Another early start this morning as the alarms went off at 05.30. However roosters, car horns and various other noises had had me awake since about 3. I like sleeping and am very good at it – if I ever meet that rooster I’m going to enjoy him for Sunday lunch!! After a quick breakfast (they had Nesquik – win!) we met our transport for the ride to the docks – I have no idea how to describe them. It was a bit like a rickshaw but we were on the front rather than the back; or as Iain says ‘bikey, car-y things’! Whatever they were they were fun, even at 7am!!
Not quite the scream if you want to go faster experience of a Bangkok tuktuk but we had a giggle racing the others and dodging traffic to reach the lake. Our boat was waiting and we were soon sat on top of the cabin enjoying the sun and beautiful view of Lake Titicaca. The name can be broken down into 2 parts: Titi (stop laughing) meaning cat or puma and Caca (the c is very Spanish sounding, like a harsh H in the back of your throat) meaning grey or rock depending on your translation. Apparently there used to be many grey pumas here but as the place became more and more populated they have retreated into the mountains. We also learned what navigable means – there are higher lakes than this one, in Tibet and larger ones, in Argentina, but this is the only one deep enough for ships. Voila, highest navigable lake.
After around 30 minutes the water around us became narrower as beds of reeds spread as far as we could see. Then we began to see the occasional head amongst the reeds, carrying sticks or rowing boats. A moment later something very roof like came into view, then another and another. Boats, houses and people dressed in bright skirts and jackets became more and more frequents. We had reached Los Uros; the floating islands.
The Aymara people took to the lake after a war with a rival tribe. They began in boats made of reeds before creating their own islands on which to live. A family greeted us with a song as Iain and I disembarked in the less traditional way of jumping from the roof of the boat. Ladders are boring! Haha!
Firstly we learned how the islands are made. The tribes used large pikes to cut huge rectangles of earth (maybe 5×5 meters) which formed the foundations of the islands. These were then bound together depending on the size of the family who would live there. After a month or so to allow the ground to knit back together and become saturated with water a layer of reeds was placed on top. A month later another layer of reeds was added in the opposite direction, and so on and so forth until an extra meter of reeds have been added in a criss-cross fashion. This creates a spongey, floating earth on which reed houses and look out stations could be built and whole families could live.
The islands have been steadily growing as families expand and decide to begin their own island, but always created in the same way. Our island was home to 5 families and after our talk we were each taken to be shown the inside of a reed house. They are round in shape and very basic, with a hard double bed (again made from reeds) and a few wooden posts emerging from the walls to act as shelving. The mother of the home showed Iain and I some of her weaving which told a story. It showed the island, their boats and family (herself, husband, seven children and their children which made up the other families on the island). It also depicted Patchamama – Mother Earth, the Condor, Puma and Snake that represent the Purivian equivalents of heaven, earth and hell (or past, present and future, I’m still not 100% sure) and of course the lake itself with its fish and reeds which bring life to the people of Los Uros. The family spoke Aymara and a little Spanish, but we still managed to understand all that without a translator. It’s amazing how well you can get along with sign language!!! The eldest son then came into the tent and the next moment Iain and I were dressed in the traditional costume of the Aymara people. For me a bright green full bodied skirt (apparently very like a dirndle skirt), red capped sleeve jacket and traditional hat which was a bit like a bowler but taller and narrower. I have no idea how they keep them on their heads, mine fell off instantly! For Iain a white long sleeved shirt and multicoloured floppy hat. We looked gorgeous as I’m sure you can imagine! Each family had a small market selling their embroidery and other creations and it was here that I met Rosalinda.
Rosalinda is 10 years old and was born on the island we visited. She enjoys embroidery, swimming and looking after her ducks, as well as the several children younger than her on the island. Her sunny personality and inquisitive nature reminded me of another little girl I know at home and so I decided Rosalinda would be the first receiver of a special parcel I had from England. Rather than raise money for charity by doing the inca trail I thought it would be more fun to take gifts for people who I met along the way. Friends of mine are planning to do the Rickshaw run next summer and came up with this ‘Miles of Smiles’ idea. It sounded like such a nice idea, I wanted to do something similar and ask people I know at home to create these parcel. My cousin Georgie made a few and Rosalinda got the first. She was so so happy! Within her parcel was a book, some chocolate, a yoyo and some snap cards which we had great fun playing with. Rosalinda learned very fast and insisted I write down her full name so that one day Georgie can go to visit her and they can meet. How easy to affect someone’s life – I feel like she’ll never forget this little girl she’s never met.
Our time on the island was over too soon and it was time to get back on the bus to head to Tequile Island and meet the Quechua people. Firstly we took a ride on a raft boat to the main floating island to have our passport stamped. The boats are rowed in a really unique way, in a circular motion from the back of the boat rather than rowing from the sides – it looked very difficult but Iain had a go anyway. Conclusion? It’s very difficult!!! Lindsey made us all laugh by declaring it was only 09:15 – but she wasn’t joking. It felt more like 2pm!! Lunch seemed a very long way off.
The boat ride to Taquile Island took another 2 and a half hours but there was lots to see. We past finishing boats and beautiful scenery while enjoying the sun on the boat.
Fishermen on the lake
We shared the trip with another small group and soon got chatting to two girls from Northern Ireland who were about a day behind us on the tour, so would be starting the Inca Trail the day after us. It’s funny how everything on this trip seems to surround the trek. I’m getting more worried about it every day; it’s going to be HARD! If there was any doubt about that the next part of my story proves it. We arrived at the second island and were greeted by a very steep looking stairway to the top; oh boy. After 2 days in this altitude we hoped perhaps walking would be a little easier than on that first day, even though this route looked a lot tougher. Nope. We had to stop every hundred meters or so to breathe. Once again though the others (bar Iain, grr) were all feeling the same which made me feel a lot better.
Apparently the 15 minute climb reflects quite accurately the second and third days of the trail itself, which should take around 5 hours, or 7 if we have to stop every 5 minutes. Groups traditionally split into 2 with the faster walkers at the front and slower ones at the back. Jorge told us our group can do this but that we will be meeting up every 40 minutes to an hour rather than the fast ones arriving at the checkpoint hours before the others. There’s a good sense of camaraderie amongst us which I think is spurring everyone along. But I’m getting ahead of myself, we’re not on the trail yet, just a tiny island in the middle of a huge lake. From the top you can see Boliva and a massive snow-capped mountain. Roger told us the lake didn’t really hold anything of value which is why Boliva and Peru have never fought over it.
He also showed us a herb called mint thyme, which looks like thyme but smells like mint and makes delicious tea! Another 5 minutes or so saw us arrive at our lunch spot, a beautiful red earthen two story house with the flower of Peru creeping up the walls. Our lunch was served on long tables out on the terrace, overlooking various farms, houses and the lake. We had a choice of fresh trout or cheese omelette with more delicious chinoa soup to start and mint thyme tea afterwards. We’re very spoiled on this trip. As if that wasn’t enough we were treated to a display of music and dancing from the men of the house. The Quechua men are known for their beautiful weavings. The first thing a Quechua boy will make is a hat, half plain white while he is learning and the other half red and decorated with various patterns and colours. The boy will wear this until he is married when it is replaced with a far more elaborate hat which is red and decorated all over. Married men also wear an intricately sewn belt, a present from his bride, which is covered in embroidered animals. The number of birds on the belt symbolises how many children the bride would like. Our poor host had 8 birds on his belt – oh boy!!! The Quechua people approach marriage in an unique way. Men and women can live with each other for up to a year to see if they’re comparable. If during this time they decide they are not suited they can separate with no repercussions. However if their home becomes ‘like the land of milk and honey’ they marry. Once married however it is for life as divorces are unheard of on the island, unlike the mainland where they are becoming common place.
The walk back down to the boat was far more leisurely as we took the long route through settlements and gorgeous stone arches. Going downhill is much easier physically though you can’t stop concentrating for a moment on where you’re putting your feet. Iain and I walked ahead with the Irish girls talking once again about ‘the trek’, it’s really all we can think about. The boat ride back was a more sedate affair as most people were asleep or reading. We saw a huge JCB being used to clear channels for the boats and were treated to a spectacular sunset as we pulled into Puno.
The evening was listed as free time but Jorge (Don’t forget, Horhey!) asked if we would like to join him for dinner and a show of Peruvian dancing. How could we say no? The food was once again delicious, for me alpaca medallions on a bed of chinoa, cheese and vegetables. Alpaca has the texture of steak but tastes like a mix of gammon and rabbit. It’s yummy, I’m a fan!!! The entertainment consisted of 5 guys playing a variety of instruments from guitars and large drums to recorders and panpipes, then a group of dancers appeared and showed us dances from the 4 corners of Peru. There was such variety in the costumes, steps and music; the dancers looked knackered by the end of it!! Iain and I sampled some Pisco sours and were reminded that outside of the UK drinks measurements are far more generous – put hairs on your chest and then some!!! Anyway we’re up early again tomorrow for our next adventure, driving to Cusco, so it’s goodnight from me!