After the climax of Machu Picchu, I felt a liittle deflated when I returned to Cusco. I had just done something I had wanted to do for years, and had a feeling of “now what? There was still almost three months left in my trip and I was feeling a little directionless. First thing first, I decided to divest myself of the rest of my camping gear, having vowed to pay for a tour if I wanted to go tramping in the wilderness again, if only to save my poor feet from further vandalism. After talking to the lovely lady at the South American Explorers’ Club (of which I was now a member), I took her recommendation and went around to a couple of outdoor equipment shops and offered to sell my tent and sleeping mat. In the end I got about $80 for the set, which I was pretty happy with. I decided to hold on to the trekking pole for future hiking and as a potential weapon against robbers and over-enthusiastic touts.
Rather than take a night bus to Puno and Lake Titikaka, I booked a tour bus that stopped at several interesting spots along the 6 hour drive. There was a big Baroque cathedral, some pre-inca ruins, and a museum or two. Pretty underwhelming, but after Machu Picchu, it would be a junior high band playing a concert where Beyonce had opened for them.
I arrived in Puno by suppertime and checked in to a place called “Lucky Your House”. Don’t ask me where the name came from; I have a feeling the owner had a bad run-in with the Google translator. I was sharing my room with two gals from New York I had met on my tour bus. They were nice enough but kept lapsing into Chinese which made me feel a bit lonely in the room as they chatted away to each other. The next morning they were gone on a tour and I got to sleep in until 9am! Madness!
The reason I was in Puno was to check out the floating islands of Lake Titikaka, built by a people trying to escape the conquest of the Inca way back before the Spanish showed up. The lake is a dead-end basin, meaning no water ever actually flows out and the water level is maintained by mountain stream run-off and evaporation This also mean that it has a high level of vegetation. The people of the floating islands gather the reeds that grow in abundance and have constructed not only the floating islands, but also huts, boats, watchtowers, and it’s even food. I tried one and the inside kind of tastes like cucumber.
At 3800m, Lake Titikaka is the highest navigable lake in the world, and also pretty damn big, so there are actually hundreds of these islands on it, in both Peru and Bolivia. Since I chose to sleep in, I was limited to taking a ferry out to only the closest of the island groups, Uros. The boat dropped us off at a small group of huts where a local man explained about their daily life and the challenges of living on a big bed of wet grass. He showed me his hut where he had a solar panel rigged up to allow for a tv and stereo and offered to let me try on some of his wife’s traditional clothing. I politely declined, feeling a little weird about the whole thing.
Later we took a ride on one of the traditional reed boats to another island that hosted a couple restaurants and the post office, as well as the obligatory souvenir stands. With a little more time I could have booked a room and stayed overnight further afield on one of the more remote islands, but the day trip was enough for me. I always feel a bit awkward intruding into other peoples lives as a tourist, even if I am paying for the privilege.
By the time the ferry drove me back to the mainland, I had a nice deep burn on my nose (the sun at 3800m is a cruel mistress), and a big storm was rolling. I stopped at the bus station to grab a ticket to Arequipa and headed back to my room. Despite the fact my stomach was still not 100%, I was sick of bread and water so I went to a fancy restaurant on the square and had some amazing grilled lake trout and veggies in wine sauce. I regret this decision now, but at least the food was tasty enough before the cramps kicked it.