Floating on Lake Titikaka

Itinerary:

  • Copacabana – Puno
  • Puno – Uros Floating Islands
  • Uros – Isla Montañe
  • Isla Montañe – Isla Tequile
  • Isla Tequile – Puno

My bus from Copacabana had to cross the Bolivian -Peruvian border which meant another two stamps in the passport! Although it has to be said, I don’t know why immigration insist on stamping the same double page each time. Use another page, I want a passport full of stamps! Other than this minor flaw, the process was simple and we were on our way to Puno. It was only a 3 hour journey from Copacabana.


After hopping in a taxi from the bus station, I got to my hostel (Cozy Hostel – highly recommend. Great vibe, good wifi, well-equipped kitchen, Netflix and comfy beds). There didn’t seem all that much to do in Puno but I wondered around, went to the supermarket and the bank and found a local bakery selling THE BEST alfajores I have found so far in South America. Thank you Peru.


When I was cooking dinner I spotted a friendly face in the lobby. No other than my little cherub Naomi who had stayed the night before and was waiting for her bus to Cusco. Also staying there were two of the boys we’d met at Route 36 so we spent our evening chatting to them, watching ‘Bad Boys’ on Netflix and generally having a giggle. I saw Naomi off and then packed all my stuff ready for my homestay out on the lake the next evening. I also had a very odd room where I was in a single bed next to a double that had a couple in, and we were the only inhabitants of the room. Luckily, no activities occurred. That, or my headphones worked wonders!

My pick up was at 7.30am so I was up early and down at breakfast, ready to go. We were taken to the harbour where I hopped on board a little motor boat along with about 20 other people. Ricardo was our group leader and knew his stuff. He informed us of the geography, history and traditions of the lake and its people on our way over to our first stop: Isla Purimita, an Uros Floating Island.


Now, you ask, a floating island? ¡Si! The Uros people used to live in Puno City, between the Imara and Kechawa people. They were driven off their land and took to living on the water in houseboats. This became a problem as their families expanded and so they realised that the reeds which grow in the lake have roots which float. Every wet season, the thick roots detach from the lake bed, floating to the surface in giant compost-type blocks. They tie 10m x 10m blocks together to form an island and cover them with freshly cut reeds twice monthly. Over the course of a year, the roots grow in to each other and the reeds compact down to make a floating island, which they anchor to the lake bed. Viola. One floating island ready to inhabit!

The people of Purimita were so excited to see us upon arrival. Because there are 15 islands, they receive tourists on a rotation system only. As such, the island president was super keen to let us experience his island properly. He took us out on their large reed boat for a sail, we were sung to (in Imara, Spanish, English and French), we were welcomed in to their houses and even received a stamp in our passports from Lago Titikaka. Above all else, the children on this island were precious. I mean, all you have to do is look at this photo to understand how unbelievably adorable they all were:


Our boat set sail from Purimita in the direction of Isla Montañe, 2 hours away (because these boats were so bloody slow). We arrived about 12.30pm and met our host families. I was with a lovely 53-year old lady name Ricarda, and 3 other (older) women from my tour group. Ricarda’s house was a 10-minute uphill walk from where the boat was and my god, was this a tough walk! We panted our way to the top to see her beautiful home.


It was simple, quaint. But big. There were 3 or 4 large rooms upstairs with similar downstairs, and then a separate kitchen room. Of course, the toilet and shower were located outside, about 25m from the house itself. Ricarda had cooked us a lovely vegetarian lunch (they’re all vegetarian on the island) of quinoa soup, followed by fried cheese with salad, rice and potatoes. Carbs with carbs with carbs is common in these countries.

After lunch, we walked to the main square to meet up with the rest of our group. Ricardo, our leader, told us about the island and the traditions of Pachimama and Pachitata (mother and father earth). Then we began our hike to the top of the island, where the Pachitata temple was, and where we would watch the sun set over the lake.

The walk up the hill was where I met Daniel, Freddie and Augustin. They ended up being my your friends for the remaining time too. As we summited (and I had remembered to pick up 3 stones along the way), we walked around the “temple” 3 times anti-clockwise, each time making a wish and placing one stone in to the brick wall. Let’s hope Pachitata is on my side and makes all my dreams come true!


When the sun set, it became very cold and we positively ran back down the hill to the main square and back to reach our Peruvian mothers. Back home, Ricarda had cooked us dinner and this time her 15-year old daughter Dina also joined us. Dinner was quite similar to lunch, but this time a noodle soup with bread, followed by a vegetable stew with rice and potatoes. Yummy, but extremely filling. Luckily for me, the avid mint tea drinker, we had muña tea to follow which is their local herb and known as Andean mint.


Our evening was shaping up to be a good one. The local people had planned a fiesta for us. Ricarda dressed the 4 of us ladies up in traditional clothes – full skirts, white blouse, tight belt right under the bust and a black veil – and marched us to the party! A local folk band known as Pachimama played for two hours whilst everyone else (guests and hosts) danced away. It was so much fun, although the traditional folk dancing is something akin to the Hokey Cokey! Still, with beer in hand and the fabulous company of my 3 male friends, who also loved to dance like me, we had a great evening. I even got to sing a little ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ as the guitarist knew the chorus and played it for me at the end!


My sleep wasn’t as cold as I had expected it to be, although I sure didn’t risk a toilet trip during the night. Our breakfast was pancakes and although served plain, we’re actually very good. I did feel as though I’d exhausted all carbs food options by then though. We packed up our things, took some pictures with Ricarda and I also gave her a small gift I had purchased in Puno. Then she walked us down to our boat so that we could continue our island hopping.

The final Island to visit was Tequile (pronounced exactly like Tequila but with an ‘e’ at the end). Yet another 45 minute uphill hike awaited us to reach the main square. I was feeling particularly energetic that morning, probably from my carb overload, and ended up running up the steepest hill we came across. Freddie joined me on this mad venture and we practically died as we collapsed in a heap at the top, struggling for breath with the altitude (we were at 4015m).

Tequile’s principal plaza was very picturesque. There were beautiful panoramic views across the lake, from Peru to Bolivia, a handicraft market of the knitted works completed by the local men, a photographic exhibition of life on the island, and many children wondering around selling bracelets. I did give in and purchase a bracelet from one beautiful little girl in traditional clothing, who I then offered my mango to and she took my biggest piece!


Following our time in the plaza, we walked down towards the second harbour on the island. Just before reaching the port, we had lunch in a small restaurant, with a great view, where they demonstrated to us the typical vocations of men and women on Tequile. The men knit hats, which is very important to their culture because the hat symbolises if they are single, in a relationship or married. The women weave belts, also very important because they use their own hair, collected from a young age, to weave in to a belt which they eventually give their husband at marriage. To me it was gross, but to them it was a symbol of love. We then ate a lovely trout dish and the grossed out feelings soon went away!


The boat journey back to the mainland took 3 hours. Luckily for us it was a beautiful day, so we went on to the top deck to sunbathe and chat before we got back. I’d thoroughly enjoyed the company of my South American friends over the two day trip and they sure had me laughing the whole boat journey home. It was sad to say goodbye when we were back in Puno, but that’s travelling life for you.

I spent my evening sorting out my bag, making food for my early bus the following day and wishing Happy Mother’s Day to Mum back home. I was in bed by 8pm due to my 5.20am alarm, so unfortunately nothing much to report on my time back in Puno. But I’d loved my last few, tiring days and actually just needed a good sleep!


So, 150 days in to ‘life from a bag’ and my time on Lake Titikaka has come to an end. The homestay was such a great experience and it was nice to feel like I was really travelling; going to the toilet outside, no electricity, sleeping in a mud hut. Although, I was thankful to get back to the mainland and see running water and an inside bathroom! Still, perhaps I’ll just create my own floating island for weekend country breaks back home. I do know how to make one afterall!

Gabby x

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