Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fact: No matter how many times you say it, Titicaca never stops being funny!!

The problem is, apparently, that I am a five year old at heart, because I cannot, CANNOT, say Lake Titicaca without taking a moment to giggle to myself.  But, in my defense, the lake is called Titicaca for crying out loud!

We arrived in Puno after a surprisingly comfortable bus ride, where we met Linda, a retired nurse from Seattle.  She was travelling with a tour group also on our bus, but apparently we were far more interesting (or, given what she told us about herself, more likely she was) and we chatted for quite a while about her work and world travels.  To get to Lake Titicaca (HAHA) from Cusco, we crossed a pass that put us at 4335 meters, which according to the online converter is 14,222 feet and 5.29 inches.  Whew!

Before we left a tout had approached us in the bus station to sell us a hotel in Puno, and it was a relief to get off the bus and find a woman with our names on a sign.  She took us to the hotel, which was new and therefore desperate for business, so gave us a lovely room with a view of Lake Titicaca (snort) and a private bathroom for only S/40, or about $14.  Puno is the largest town on Lake Titicaca (giggle), and is the jumping off point for the areas attractions, so has a fairly decent tourist scene.  We had been warned that Puno wasn´t much of an attraction in itself, but David and I found it charming and quaint.  Our first order of business was getting some food, where I got a huge bowl of wanton soup, and as if that hadn´t completely filled me up, they then gave me a huge plate of chicken fried rice.  The local food here might not be the best I´ve had, but it is solid and filling, and that huge meal cost me all of $2.  We then walked through town, where we found a huge wall full of murals, which I always love.  These were funny though, in that the top panels were all scenes of war and fighting, while the bottom panels were of Donald Duck and the Little Mermaid.  What a contrast!

The next day we took a full day tour out to the islands.  We would have preferred to go out on our own, but with our limited time the tour let us see more than we could have managed otherwise.  And it actually turned out to be quite pleasant.  First up, we took a 45 minute or so boat ride to the famous floating islands.  Hundreds of years ago, a tribe of people wanted to get away from the warring tribes along the banks of Lake Titicaca (tee hee), so utilized a reed that grows in abundance on the lake, and which, conveniently, floats.  Bundled into platforms two meters thick, the "island" lasts for years, with new reeds laid down on top every two weeks to replace the ones rotting away at the bottom.  Each island was big enough for a couple of small houses, a kitchen, and a large flat area in the middle (for the tourists to sit).  In fact the islanders have since traded fishing for tourism as their main source of income, but if the visit was 100% staged and circusy, it was still fascinating to see such a different way of life.  (When we left, they all waved and cried "Hasta la vista, baby!"  Sigh.)  Besides building with the reeds, the islands also use them for weaving, and even for eating!  They call them the "bananas of the islands", although I can assure you they taste NOTHING like bananas.  Maybe celery.

Our boat had dropped us off at one of the islands, and then we were able to board a traditional boat made of the same reeds for a short row over to another island.  Though these boats are no longer made with only traditional materials (the bottom was, we were told, filled with empty water bottles for buoyancy), it was this style of boat that Thor Heyerdahl once sailed from the coast of Chile out to Easter Island, to give credence to his theory that Easter Island had been populated from the East and not from the West as had most of the other South Pacific isles.  In fact people from Titicaca (hehe) helped him build his boat.  Kon Tiki is the name of the book he wrote, which I would highly recommend.

We then had a three hour ride to the island of Taquile.  The island is covered in pre-Incan terracing, and has fantastic views across to the mountains in Bolivia.  It was hard to tell which was bluer, the water or the sky.  Titicaca (HA!) is divided between Peru and Bolivia, and the Peruvian guides like to say that Peru owns the Titi half, and Bolivia the caca.  I wish I could have gotten a Bolivians opinion on that, but again, the $140 visa was a deterrant for a day trip over.

We ate lunch at a local restaurant (fried lake trout and the delicious coca and mora tea) where they did some traditional dancing for us, and even pulled up yours truly to help with a sort of conga line/square dance section.  After we ate, we walked through the town and eventually back to the boat for the ride back to Puno, where we bid a very fond and touching farewell to the big, blue, and awesomely named Lake Titicaca.

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