After burning the candle at both ends in La Paz, a couple of days rest in Lake Titicaca was a welcomed change. We headed south with Helen (Oz) and Amy (Kiwi) on short bus ride which was to set the tone for the next 3 days since we seemed to laugh the entire way; usually at Amy’s uninhibited traveling style as well as her inability to start a sentence…and not just in Spanish!
I won’t even attempt to try to explain why the entire journey was so funny because you simply had to be there; the one thing I will say is that Amy’s wacky tobacco had a part to play 🙂
Even without the smoke, it is hard not to find this place truly amazing. Set high in the Andes, the lake feels more like the ocean which is totally trippy considering you are at over 3800m above sea level!
Covering an area of over 8500 square meters; 170km in length and 60km in width (making it the second largest body of fresh water on the continent) you can see why it has always been seen as a somewhat of a mystical place.
The pre-Inca people believed that both the sun itself and their bearded, White leader, Viracocha had risen out of its mysterious depths ( FYI in parts it’s as deep as 250m), whilst the Incas believed it was the birth place of their civilisation.
The lake sits in between Peru and Bolivia; split 60/40. Our first stop was on the Bolivian side to a town called Copacabana. Whilst the beach doesn’t even compare with its namesake in Brazil, it is still a charming place that is centred around a large moorish style cathedral.
Interestingly there is a daily ritual that brings in Bolivians from all over the country known as Benedicion de Movilidades, which directly translated, means blessing of the automobiles. It is a truly colourful affair that sees a monk/priest bless the cars which have been decorated with flowers for a mere £1 donation….the locals call it their insurance policy which is quite ironic considering no one here actually has insurance!
The other main reason for the influx of Bolivian tourists is to climb to the summit of Cerro Calverio which has become somewhat of a pilgrimage since there are 12 stations on the way up (which I think represent the 12 apostles or some form of commandments…kind of got lost in translation) which they all pray to. Specifically around New Year, people pray to the household god called Ekeko by offering miniatures of items them would like to acquire during the following year. As with most things in Bolivia it involves a lot of alcohol and coca leaves supposedly as offerings to the god!
Most travellers only treat Copacabana as a means to get to the Isla Del Sol which is about a 3 hour boat ride from there. Before I move on, I just have to mention that whilst there isn’t an awful lot to do there, it’s a must if only for the amazing trout you can eat from the little restaurants on the beach; without a doubt the best fish I have ever tasted.
We spent one night, two days on the Isle del Sol, which was absolutely beautiful and the birthplace of the funniest night I have ever had in my life as well as the best pizza I have ever tasted. Again whilst the great company had a lot to do with it, the tobacco from the Argentinian hippies helped set the foundations.
The island is also thought to be the birth place of just about every god including the sun it’s self. To this day most Aymara and Quechua people’s believe this is the place where they were all created.
You can see why from the pics below;
The journey back to the mainland was the only downside to the excursion since we were trapped on what can only be describes as an oversized paddle boat with the scummy leftovers of a hippie NYE festival that took place on the island. Despite being surrounded by clear, natural waters, these dreadlocks (French/Argentinean) folk had clearly not bothered to wash for some time, preferring to chant ridiculous songs along to the monotonous sound of their silly drums.
If this wasn’t enough to kill me, the choppy waters were! Even though it is a lake, there were parts of the journey around the northern side of the island that were as voracious as the ocean. To say I was shitting myself is an understatement; the only way I managed to get through it was to plug-in some of the calming sounds of Adele in an attempt not to scream. As you would expect, Andre wasn’t even phased by the entire situation, preferring to simply lay out on the front of the boat (outside of the safety barrier I might add!) getting sun burnt as he slept his way through the entire saga.
After that experience I was grateful to be leaving Bolivia for the Peruvian side of the lake since I had heard that their safety record for things like this is a lot more robust.
After crossing the border (which you had to do by foot) the next town along was Puno, which we had heard was no real beauty. Given that the bus was over two hours late (mostly due to the standing around at the border) we decided to spend the night and head to the first major city in Peru (Arequipa) the following day.
The only real thing to do in Puno is to see the floating islands in the middle of the lake. We had heard that they were massively touristy these days and so Andre and Helen decided to get an early bus to the next city. Given that we were already there and that I am more of a ´box ticker´ than Andre, I decided to stay on with Amy to see them and then join Andre and Helen later that evening.
The islands themselves were really interesting, although the rumours of them being a tourist trap where true. There are over 2,500 inhabitants on these floating islands made from reeds, which in addition to being the main building material are also eaten when green as their main source of calcium.
There are 40 separate islands, each of which will have between 10-15 families living on each one. They live as a commune, electing a President of each island who will represent the families. There are two primary schools on the islands with teachers travelling daily from Puno. Given that secondary school and university are on the mainland, this culture is sadly slowing dying out with every generation.
The main mode of transport as you would imagine is by boat which are also made from the reeds. These days they have modernised some what given that they also have motor engines. The government also gave each family a solar panel about 5 years ago which means that each house now has electricity.
The locals told us that they move the islands every year during high tide since they need to be in the shallower waters to ensure that they do not simply float away. The reeds are added to daily and go down as far as 10 meters with the roots of the reeds (which float) used as the foundations.
This particular island had a trout farm in the middle of the island, however due to the pollution the fish levels have fallen dramatically over the years, which in addition to the modernisation and the effects of tourism are unfortunately threatening their unique way of life.