Day 119-124: Puno and Lake Titicaca

Out of all the educational experiences we’ve had, this was probably the most profound. After coming back from the Amazon, we got on a bus straight to Lake Titicaca, Puno. Apparently the locals don’t call it that, because “caca’’ is offensive to them. Our mission when travelling was to try and not be a tourist whenever possible, and here we were given the opportunity to stay with a local in one of the small towns surrounding the lake.

But first, we had a full day planned. We began our tour by visiting one of the ‘floating islands’. About two thousands people live on these floating islands permanently, and meet once a week to buy/sell and allow the younger people to ‘mingle’. Traditionally, the girl goes to live with the boy once they get married, which often happens at around 18 or 19 years old.

We were introduced to the president of the islands, a guy whose name I can’t remember. It didn’t seem right to shove a camera in his face, so apologies for this elusive shot.

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The president of the island is chosen by the people in a sort of vote, and is only president for 2 years before someone else takes over. He gave us a tour of the island and explained (with our tour guide as a translator) how they build the islands, using a model for demonstration. It takes approximately a year to go from this:

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To this.

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Each island only lasts for ten years before they need to be rebuilt. So 10% of their life on them are spent building the next one. Not only that, but their boats take three months to make and only last another five after that before they need to be rebuilt.

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They were surprisingly comfortable, and I could have easily fallen asleep while he was taking us around the lake. After our tour, we were given a final farewell by these lovely ladies.

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Before I go on to talk about getting to our hosts town, I want to give out another ‘Bad Tourist’ award. The guy in the checked shirt in the picture above was one of the worst tourists we’ve come across. He spent the majority of the trip high out of his skull, playing loud music and screaming whenever he felt like it. We were staying with some of the mildest people I’ve ever met, so they must have been intimidated beyond belief by this guy. I wanted to push him off the boat for treating these people that way – the old lady he stayed with could have been my Nana!!! So if you find yourself in Puno and fancy snorting cocaine, please just go to a hostel.

The town was a beautiful town with a few schools, a town square, a few shops for the locals etc. Donkeys had right of way when walking up and down the streets. We made our way up to Pacha Mama to watch the sun set.

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We were already 4000m above sea level, which means walking up-hill can be a struggle, but we made it after an hour.

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Even though it was a clear day, it was freezing once we stopped moving!

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That clear sky was worth it though! Once the sky darkened, we made our way back down in time for some dinner, which was a traditional spread of quinoa soup and vegetables from the garden. Our family consisted of a man and wife in their fifties and a grown up daughter in her thirties. Between their small amount of Spanish (their main language is Quechan), and my small amount of Spanish, we managed that the man had been a farmer all of his life, while his wife made hats and scarves for tourists.

The house we were staying in belonged to the daughter, because their house was too small to accept guests. Tonight they had three guests; me, Dan and another girl from the UK called Louise. Once dinner was over, it was time to wear some traditional clothing that the wife had made and make our way to the local party.

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I know the photos don’t really show it, but the party was quite lively! Their version of dancing was to hold hands and walk round in a circle together until the song finished. The songs went on for a long long time, and we could tell that our host was getting tired after working all day. Just as some of the other tourists were getting boisterous, we asked to go back to the house to save our host from being dragged around by people three times her size.

That evening, a storm settled on the small town. As I think I’ve mentioned before, thunder and lightning is common here around this time of year, and the storms are far more frightening than back home, where you feel secure that the trees are a good distance away and the houses can take the impact of the lightning if needs be. It was the middle of the night and pitch-black, and Dan had dropped off to sleep.

Whenever I feel out of my comfort zone, I try to remember to cross bridges when I come to them. If nothing bad has happened yet, then there’s no need to worry yet is there? This theory was really being put to the test here, and I’m not the best self soother. All I could do was count the time between the strike and the thunder and estimate how far away the storm was. Eventually, the strikes seemed to be moving further away and I was able to sleep.

The next day, we were given a tour around one of the traditional, non-floating earth islands. On this island, it is customary for the men to do all of the knitting and craft work and for the women to go out and tend to the farms. This guy in particular was a newly-wed. We were told that his hat signified this and was one of four hats that the men on this island wear during their life-time. The women signaled their marital status AND how happy they were through their black headpiece. If they were unhappy for any reason, then the whole island had a meeting to discuss how to improve their situation, because getting divorced was not an option.

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It is amazing to be given a glimpse into a way of life and has developed with very few similarities to yours. No internet and only the odd visit from a tourist, they have developed a society that is unique and appears to work very well for them. I knew tribes and cultures that are completely removed from western culture existed, but I didn’t think we’d get the chance to meet any. When I asked how long their traditions had been around for, they said they weren’t sure exactly, but knew that they had been around for at least a few hundred years. In our society, each generation lives in a very different way to the generation before, yet these people lived in a way that didn’t change a great deal over the years. I couldn’t say if it seemed better or worse, just different and fascinating.