16th Jun 2012
Lake Titicaca: Uros Islands y Isla Taquile
Our alarms did not have a chance to go off this morning. Denise woke up to me talking in my sleep. Apparently I said, “Mom! Stop it!” I woke up to the sun and Denise laughing at me. Although I do not remember the dream, I am sure it was in reference to the Bob Newhart “Stop it” sketch from Mad-TV. If the sun wasn’t enough to wake me, the cold shower was there for back-up.
As we left, the friendly owner notified us that our tired amigas came in this morning. As we wrote a note, he asked us if we would eat breakfast today. “Solamente cinco Soles para mantequilla, marmalade, pan integral, jugo de naranja, leche, te, cafe.” Pretty much he was charging for what is usually the free breakfast of bread, juice and coffee/tea. Me and Denise politely declined and left for our day excursion on Lake Titicaca.
The Saturday market was getting set up. We passed piles of fruits and vegetables. This region is supposed to have 20 different varieties of papas, potatoes. Indeed, there were mountains of papas next to massive scales. A cross-eyed trikshaw driver weaving through the market offered to give us a ride. Was it the chaotic market or his eyesight that made him drive so erratically? I also declined this offer since we were not far from the port.
The first stop was the Uros Islands. This is a community of roughly 2000 people living on 65 man-made islands made out of tortora reeds and anchored to the bottom of Lake Titicaca to prevent them from floating away. It only took our boat as well as plenty of other ferries 40 minutes to get to the islands from Puno. The ferries rotate among the tiny islands in order to spread the tourist dollars evenly. We visited Iska Chaulla.
Getting off the boat and stepping onto the Island felt odd since the ground was super squishy and super soft. I thought it would be a perfect place to practice gymnastics but I refrained from busting out a back handspring. Instead a took a seat on a bench made out of the same reeds as the island. Our guide introduced us to the President and told us about the Lake Titicaca and the community. He said the name Titicaca in Quechua means Rock/Puma. Both Bolivia and Peru have claims to islands on the lake. He said Titi is Peru and Caca is Bolivia. The President then demonstrated how the islands are made by cutting a block of earth, placing the reeds and showing us the anchor. We were free to wander the island which took all of 3 minutes. I peeked inside the homes and kitchen. It was cool to see they used solar panels. The remaining 12 minutes I was harassed by members of the community to buy stuff: model boats and mobiles made of reeds. These are not items that will fit in a backpack. Two dumb chicks paid S.5 each to get dressed up in the local clothing and to pose for pictures.
Me, Denise and a few others did take a S.5 ride in what our guide referred to as the “Mercedes Benz” a boat made out of, you guessed it, more tortora reeds. The women sang us a song as we boarded the boat along with a few of the cute but dirty kids holding onto balloons they must have received from another group of tourists. Visiting the island was interesting yet super-cheesy.
Getting back onto the ferry, I sat outside on the bow to soak up some of the bright and warm rays of the sun. A Brazilian guy named Everton sat next to me. Over the next 2 hours we watched the scenery slowly unfold around us as we chatted excitedly about travel and running. Everton not only runs Marathons but also Iron Mans. We shared stories about the best and worst races. He made me start jonesing for a run but looking at his watch and seeing that we were up 3850 meters, I knew I would die.
At Isla Taquille, our guide pointed us to a trail up the hill and told us to walk for 30 minutes to the main square. It was a steep ascent. Me, Denise, Everton and his cousin had to pause at frequent intervals due to getting winded. It made me feel better the altitude was kicking this Ironman’s ass too. The hills were terraced for farming. The landscape reminded me of the Sri Linka tea region minus the tea bushes. I thought of my friend Nivanka and thought she would be happy to know that I was now picturing Sri Lanka on my travels. Along the stone path, we passed several modest homes with solar panels with sheep grazing outside.
The main square was not what I had envisioned. It was just a large gathering spot with a few small adobe tiendas covered with white graffiti and large artisian shop. Our guide told us we had 15 minutes to take pictures and buy things before we would head to a local’s home for lunch. The local woman was greedy and wanted to charge us S.20 but lowered the price when we all refused to eat. We ended up having to pay S.15, ~$5.80, which putting it into perspective is way less than a SF lunch. The lunch was really good: sopa de quinoa, trucha de Titicaca, arroz, papas fritas (best I have had) y coca te.
At lunch, a few Germans sat across from Denise and Parvi, an Indian from Atlanta, sat across from me. I told him how I had been ripping on Atlanta and Coca-Cola. His father actually works for the company. He was interested when I told him that I saw the most Austral Botelleria in Chile.
After lunch, we were directed down another path towards the boat. On the ride back, me and the others sat on the top to soak up the view and midday sun. The 2 hour ride back was pleasant. As the sun sank lower in the sky, the colors on the lake became more vibrant. We made it back to Puno as the sun set. It was cold. Instead of trekking up the hill, we split a taxi back to Dulqui Inn.
Muriel and Tamara greeted us as we walked up the stairs. Hungry, we set out together to find food. We passed though a market. On aisle was filled with colorful and delicious fruit, the next piled with several varieties of cheese, the last was packed with skinned pig carcasses. Denise, the vegan, was buying fruit. The other two bought cheese. I warned all three not to pass the cheese aisle, especially Denise since I did not want her to be horrified.
The search for dinner was just as painful as the previous night, maybe a bit more. Finding vegetarian food was difficult and vegan nearly impossible. Muriel and Tamara had tighter budgets. Denise did not want to go back to the cheapest option, a Chifa. I really wanted to shoot myself in the head! Finally, we decided on a cheap Peruvian restaurant to feed the majority. The menu was a soup with semolina, a chicken stew over rice and tea for S.3.5. We purchased our meal tickets. Muriel and Tamara got the set menu. I purchased just the soup for S.1.5. The soup came and of course ended up having bits of meat that me and the others fished out. Denise asked the waiter if she could get a plate of papas and arroz. When the others got their plates, Muriel and Tamara 86’ed the pollo. As Denise ate her meal, I wondered if she realized that she was probably consuming butter or lard used to cook the papas. At the end, she was mad that the owner charged her S.3. We tried to share the math with him that she should only pay S.2 based on the cost of the soup. Denise just put her contribution on the counter and walked out.
I was exhausted from a long day and the drama over dinner. We all were exhausted but stayed up late since we did not know when we would all be together again. Thanks to Mac, we had music. Muriel shared with us samples of her Swedish beau’s music over SoundCloud. We giggled and gossiped until we were no longer coherent and our eyelids were too heavy to keep open. Within minutes of Muriel and Tamara’s exit, I passed out into a deep sleep to the mental musical accompaniment of Electro Swing.
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