Statistics about the lake vary according to which guide you happen to be with, but all agree on a few things:
. Highest navigable lake in the world – beautiful colours
. Took 8 years to bring all the pieces and assemble the steamships from England – and now they have been supplanted by the faster tourist catamarans
. There is the largest frog (.5 metre when legs extended) which is so adapted to the cold water temperatures that it has no predators and eats scallops and bivalves on the lake floor, and never needs to surface
. Trout (which is delicious) farms are polluting the waters – they were introduced, but the native fish take refuge in the reeds and manage to survive that way
. 1100 metres of shoreline
. Supplies the reeds for the floating islands and their inhabitants
. 50% of the lake is in Peru and 50% in Bolivia (tnough both countries dispute the stats)
Another early dawn start on this very different adventure…..but the sunrise was worth it. Then to the harbour and its bustle and colour. Aboard the catamaran we soon saw the reeds we were to encounter at floaty, squishy close quarters on the Island of Uros. Hey, we knew it would be a staged tourist event, but it’s the only way to get there…….and a wonderful colourful and humorous time it was!
Our bare-footed hosts were Victor and Ophelia who live with 5 other families on a floating, man-made raft of reeds speaking their indigenous language and sharing their culture with the tourists. Life is very unrelenting as the reeds need to be collected and different parts of the raft or houses need to be constantly replaced or added to. We had a great guide, Raphael, who spoke the language and shared Victor’s jokes with us. We learnt about the construction of the raft (resting 13 metres above the floor of the lake), the houses, the cooking, drying of the fish and the absolutely lustrous dyes used in the weaving of their beautiful blankets and clothes.
There are pigs tethered and plenty of bird life which are all used for meals. The women came to farewell us as we were rowed on a reed boat to the larger island where the school and medical centre are – you don’t mind paying for the theatrics when you know it is keeping the culture alive. The young people are however leaving the islands for the chance education in Puno can provide. Yes, we also bought a lovely piece of weaving. 😉
So it was on to the island of Tukilla……..a combination of Incan and Spanish influences in an idyllic setting. The gradient on the way up the steep path was very very very steep….Raphael slipped off in to a field and brought us back some menta…a plant when crushed and sniffed deeply emits a powerful oxtgen boost … and boy did we use it! We took it extremely slowly but even so the breathing was lanoured and my eyes were red and nose so dry. It lead to the central square with the men’s weaving centre has gained UNESCO World Heritage recognition especially for the types of hats worn to indicate marital status or community authority. The one knitted on four needles which are old bike spokes is acclaimed. My beautiful alpaca beanie with wonderful tassles will be well used in winter back home….couldn’t resist its softness.
The reward for the climb was the unsurpassed water view looking across to the high snow-capped mountains in Bolivia. Snow only stays permanently at heights above 5000m, so we were certainly right amongst it! The lunch was a quinoa and vegetable soup and trout with potato and rice along with the view you couldn’t describe in words. The going down to a different side of the island was easier on the heart and lungs but not so much on the knees and hammies. A snickers bar at the little stall selling our top up water bottles was a great treat! Then it was back to Puno where Raphael kindly stopped at the local food market for us to buy the biggest popcorn we’d ever seen, made from large corn kernels and sugar; avocado, a feta cheese round and peanuts – so we ate like kings (exhausted kings) after a very vibrant day.
But there was more Lake T. Today was yet another early start, and this time with all our luggage as we moved on yet again. Bus rides, large and small buses, and leaving Puno behind we had more time to contemplate the countryside and the Lake, the crops, the unfinished houses and the herds of cows. An hour and a half to the border where we changed money to pesos bolivianos, passport control, farewelled Peru and crossed by foot in to Bolivia. Then immigration control Bolivian style and a bigger bus and our guide Gisela….and the Lake on our right. It was only a short ride to Copacabana (the original one) and the town square and San Francisan church. The ceiling was stupendous and the chapel and Madonna room full of depictions of the Virgin from around the globe was very different. Then it was a very pleasant stroll through the streets via the square and local food markets (huge peanuts in their shells and meals on wheels Bolivian style) and then on to the catamaran …and we made sure all our suitcases were loaded on as well.
This is a trip on the Lake T that any age group would enjoy. The lake glistened in the sun, the i nformation was enough and the cat very comfortable. Nice clean toilets always make for a more relaxed outing! Then came Isla da Sol…..the Sun Island. The anticipation of the botanic gardens, the underground archaeological museum and the lookout from half way up the island was wound up at the starting line, but sadly I started the steep stair climb, but had to make the hard decision to turn back as my ears were thumping and I didn’t want to burst an eardrum or blood vessel in my eye, so common sense won out.
So I joined LSM on the quayside and waited for the hardier members of the group to return. Took a few pics of the beautiful bay, our boat and the Totora reed boat which took us for a different theatrical experience to a nearby bay where we reboarded the catamaran. Lunch was quinoa vegetable soup and trout…….yes, we are aware of the pattern! All delicious!
Two hours back to port relaxing and watching the lake and the world go by – we changed to a big bus and after another two and a half hours, a sunset on the high mountains, higher altitudes again, traffic jams like you wouldn’t believe in Il Alto (once part of La Paz but with 1.2 million inhabitants now is its own city) and then winding down 500 m inside the bowl shape of La Paz to our central hotel……and unwinding. We are all looking forward to our La Paz City Tour tomorrow.