As I left it last time, we’d just bumped into our friend Nonna at the Arequipa bus station. As luck would have it, not only was she headed to Puno like we were, but was even booked in to the same hostel, so off we headed together. Our bus to get there was a bit of a faff – we took a very cheapy one since they left more often, although this seemed to mean they didn’t really worry too much about leaving remotely on time and it stopped at lots of places on the way. Still, we got the front seats at the top so we got some great views (through the ominously cracked front window…)
Our hostel in Puno was pretty nice and the city itself was cool too – very different from most places we’d been in Peru. It was less picturesque than many places but was always busy and lively, and for a place bang on the main tourist trail it managed to pack most of its touristy restaurants and shops onto one street. It was also a bit of an odd place, to the point where I started keeping a list of strange things I’d seen including:
1. A man on a street corner selling a name changing service. As in you pay him and get a new name.
2. A shop which seemed to be staffed by noone except a very small, very ugly dog behind the counter. Said dog was wearing dungarees.
3. A motorcycle driving off of the road, straight through the door of a nightclub. This appeared to be of no concern to anyone.
4. A woman selling fish from the street, but with no containers to put the fish in, so she was literally sitting in a mountain of loose tiny fish
It was fun. The main pull of Puno is that it is right on the edge of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The main way to see the lake is to visit the islands, so we decided to do a day trip to see a couple from the Peruvian side, then head over the border and visit one on the Bolivian side.
Our first Peruvian island, or rather islands, were the floating islands of Uros. These were pretty bizarre. It’s a large collection of islands made entirely from lake reeds, woven together and floating on the buoyant roots of the reeds themselves. The local people originally moved there to escape the oppressive incas, and now stay there for the sake of tradition. We had a bit of a walk round one island and a trip in a reed boat to have a look around. Lonely Planet describes it as a ‘reed Disneyland’, and they might actually have hit the nail on the head.
I’m not sure what I thought about it. It was definitely novelty, but it felt a bit like intruding on people’s homes as the islands were overrun with us foreigners. The islands can opt out of accepting tourists but they are then opting out of solar power and money from the government, so it’s hard to tell whether they want the tourism or just would find it hard to get by without it.
The other island we visited on the Peruvian side was Taquile. I liked this one a lot – it definitely felt like us tourists had trampled it as much as the reed islands and had a really strong feeling of community and character. In landscape it looked a bit like a Greek island – warm, sunny, and terraced. There are no roads on the island so we had to hike up to the main village (pretty painful with a still swollen ankle), but it was really cool to look around. The locals are well known for their knitting and weaving so we had a look in their shop and generally took in the views.
We had a tasty lunch a bit further along the island, and were demonstrated some soap making, weaving, and dancing by the family who ran the little restaurant. Being isolated from the mainland, they had a lot of traditions specific to just that island. For example, the colour of a man’s hat indicates whether he is married or single, and they also wear belts with their wife’s hair (which they collect throughout their life) woven into them.
Isla del Sol
It was an easy (final!) land border to get across to Bolivia, and we soon found ourselves in the border town of Copacabana on the other side of the lake from Puno. Copacabana itself didn’t seem like a particularly exciting place so we decided to stay on the nearby Isla del Sol, a boat ride away. Lucky for us we shared the 2 hour boat ride with a group of some of the worst singers I have ever heard, and had a great time trying not to listen to songs being murdered very, very loudly.
The island was super cheap. Our beds for the night cost about £2 each, and that was the same price as a 750ml bottle of rum. Unfortunately for my ankle, this was another island which required hiking around which I really wasn’t up to, especially after walking about on it so much the day before. Instead I had a lazy day, enjoying the beach and lying around in bed. Paradise.
Our boat back was bumpier, but happily lacking in singers. Now that we were in Bolivia, our next stop was La Paz so we got pretty much straight on an interesting smelling bus and headed that way.