Finally we get to Peru! We worked real hard to get the Peru Visa for Shruti and it worked out in Bolivia. Our first stop in Peru was Puno, the other big town settled along the shores of Lake Titicaca. Read about our experience in the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca right here.
We took Trans Titicaca bus to cross over to Peru from Copacabana, Bolivia. The ride to the border was less than 40 mins. After queuing up and getting stamped out at Bolivian Immigration, we walked across the border to Peru. We faced no dramas at either of the immigration offices. The remaining 3.5 hours bus ride to Puno was mostly uneventful.
Our guide in the bus asked us if we had an accommodation in Puno and we didn’t. He suggested Don Tito Inn but we refused to pay more than 40 Soles, USD 12.5. He had no problem with that and agreed immediately. We weren’t hoping for much but the room turned out to be great for the price. We finally had really hot water without electrocution.
2 Day Tour
As we were checking in the hotel, the receptionist told us about possible tours around the area. We were interested to visit the Floating Islands. After comparing two available tours, we decided to go with a 2 Day Tour to Lake Titicaca. The tour costed us 100 Soles per person, USD 31.25, and was scheduled to start early next day.
A tour car came around to pick us up from the hotel and we headed to the wharf. Everyone had been told to leave the big bags at the hostel but Shruti wanted to get to Arequipa as soon as possible afterwards so we took all our stuff on the boat. This proved tricky as we had to walk across 3 boats with bags at the back and front to finally get to our own boat. There our luggage took up most of the storage area as most people had their bags in hand. This wasn’t turning out to be the best!
We forgot all that soon as we reached our first stop, the Floating Islands of Uros. The islands were built on Totora Reed Islands and each island had 5-6 families living and working to renew the islands every two months.
Archaeologists researched as to how and why these people started living on these islands and the outcome is stunning. It seems during a drought in the area, the locals turned to the lake for food and shelter. We spent quality time on the islands and even took photos in the traditional dresses.
Our next stop was another Floating Island but we didn’t take the motor boat to get there. Instead, we went on a “Uros Island Taxi” or a boat which is made of the bamboo, Totora Reed and is rowed. Two men of the community rowed us to the next island for a small fee. The entire floating islands are very traditional, people still wear their dresses and still live their life. Yet it seemed very touristy as though the Islanders are continuing this lifestyle to skin money off tourists.
The second island wasn’t much except a shop and we managed to get a stamp on our passports. It was a really weird experience which on one hand was traditional but on the other hand touristy. In any case, we took some souvenirs to remember forever!
Homestay – Isla Amantani
Our next destination was Isla Amantani which would be our home for the night. It took 2 hours from the Uros Islands through the reeds and other parts of the lake. As we got closer, we saw people standing at the wharf. We were assigned to a girl with a small house up the hill. A french- spanish couple were to accompany us. It was a tough walk uphill with the backpacks and our host had to help Shruti.
We had lunch, dinner and breakfast with the family and heard their tale of trying to make some money by bringing in tourists using the roun-robin system used by all villages on the island. However, it hadn’t helped at all with only 3 tourists since January. Moreover, they had invested quite a bit hoping that it will bring in income but nothing of the sort.
The girl who may have been in her late 20s and unmarried tried to sell us her knitted goods but as luck would have it we had already bought them. Same was the case of all tourists who came there. Maybe only the mayor of the island was earning from this system. The interesting thing were the outfits of the island. Men and Women much like India wore clothes according to their marital status. Unmarried women line our hostess wore white top with flowers like roses to indicate that they are single. Cool system!
We visited the Pachamama and Pachatata on the island along with the rest of the group. The belief in the traditional religion was still strong on the island and we stayed in this beautiful spot as the sun was setting.
As part of the tour, the village organises a traditional party. We went along with our host on our promise that we wouldn’t stay too long as the her siblings had to sleep. We were dressed up in traditional clothes and got ready to leave. We walked with her in pitch black and arrived in the community hall. There were chairs setup along the wall and one old lady was selling soft drinks and beer. If it wasn’t for the beer, it could be a primary school party.
Anyhow, all that didn’t matter once the music started. It was high tempo and fast rhythm. We were meant to hold each others hands and move side to side in a big circle. It started off slow but eventually the speed picked up and we were whirling around. It ended soon for us as the kids needed to sleep.
Upon reaching home, Shruti decided to take some photos of the starry night. Here is one of the night shots!
The next morning we got ready to visit another island in the the lake. Our guide told us that here again, the system was different. Men and women wore separate clothes according to their marital status. The men wore particular design on their beanies to indicate that they are single while women wore bright colors. As textiles is the main industry on the island, every resident knits and their goods are sold at the main community center at the cooperative office.
We did a tough little walk to the top of the island where the main square was. We saw men sitting together and knitting which is something unusual in Peruvian society. Another walk and we reached the restaurant for lunch. Here we had a problem, we ran out of almost all the money we had exchanged at the border.
The lunch was 20 Soles, USD 6.25, and that was all the money we had. Shruti had the soup while I had the mains and somehow managed to make it work. When we finally reached Puno, we realised that ATMs in Peru charge up to $5USD to take money out. Bummer!
Renate, one of the tour members who became friends with us during the journey, was keen to catch up after the tour. Although we had initially decided to leave Puno right after the tour, we thought it would be good to rest and party a little. Everyone who was in Puno that night, including the tour guide, met up by the main square and soon we were heading for a kareoake party.
Our first stop was a bar in the main restaurant district where everyone warmed up over some drinks. The next stop was karaoke close by. No one could beat Shruti in singing classic rock and that got even better after a few beers. Our guide was keen on the party and kept buying more drinks.
We finally left the karaoke at 1am to get to a club. The group was 6 girls and 2 guys and we had absolutely no trouble getting in. However, no one wanted to drink except the guide who had a tour the next morning at 7am. Him, me and a few other tough people managed to finish the drinks. We all danced to reggaeton and finally left at 3am. Of course, no good night ends without early morning food and we grabbed a pizza at a local joint. Here, we met a drunk old man who recognized Shruti and I for Indians and started talking to us about SRK and Kajol. It was a great end to a great night!
We left Puno for Arequipa the next morning. We bought the ticket for 2pm but there was no bus to be seen. Finally, at 2:30pm the bus arrived and we reached Arequipa around 7pm. The view was ok but Arequipa looked like a dusty old town. It ended up being better than we thought! Watch out for the next post.