After another horrible bus journey we arrived in Puno, Peru.
We will never ride with Trans Titicaca again. They double booked the bus and refused to give a discount to the people (like us) stuck riding collectivos the whole way to Puno. We also had to change buses at the Peru border and take our luggage with us. Jordan and I had a skype interview in Puno at a specific time, so we were worried about missing it. Because of course the bus was also 30 minutes late. And they lied about how long it would take at customs.
I’m really not sure what the whole business practice culture is in Bolivia/South America, but to us Americans it seems incredibly dishonest. When I asked questions and asked for a refund, I was told by the ticket woman that it was my fault I would miss my interview and I should have left for Peru this morning if I wanted to arrive on time. When I asked the men outside at the bus when we would be leaving, they ignored me. Literally ignored me, as if I did not exist. Because I am a woman and they are machistas. That made Jordan angry. Usually I do most of the business transactions because I know more Spanish, but they refused to deal with me. Whenever someone would make eye contact with me, they walked away while I was mid sentence. And tried to misdirect me. When I told the ticket woman that I was angry, she gave away our seats to someone else. So yeah. Never using that company again.
On to happier subjects.
Puno is a city on the Peruvian shores of Lake Titikaka. Located between the lake and Andean hills, it is also in high altitude. I am getting very tired of high altitude. It is about 12,000 feet, and although we have been at that level for several days (like La Paz) I woke up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. Twice. It’s not pleasant–your body kind of freaks out because it can’t get enough air and your heart is beating fast, until you can force mind over matter and control your breathing again. Not sure why it’s taking so long to get used to 12,000 feet. We were at 10,000 for five weeks in Sucre, and you wouldn’t think 2,000 feet would make that much of a difference.
The next day we went on a two day/one night tour of the islands of Titikaka. I had wanted to do this for several months now, but wasn’t sure if we could afford it. All the prices online were at least 60 USD a person, which was too much for us. I asked at our hostel, and they booked the tour for us for 125 soles per person or about 40 USD. I went walking through the tourist district later and asked how much the tour was at a random tour office, and they quoted me 100 soles per person. So if you’re doing research on the cheapest/best way to see the islands, just wait and book the day before–and not through your hostel.
We were picked up at our hostel, driven to the Puno port, and boarded a small boat at 8 am to visit the floating Uros islands, our first stop. As of now there are 87 islands, with about 2,000 inhabitants. All speak Aymaras. People under 40 also speak Spanish. The islands are built from woven reeds and were originally designed for defense, as the islands can be moved farther away from shore.
Their ancestors have lived here for around 2,000 years. The islands usually have two to four families living on them, and each has a chief. A few years ago they built an island for soccer, which is more permanent. There is a primary school and a local health clinic. On Saturdays they go to Puno for market and every few months go to other towns farther away, in reed boats like what is pictured below.
The islands are built on thick chunks of roots submerged in the lake. These roots are up to six feet deep, and they last for 25 to 30 years. On top of that they lay reeds, crisscrossed, over and over, and keep the blocks of roots together with rope. They have special pieces of wet dirt under their ovens to prevent fires. The reeds last a couple of months before new ones must be put down. Atop the reeds they build their homes, also from dried reeds. Hundreds of years ago the homes were round and only one room, but now they are square and slightly larger. I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like each family had more than one reed hut. One was the kitchen, one was the bedroom, and so forth. The Uros people eat primarily fish from the lake, rice, potatoes, and the reed stalk. We tried some, and it reminded me a little of cucumber except it was more spongey and had less taste.After a very long explanation of the construction of the islands in Aymaras by the chief (translated then into Spanish and English), we were able to look around the island and even try on some of their clothing. A local woman grabbed my hand and pulled me into her bedroom and helped me into a skirt.
The Uros islands have recently become very touristy. We could tell because they had a convenience store on another island that sold snickers bars and name brand crackers–things we hadn’t seen in months.
I thought the Uros’ combination of adapting to the 21st century yet maintaining their traditional life was really interesting. I’m sure the money made from tourists helps. A common sight on the islands is the tradition reed house with solar energy.
After visiting the Uros, we hopped back on our boat to go to Amantani, our next island stop.