Puno - Titillated by Titicaca
03.09.2006 25 °C
Wednesday 30 August - Sunday 03 September
We spent the last two days of August making our way overland through Chile to the Peruvian border. Pleasant memories of quick, comfortable flights were soon replaced by the harsh reality of two consecutive overnight bus trips. To be fair, the first - from Calama to Arica was uneventful if somewhat cramped, but the second from Tacna to our first proper Peruvian stop at Puno was hellish.
Peruvian folk are small, and bus seating reflects this fact. Okay, so we're used to folding ourselves into cramped seats. More disconcerting was the fact that some of the bus windows were broken, or missing altogether. The devastating significance of this hit us in the early hours of Thursday morning; the outside temperature had plummeted to around absolute zero and we were woefully underdressed. The cold wasn't just uncomfortable; it was painful, and we looked on jealously at the sensible Peruvian travellers cocooned in warm clothes and blankets and sleeping peacefully, oblivious to the two shivering Gringo icicles sat next to them.
Friday 01 September
The bus had been climbing steadily during the night, and as the sun rose and we began to defrost, we caught our first glimpses of magnificent Lake Titicaca - at 3,860m above sea level, the world's highest navigable lake - and shortly after, the outskirts of the town of Puno.
If we were relieved to see Puno, we were positively elated to arrive at the Hotel Conde de Lemos ; despite our early arrival (before 7am) we were welcomed with breakfast and coffee while our room was prepared, and then - after one of the most horrendous night trips of the year - we collapsed into a deliciously comfortable and, most importantly, warm bed.
By the afternoon, we felt restored and emerged into the warm Puno sunshine to take a stroll around town and later find somewhere decent for dinner. A 'turistic' restaurant with an engaging menu caught our eye, but sadly the pricey meal didn't quite match our expectations.
Saturday 02 September
After a further morning's nose around Puno we took a half-day tour to see Sillustani, an ancient pre-Inca burial ground overlooking the shores of Lake Titicaca.
In the stillness of the late afternoon sunshine the ancient stone structures - some desecrated by grave-robbers, others simply unfinished - provided an enchanting landscape.
Travelling back to Puno we stopped briefly at a traditional homestead to gain a taste of peaceful rural Peruvian life;
and as the afternoon drew to a close, the distant skies darkened and we were treated to the sight of a spectacular dry electrical storm, with bolts of forked lightning illuminating the western hills.
Sunday 03 September
And so, to the real reason we came to Puno; Lake Titicaca. Whisked by bus from the hotel to the harbour at 6am, we were on the lake in time to catch the first of the early morning sunshine glinting on the water.
Covering a surface area of 8,400 square kilometers, Lake Titicaca is huge and home to numerous small communities living on more than 40 man-made islands.
Landing at one such island - Amanecer - we were given a first-hand demonstration of island-creation. Constructed from mats of dense vegetation, walking on the island gave the same weird sensation we'd first experienced in Los Esteros del Ibera, Argentina.
A lesson in island-building on Lake Titicaca
Whilst here, we had the opportunity to sail in a traditional boat woven entirely from rushes - a far more placid way to enjoy the lake by contrast to the motorised launches of the tour operators...
After browsing the inevitable handicrafts on sale here (we bought a terrific tapestry!), it was time to leave the island and cruise onward into the greater body of Titicaca.
Some 45km into the lake from Puno lies the beautiful, hilly island of Taquile, where we landed to begin a hike to the highest village for a spot of typical Taquileno lunch. This turned out to be fish and chips!
Beautiful Taquile Island
After lunch we were treated to traditional dancing by the villagers, with Sharon being called upon to show us a few moves herself...
Get yer coat Luv, you've pulled!
At last it was time to bid farewell to our smiling hosts
and wend our way back down the hillside to the boat, and the gentle evening cruise back to Puno. With the sun setting on Lake Titicaca, we could look back on a great introduction to Peru and look forward to more adventures to come.