South America | Peru | Southern Peru | Puno | Lake Titicaca – Island hopping on Lake Titicaca
I spent the last few days exploring the islands and surroundings of Lake Titicaca, where my breath was taken away a few times. Metaphorically due to the stunning scenery, but also literally as the lake is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3820m. Hiking uphill makes for some hard breathing at this altitude.
From Lima I had purchased a plane ticket to Cusco, rather than endure the thirty hour bus ride. My intention for travelling to Cusco is what everyone else is here for: to trek the legendary Inca Trail to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. However, it is also the high tourist season and the earliest trek I could sign up for was ten days away. No matter, my schedule is flexible, and I decided to use the time in between to travel to my other destinations and return to Cusco after.
On to Puno
From Cusco I caught a six hour bus ride to Puno. Along the way it carved through the Andes, offering stunning scenery for much of the way.
Puno is situated right on Lake Titicaca. The town itself spills down from the mountains into the bay. There is not a lot to Puno; its main street could be walked in about five minutes. However, Puno offered me a base in which to do some island hopping in the next few days.
The floating islands of Uros
My first foray onto the lake was to the floating islands of Uros, a community of people who lived on islands made entirely out of reeds. This intriguing lifestyle began a few centuries ago when the Uros decided to isolate themselves from the Incas, and so built themselves a community of islands from the reeds that grow abundantly on the lake.
Stepping out on to one of the islands, the ground felt soft and springy. The islands are made entirely out of reeds, and as the older ones at the bottom rot away, they are replaced at the top. The people live in tiny houses made out of reeds, devoid of most modern amenities.
I’m not sure if I could live this sort of lifestyle on the islands, but my brief visit allowed me a fascinating insight into a way of life that is found no where else.
Rustic life on Isla Amantani
After the floating islands our boat landed on the island of Amantani. This community of 4000 people live a fairly basic life. There are no roads on the island, and the villages comprise basic mud huts. The villages are perched on the side of a hill offering fantastic views of the lake.
I stayed here for the night and was put up in a very basic mud hut whose ceiling was so low and door was so small I felt like I was in the Shire with the Hobbits. My room mate was Brian, from Scotland, and over the next day we experienced the hospitality of a very friendly Quechuan family.
The room had no electricity, with only a candle for light, while the toilet was basically an outhouse. The other rooms were various tiny houses adjacent to our own, all with tiny doors where one had to stoop to enter. It was all very rustic, but what a unique experience.
The real Copacobana
After Puno I took the short bus trip across the Peru-Bolivia border into Copacobana, on the other side of the lake. This tiny village offered memorable views of the lake. This is also the real Copacobana, and not the beach of the same name in Rio whose memory was massacred by Mr. Barry Manilow.
The town does not offer a lot to occupy the traveller, but this was ideal as it allowed me some time to just chill out. I also witnessed a most peculiar practice on Sunday. At ten in the morning, a procession of cars lined up outside the Cathedral for the “blessing of the cars”. The cars were decked out in flowers and ribbons, while a priest wandered around blessing the cars with holy water from a bucket. It seemed like a big deal to the owners of the cars, who would pose for photographs to capture the happy moment.
Hiking on Isla del Sol
The day after arriving I caught an early boat ride to the Isla del Sol, where legend has it the first Inca emerged. Riding on the slowest boat in the world, it crawled along the lake for two hours before depositing us at the north end of the island.
Hiking uphill to the north, I came across the ruins of Chincana. The ruins are great for some exploration, as well as providing a spot to sit down. At this height the ruins offered an excellent vantage point of the lake in general.
The boat back to the mainland departed from the southern end of the island late in the afternoon. To get there I took the eleven kilometre trail along the ridge of the island. The hike was rather strenuous at this altitude, with the sun blazing down. However, the scenery rocks. Walking high up on the ridge, I could look down on both sides of the island most of the time. I could see the bays and coves of the island, with varying terrain of rock and trees. In the distance I could see the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Bolivian Andes.
The hike consisted of several small hills, which were torturous on my lungs and legs. However, three hours later I reached Yumani village at the end, exhausted but exhilirated from one of the best hikes I have done.