds are continuously added to the top of the island as they decay from the bottom of the island.
Everything on the islands is made of reeds. Reed roofs, reed walls, reed floors…. hmmmm I wonder what the TP is made of.
Even the food is reeds! Here are Pat and Iain getting ready for a tasty reed snack. Mmm mmm good.
The people who still live on the islands make all of their money from tourism. The women make very colorful wall hangings and other gifts.
The men make model reed boats to sell to the tourists.
We traveled between the reed islands on reed boats with scary looking figureheads. The boats were traditionally made entirely of reeds but now flotation is provided by incorporating thousands of discarded plastic soda bottles into the hull. One man’s trash is another man’s buoyancy.
The boats are propelled by swishing a big oar back and forth at the rear of the boat. It’s not the speediest mode of transportation but it gets them where they’re going.
We hopped back into the motorized boat and headed off to Isla Amantani. We were sorted into houses where we ate our meals and spent the night. We were very lucky to be adopted by Alfonso and his wonderful family.
This is Alfonso’s home. They get to host tourists about once a month. There are no hotels on the island so the families take turns providing rooms and meals for the tourists so they can make a little extra money.
How about this for a view? That is Alfonso’s car grazing in the pasture. Actually, there are no motorized vehicles on the island.
We were shown to our room. Did we mention that these people are generally very short? We had to fold Iain in half to get him through the door.
Laundry day at the Alfonso household.
Everything is done by man power. Other than a little bit of tourism, the islanders are mainly farmers. They grow their own food and form their own mud bricks for the structures. They work very hard from about the time they can walk.
For sunset we hiked up, up, up to the top of the island to the peak known as Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Did I mention that lake level is at 12,500ft? Whew!
The view was worth the climb. Wow, what a sunset! The only downside is that once the sun goes down, a.k.a. ‘sunset’, it gets COLD. Fortunately we were well prepared and even if we weren’t, there were plenty of locals selling gloves, scarves and hats at the top.
We made it back to the house after dark and ate a well earned and delicious meal of soup, vegetables and potatoes. After that it was party time. We went to the gathering hall and were treated to traditional music and were encouraged (forced) to dance. These guys were really pretty good!
Here is Aly dancing with our host’s daughter. No, those are not Aly’s clothes. The family dressed us up in their own clothes. I guess they didn’t want us to stand out at the dance?
We woke up early the next morning to the smell of breakfast cooking. Looks like there was a little extra help in the kitchen.
The kitchen was very basic, but it was my favorite room in the house. It was always warm!
We said goodbye to Alfonso and his family and jumped back into the boat. Our next stop was Isla Taquile. Of course the boat let us off at lake level and the town center was at the top of the island. We huffed and puffed our way into the main square.
Maybe this woman was out of breath too.
Our guide knew a family on Isla Taquile that was celebrating a wedding and our group was invited to check out the ceremony.
There were rules for the drunks at this wedding ceremony: Don’t Fall on the Floor.
So far this woman was abiding by the rule. She hadn’t fallen over yet, but the local hard beverage had her feeling no pain!
Ok, this may have been the strangest wedding ceremony ever. The happy bride and groom sat in a room where they were not allowed to eat, sleep, talk or move for two full days. (We were assured that they had potty privileges though). Friends, and a few tourists, stopped by and pinned money to their clothes. Check out the guy on the left. Think he broke the rule?
After the wedding we hiked up a bit more and had a great trout lunch. The arches indicate village boundaries. We left the village through this arch.
Downhill, yippeee!!! Our boat met us on the opposite side of the island to take us back to Puno.
We rested and enjoyed the scenery on the way back to Puno. We were all looking forward to a luke warm shower, Chifa (Chinese food) and our lumpy squeaky twin beds.
Americano! Americano! That was the cry from the Bolivian immigration official as he caught a glimpse of our passports. It was like the nation was on high alert. Three officials were needed to issue our visas and take our money. We were the only US citizens on the bus which did not endear us to the rest of the passengers since our immigration processing took so much longer than, say, our Canadian friends.
Having survived the border crossing and thwarted attempts at extorting $50 from us, we arrived at the other end of Lake Titicaca in the town of Copacabana.
We checked into our lakefront palace. Hey, what do you want for $9US per night???
Copacabana was much smaller than its Peruvian counterpart, Puno. We walked all around the town in a short amount of time.
At the church in the main square people have their cars blessed. This group was celebrating a wedding and having their cars blessed. Part of the ritual is to pour champagne, liquor or beer on the tires and on the engine. Zoom, zoom, hic!
One stop shopping for the wedding / car blessing. You can get your flowers and champagne right in front of the church.
At the Bolivian end of Lake Titicaca was Isla del Sol, or Island of the Sun. This is the island from which all humankind was created according to legend.
Another island, another opportunity to climb to the top. Aly and Carrie had to promise Pat wine at the top in order to get him up the last hundred feet.
We walked the length of the island from north to south and came across this really nice hostel just before the descent to the lake. Hmmmm, beers, beds and hot showers. It was too good to pass up so we spent the night.
The family built the hostel themselves and were working on the restaurant. The woman would take the burros down to the lake, fill the water jugs and bring them back up. The water was used to make mud bricks by hand. These bricks were destined to become part of the restaurant.
Here is a travel tip: There is no heat in the buildings in Bolivia. In order to warm up, head to the nearest pizza joint. Those big pizza ovens are toasty!
This was the view from our hostel. Wow!
The next morning we decided to catch a boat back to the mainland to get the bus from Copacabana to La Paz. This woman guided her alpaca down the steep path to the lake. It was amazing to see just how agile these animals were.
Iain to the rescue! This alpaca snagged his leash on a rock and was left behind. Once freed, he skipped down the rocky, steep pathway with deceptive ease. …..The alpaca, not Iain.
This was not our boat, but it was pretty.
Our last encounter with Lake Titicaca was on the ferry on the route to La Paz. It was an interesting set up. All of the passengers got off the bus and into little boats. The little boats dropped us off on the other side.
Our bus floated across on a barge and met us on the other side.
Once happily reunited with our bus, we sat back and enjoyed the views on the way to La Paz.