Lake Titicaca

June 2, 2010 (Day 15)

The main reason why we stayed in Puno was there was no direct bus from Cusco to Copacabana.  Honestly, I was totally indifferent on the whole Lake Titicaca portion of the trip, but Renée and Stephanie really wanted to go so I went along with it (especially since they went along with my Death Road itinerary inclusion with no objections, to me at least, and I wasn't feeling 100% the past few days).  I had come down with a bit of sinus congestion since Aguas Calientes, that was bothering me a bit, but with the cold and sinus pills I had packed as part of my first aid kit, I was good to go (12 hours at a time).  Those 12-hour pills really worked like clockwork.  The 12-hour mark would pass and almost immediately, I would be back to my runny nose and stuffed up feeling until I popped another pill. Those night-time pills really worked fast at dinnertime!  I really don't like taking drugs but I wasn't going to let a stupid cold get in the way of enjoying my trip. Nevertheless, the thought of spending a few relaxing days around Lake Titicaca was comforting.

The breakfast buffet at the hotel started at 6am so we headed downstairs early as we were scheduled to be picked up at 6:45 for our Lake Titicaca cruise according to the hotel receptionist.  6:45 came and sure enough, there was a woman in the front lobby ready to pick us up.  But here's the thing, we weren't sure if we were going on the cruise we paid for because there was no verification against a passenger list, and a couple of women we spoke to during the previous evening were supposedly going on the same trip, yet they weren't present.  The woman just asked if we were waiting for the Lake Titicaca cruise and off we went to the shuttle bus. As we soon learned, sometimes you just have to go with the flow in South America.  I don't think we ever really confirmed that we were part of the right tour group but in the end, I think we saw everything we were supposed to see, plus it appears as though the tour operators share their passengers for rides back to the mainland as though they were one big, happy family.

So what did we see?

Well, first, to the uninitiated, Lake Titicaca is located on the border of Peru and Bolivia. According to Wikipedia, it sits 3,812 m (2,500 ft) above sea level, making it one of the highest commercially navigable lakes in the world.  By volume of water, it is also the largest lake in South America.

The attraction that probably makes Lake Titicaca so popular with tourists is the floating islands, where the Uros people inhabit floating islands that they created out of the lake's reeds.
Isla Jacha Challwa was one of those floating islands and was the first stop of our cruise. 
We sat in a circle and listened to the presentation made by the island's residents, during which they demonstrated how they the created the island.
We then proceeded to visit one of their homes. It ended up that we were in the President's house.  It was a cozy, little hut made out of reeds with a single bed for the husband, wife, and their two happy kids.  They even showed off their portable television / stereo unit that was powered by the external solar panels  Even though their home was small, they were very proud of it, and It just goes to show you that you don't need much besides love to be happy. The couple then proceeded to dress us up in their clothing, and soon enough, there I was, dressed up as "President" of the Island for a few minutes. Hey folks, bow to your new leader. LOL.

The island's women then proceeded to sing us a couple of traditional songs that were nice to clap along to but then, they proceeded to sing "Row, row your boat" in English!  This apparently considerate gesture seemed really out of place and artificial to the point where my smile and clapping didn't feel genuine anymore as I was just trying to be polite, but then again, that's probably just me, as some of the other tourists seemed to really appreciate it.
It was at this point, where in combination with the little marketplace with the supposed "authentic island souvenirs that are only available here", made the island feel like it was more like it was just another tourist trap than a real cultural experience.  By the way, most of those "one-of-a-kind souvenirs" were then seen in almost every souvenir store in Copacabana, at much lower prices to boot.

We then proceeded to take a reed boat around the island during which the boat operator was proud to tell us that we were actually floating on empty Inca Cola plastic pop bottles, and not just reeds.  Talk about taking away from the experience!  Hey, at least, he was honest!

We then got back out on our little tour boat, and slowly made our way to Isla Taquile.  And when I say slow, I mean, really slow!  The cruise was supposed to end at 5pm and the captain was making sure we wouldn't get back a moment sooner. But whatever... it was a beautiful sunny day and we secured the best spots on the boat's rooftop.

We finally arrived at Taquile Island and made our way up the countless steps to the top of the island.
We passed the main square and continued our way to the other side of the island where we enjoyed lunch in a tranquil, agricultural setting with a spectacular view of the lake.  Ahh, this is the life!  If this island was still a prison like it was back in the Spanish colonial times, well then, go ahead and ship me off here for a life sentence!
After lunch, we proceeded to walk down this side of the island, and dipped our feet in Lake Titicaca before heading back onto the boat to sunbathe our way back to Puno.

In the evening, we ventured out to a lively pedestrian mall for dinner.  As we enjoyed dinner, a parade passed by our restaurant.  Apparently, it was a pep rally for a local high school soccer team. No matter what the reason or city, Peruvians sure like their parades.

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