After a night in Cusco we hopped on a bus leading down to Puno, the largest city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world sitting at 12,507 feet. “The highest navigable lake” is a statement that we heard countless times though we still haven’t figured out what exactly defines a lake as navigable. We spent quite a bit of time walking around Puno, but our main activity was to take a boat ride out to visit the floating islands and the Island of Taquile.
The floating islands were fascinating. They are build by layering reeds on top of each other to form a mat which sits on top of a collection of bundled together cork-like objects. The cork-like objects are actually the dense roots of the tutora plants which have been that were pulled from the ground when the lake level rose and then cut by locals with a saw. The roots when not embedded in the earth below are extremely buoyant and are how the islands are able to float. The people are continually adding reed to the top of the island as the underside disintegrates away. Each island holds a few families living in huts also made out of reeds. Cooking in done in a separate area so as to not burn down their houses. Each island has an elected leader who is part of the leadership council for all the islands.
Visiting the islands felt very touristy as everyone was shuttled out to the islands on a small ferry boat. We got off on the island and were greeted by the leader of the island. We then had a short lecture on how the island was constructed. After that all the tourist were divided into groups and escorted by different women into their homes to discuss life on the islands and to try on some traditional garb. After taking a few pictures and buying some souvenirs (that were overpriced but the money went to support the local community), we got back on our ferry and headed to the island of Taquile.
Taquile is a small island about 45 km off the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Despite its close proximity to the shoreline it still took us nearly 3 hours to reach the island from the Puno port. It is an island that has retained much of its cultural identity in spite of the fact that dozens of tourist visit the island daily. After arriving on the island we hiked from the dock to the top of the island where we had a lunch prepared by locals. There are 3 restaurants on the island along with a cooperative that sells artisanal goods. The interesting fact is that all of the families on the island take turns running the restaurant and the cooperative. This is a great way to ensure that every family has an opportunity to make a profit from tourists eating on the island, but it means that the quality of the food changes with each rotation. The goods at the cooperative each have an item number on them indicating which family created the good. When a good is sold the tag is taken off and the money put aside to give to the appropriate family.
On the island of Taquile property can not be sold. Property belongs to a family and is passed down from generation to generation. This means that no foreigner can ever relocate to Taquile unless they marry into a local family. This is one of the ways that they have been able to preserve their culture. On the island there are no police officers, no fire fighters, or any other public servant. They do have local and regional leaders who are elected for set terms by a town meeting in which all people of age raise their hands to vote for the candidate that they support. The island also only has 3 laws: work hard, don’t lie, and don’t steal.
The next day we traveled from Puno to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. Unfortunately, Bolivia began the portion of our trip where we had to pay to cross each border, technically Kevin only had to pay to get his stamp switched from his US passport to his British passport so that he would not have to pay the reciprocity fees of Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Bolivia also required a wide variety of different paperwork for American tourists entering the country. Thankfully, we had done our research in advance and after an hour or so, Lisa and Caroll were permitted into Bolivia and we continued on our way to Copacabana.
Upon arrival in Copacabana we rushed to our hotel to drop off our bags so that we could make the ferry to Isla del Sol, an island located on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. We managed to get to the docks 15 minutes before the ferry was leaving and negotiate a reasonable price to travel to the island. When we bought our passage we were told the ride would take 90 minutes each way, and we would have 1.5 hours to explore the town of Yumani on the southern end of the island, as well as a second stop for 20-30 minutes to visit the site of some ruins on the island. Unfortunately, the trip took almost twice as long as we were promised and we were only allowed 45 minutes to hike around the island. We raced up the hillside, which is no easy task given the altitude, and were able to get some stunning views of the island, the lake, and the Andes Mountains in the distance. After a few quick photos we ran down the hill and arrived back a few minutes late with our guide frantically waving us to board the boat, saying it was about to pull away. In reality we sat there for 15 minutes after we got on board, pulled out a hundred meters or so into the lake, and had to re-dock to pick up some passengers who were left behind and yelling from the dock.
We arrived back to Copacabana early in the evening and wandered town until the sun set beautifully over the lake. We had dinner at a local restaurant before going to the central market for tea, hot milk and Api (a hot drink made from corn that tastes reminiscent of apple cider or non-alcoholic spiced wine) and bolivian buñuelos (a dessert made from fried dough that resembled circular churros).
Tomorrow we will hop on a bus and make our way to La Paz.