Day 201. Had to get up really early for today’s trip, a boat trip on Lake Titicaca which at 2.4 miles above sea level is the world’s highest navigable lake (by big boats of course, otherwise it’s not!). I was worried about not being able to get up in time but the cockerel in the backyard made sure that I woke up even before the sun rose. The little shit started at about 4:30am! I started to get a bit stressed thinking that I’d been duped with the tickets as the guy had promised to bring them early in the morning. Eventually nearly forty minutes late he turned up with the typical laid back South American attitude of, hey no problem ‘mañana’. He said everyone is forty minutes later here, so why didn’t he tell me this last night! Eventually the minibus turned up with John and Elizabeth on it who were also going on the tour.
The first port of call for the boat were the floating islands, these are really bizarre and as quite accurately described, they are islands which float on the lake, clever! The islands, houses and canoes the locals (Uros) use are all made from a reed (totora) which grows in the lake. We were told that people originally built these to escape the hard work of mountain farming which the Inca had forced them to do. But I figure that building an island and living on it must surely be far harder than farming so I’m not sure if this was 100% true. I had to be very careful where I walked on the islands as every now and again my foot would go through a hole where the reeds had rotted away. The locals would simply put more reeds on top continuing the cycle of the constantly rotting island. Interestingly the reeds are not only used for the island and building material but also are a source of food. They taste really nice, a bit like water melon. After going on a little sail around an island in one of the reed boats we all got back into the proper big metal and wooden one and journeyed for another two and a half hours until we reached the Isla Taquile.
This was an unusual place, completely isolated in the middle of Lake Titicaca a culture has developed which is unique to that of the mainland. I started to feel the altitude again, every now and again I had to take a deep breath for what seemed no apparent reason, but at almost 4km above sea level it’s to be expected. The advantage with the high altitude is that the air is clear which gave the water an amazingly rich blue colour. Arriving at the island the captain of the boat made an announcement in a thick Latin American Spanish accent, “I will sail around to the other side of the island where my pussy will be waiting for you.” What, I looked at Elizabeth and John asking, did he really just say that?!?! Was this guy a pimp? Confused I noticed on one of the life jackets the letters P U on one side and S I on the other. Ahhhh, the boat was called Pusi, which then started off a number of jokes, not excluding the obvious one given the fact that the boat was leaking slightly. Before heading off I asked the captain if he was going to keep the engine warm for us so his Pusi wouldn’t go cold, he said “His Pusi would be warm” which was nice. Rather childishly we were all in hysterics, well the English amongst us were anyway. Disappointingly I found out that Pusi is the name of a small town on the lake and not as I’d thought a pet named for the guys wife.
On the island we first had to climb up a steep hillside which combined with the altitude left many of us out of breath. The fatigue was not helped by the large number of kids trying to tie bracelets around our wrists and then demanding money for them as you couldn’t give them back due to their expert knowledge in tying ‘impossible to untie’ knots! The Quechua islanders themselves have an unusual and unique system of government separate I was told to the rest of Peru and they fiercely protect this way of life. The men walk around knitting and knit for the women and women for men. Similarly they have a unique dress code where men who are not married wear hats which are red and white and if married they are majority red. Under this system it is clear that Santa Claus is pretending to be single, the dirty old man! The hats looked like the kind your Gran would make you when you were a kid. I was also told that married and unmarried women also wore different clothes but I argued to the guide that this is also true of what happens back home in the UK, unmarried equals dress sexy, married equals dress in a jumper and leggings.
The main town’s square was really pretty with a ramshackle stone church in which a service was being held from which a procession followed of the village elders and an islanders meeting held. On the way back down to the boat more kids tried to attach bracelets but there is at least one advantage to being tall, they couldn’t reach me. While walking down the steep path I could see old women carrying unbelievably large and heavy loads on their backs up the steep incline. At their age and this altitude this looked inhumane. When I asked why this happened I was told that donkeys had been used but the village elders, as it happens all men, said it was giving in to ‘modern technology’. I’m not sure if the guide’s explanation lost a little in translation but donkeys are hardly modern technology! I think he meant donkeys are not native to the island, but still seems a little harsh.
There were other bizarre stories from this island including why when shaving the wool off an alpaca the locals make sure to leave he wool on the head. It turns out that if the alpaca was to see its bald head in the reflection of the lake it would die of embarrassment, mmmm. Attached to this little gem was the added fact that alpacas always shit in the same place! Actually, I was starting to believe this as it always seems to be on the path but I don’t think he quite meant that. Then there were the Quechua islanders, they have umbrellas for shade but never use them if it rains as they do not want to scare the rain off. All these ‘facts’ were given with the prefix that these were “Very, very special stories, really special, very special.” I’m personally not convinced that these were not made up ‘especially’ for gullible tourists!
We all slowly headed back down the hill to the boat and climbed into the leaking Pusi which had clearly seen better days, but although it was wet it was a warm one! The captain told us that he had filled up his Pusi and she was ready to go, none of us flinched, we were knackered and couldn’t mentally handle anymore innuendo. This evening I met up with J&E and went for a meal. I had an alpaca steak but made sure that I ordered one which had been slaughtered as I thought having one which had died from embarrassment from a dodgy haircut would have been inhumane!