July 30, 2010: Navigating the Highest Navigable Lake in the World

I am sorry that this blog is so late but I only had one day between my trip to Puno and Lake Titicaca and my stay in the jungle. on July 19, 2010, four of my housemates and I took a bus to Puno so that we could explore the highest navigable lake in the world and the 2nd largest in South America, Lake Titicaca. Before we took our 10:30 pm bus, most of my housemates and I went out for Thai food, which was good, but I still miss the kind from home. Some people in my house smoked Hookah during dinner while the rest of us just relaxed and enjoyed the good food. When we got to the bus terminal, we could not for the hell of us find our bus. Eventually, we found and boarded the nicest tour bus I have ever seen. It had brand new leather seats that reclined almost completely back. It was full of tourists, which is always the sign of a quality busline. I was the only one with an empty seat next to me, so I had plenty of room to spread out and get comfortable for our 7 hour ride. I took Benadryl before I left and hence was passed out for virtually the entire journey to Puno.

When we got off the bus in the Puno bus station, we were so cold because we were at an elevation 1500 feet higher than Cusco. As we entered the terminal, we were immediately bombarded by tons of companies offering the classic 3 island guided tour of Lake Titicaca. We settled on the first one we saw, which was 55 soles, that started at 8 am that same morning. We had about two anda half hours to kill before our tour started, so we headed upstairs to grab some breakfast. On the way we saw Adrianne, Elenas French boyfriend, who had basically becomea member of the La Florida community due to his frequent presence in the house. He was taking a bus to Copacabana, Bolivia, which is at the other side of the lake, and thus only had 30 Peruvian centimos left in his pocket. He had breakfast with us, and we all chipped in to pay for his meal. For 5 soles each, we got an egg, toast, tea, and freah-squeezed orange juice and also got to watch the sun rise over the massive lake. After breakfast, we said goodbye to Adrianne, bought a 15 soles bus ticket for our return trip to Cusco with Libertad that left at 7:30 pm the next night, and met a really friendly American girl who told us that she was going to Copacabana as well.

At 8 am we met with our tour company, and we all made our way down to the docks where our boat was waiting for us. We were all so overtired that anythingand everything seemed to be making us fall to the floor laughing. When we got on our boat and saw the toilet had no seat, toilet paper, or flushing mechanism, we were amazed that, on a boat where people normally spend three straight hours without any alternative access to a bathroom, there would be such a shoddy excuse for a toilet. Soon after we boarded the boat, a man jumped on, sung to us for maybe two minutes, and then went around seeking donations in his mini-guitar bag. I guess you got to do what you got to do in order to survive. We eventually left port on this small boat with an indoor compartment downstairs and a wide open rooftop with two parallel benches, one on each side of the boat, upstairs. Our tour guide was bilingual and would speak first in Spanish to appease the spanish-speaking tourists and then in English to satisfy the rest of us. he spoke Spanish so slowly and articulately that it was very easy to understand what he was saying before he switched to English.

25 minutes after leaving port, we arrived at the floating Uros Islands, which are nothing more than manmade mini-islands constructed from the bouyant reeds found in the shallow regions of Lake Titicaca. They were much more extensive than the pictures I had previously seen suggested, forthey went as far as the eye could see. The Uros consisted of a plethora of small reed islands separated by small channels of water. They were very commercialized as evidenced by the songs that the native islanders sang to entertain us (Row, Row, Row your Boat) as well as their farewell (Hasta La Vista, Baby). Despite the unauthentic feel that I got from Uros, the fact that the islands, as well as everything on them (homes and lookout towers), were made of reeds really impressed and amazed me. We all paid 10 soles each to be transported by a double-decker reed boat to the next reed island we were visiting. The operator of the awesome floating contraption was wearing a New England Patriots hat, which made Amy, Emily, and myself extremely excited and happy. After about anhour at the Uros Islands, we boarded out boat for a 3 hour cruise to the 2nd largest idland in Lake Titicaca, Amantani, where we would be spending the night in a traditional homestay. The ride was really long, cold, and there was a lot of wind, but being able to see 360 degree views of the lake from upstairs made sitting on the exposed top level worth it all. At one point, we exited the massive bay around Puno and the lake opened up so much that it seemed as if we were entering a huge ocean. It was impossible to see the Bolivia side of the lake except for a few white mountaintops that were probably 50 or more miles away. Also, when we were exposed in the middle of Titicaca, the wind picked up so much and huge waves started to rock the small boat we were in from side to side. Finally, at about 1:30 pm, we arrived on the fairly large island of Amantani. The island was mostly brown, seemed to have terraces built all over the place, and had its highest point at about 13,000 feet above sea level. When we got off our boat, we were greated by a bunch of local girls and women all wearing the same exact traditional outfit. Luckily, all 5 of us La Flordians were able to go with one girl to her house where we would be spending the night. From the two-story house, the views of the lake, Amantani, and the next days destination, Taquile, were absolutely incredible. The water was so blue and the islands so brown that the views were so cool. The five of us split into rooms with doors so short that even a dwarf could not fit through them without ducking. We then waited very patiently, though our stomachs were growling, for lunch to be served. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, Staphanie, our local host, told us to go into the dining room for lunch, in her broken Spanish. The Lake Titicaca islanders speak a unique language and do not really understand more than a few simple Spanish words. Lunch consisted of a bowl of bland potatoes topped by a slice of cheese curd, both of which I could not handle eating. We realized that the islanders just eat what they need to in order to survive and potatoes are a cheap, fairly nutritious food. Following the dissapointing lunch, we all agreed to go find Amantanis Plaza de Armas so that we could buy something to fill our stomachs. When we tried to ask our hosts how far and where the plaza was, they pointed and said four minutes. We started walking cluelessly in the direction of the pointed finger, through peoples small farm plots, until someone told us to wait for Stephanie. Once she showed, she started walking and we followed as she basically climbed up half the island. Maybe 30 minutes later, we reached a “plaza” where we met up with everyone else who was on our tour boat. The plan was to climb to the top of the island and watch the sunset, but all of my friends and I decided we were sick of hiking and let the group go on the ascent while we returned to our host familys house and chilled with the water bottles and candy we got in the bus station that morning. once the darkness kicked out the light, we were told that dinner was ready, and we were served a really good dinner of rice and vegetables. The family shut the door of the dining room/ kitchen to give us privacy as we ate. After dinner, Emily and Amy were really tired and went to sleep, but me, Steph, and Nat wanted to dress up in the traditional clothing and go to the dance party that night. A little later, the mother or grandmother brought us our clothes. All I wore was a poncho, but it was really warm and helped shield me from the freezing cold night. When we got to the party, which thankfully was located only 5 minutes from our house, a band started playing traditional music, and the local women took the hands of the tens of tourists and started this really cultureless, ridiculous dance that I have seen at all the bar mitzvahs I used to attend. At this point, I was really tired from being awake since 5 am and would have preferred to watch the dancing. Then all of a sudden, a woman who could have been anywhere between the ages of 30 and 50, it was too dark to tell, grabbed my hand and dragged me onto the dance floor all the while initiating the dancing. She was just holding my arms and flailing them around and swinging them from side to side with hers. I was not that into the whole dance, but the song was so long and it seemed as if it would never end. Finally, the music stopped and Nat, Stef, myself, and our host grandma went back to our house. We removed our traditional garments and went to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up and the first thing I saw as I opened the door to my room was the incredible views of the gigantic lake. It made me so happy to see such a beautiful sight first thing in the morning. on a side note, there are so many places in Peru that I have seen that I would love to wake up and see everyday. I then proceeded downstairs to the dining room where I met up with my friends and ate a awrm, freshly-cooked, doughy piece of bread for breakfast. We all then headed upstairs to gather our belongings and subsequently walked down to our boat where we bade Stephanie farewell with a friendly handshake. We hopped on the boat and started our 1 hour journey to the 3rd largest island in Lake Titicaca, Taquile. The water was so choppy on the short ride that it seemed as though the boat was about to roll over everytime we were struck by a wave. Eventually, we rocked our way into the port on Taquile, and as soon as I stepped off the boat I tripped on a rock. I have tripped almost everywhere I have traveled to within Peru this summer, and everytime it happens Nat is right behind me and starts cracking up at my misfortune. That time on Taquile was no different from the rest. We all then started a 45 minute walk to the town on the other side of the island by means of a cliffside path that harbored some unbelieveable views of Amantani, the mountains on the East and West sides of the lake, and the majestic snow-capped Bolivian mountains. There was so much water and it was all so blue that my mind was in overload trying to make sense of the scenery I was seeing. At some points the water was light blue and the lake looked like the clear waters of the Carribean or somethinf of the sort. When we got to the Plaza de Armas, we saw one of those poles that has dozens of signs that point in the directions of the major cities in the world and say their distance from the location of the pole. All the measurements were in kilometers , so I could not really grasp how far everything was from us in terms of miles. New York was 6,300 km away and Jerusalem (Hi, Kaitie) was 12,200 km away. After having a little bit of free time to explore the small plaza and to take in the ridiculously incredible views of the lake and adjacent mountains, our tour guide gathered us and told us a little about the culture of Taquile. He said something that I found particularly interesting about how everyone can tell whether a Taquilian is married or not based solely on the color and type of clothing the individual is wearing. The guide then brought us to a local rooftop restaurant where we paid 15 soles for soup and a plate of Lake Titicaca Trout and papas fritas, or french fries. The trout was so good that I finished Emilys for her because she was full and could not eat anymore. We all then made our way back to our boat, which was at a port on the other side of the island from the plaza and from the firts port, on a path that required us to climb down 500 stairs. As we walked down, Emily and I counted the stairs and came out with 502 and 503, respectively. We boarded our boat, sailed away, and again entered extremely wavy waters. Unlike in the morning, we were then sitting on the roof of the boat where the effect of each wave that hit us was magnified tenfold. Emily almost flew off the boat as she was trying to lie down on the ground when a big wave threw her off balance and almost off the side. We all laughed a lot as we were tossed around for an hour or so, and then slowly we all nodded off to sleep. We reached Puno at about 3:30 pm and went to the bus station to see if we could get an earlier bus to Cusco, so that we would not have to hang around in dumpy Puno. Libertad had no space on their 5:30 pm bus,so we all paid an extra 20 soles to take a different companys bus that left Puno at 5 pm. We were told that there was only one stop in the city of Juliaca, but once we boarded the bus and saw how crappy it was we knew that we were bound to stop a lot more than once. The bus felt as though it was on the verge of breaking down and the seats barely reclined at all. We stopped 100 times and what was supposed to be a 7 hour bus ride ended up taking close to 9 hours. At one stop along the route home, some woman walked through the isles selling fried cheese and chicha to the bus full of Peruvians. I cannot say that the bus ride was that terrible because it allowed us to see how the natives here travel from place to place. On the way to Puno we had a tourists experienceand on the way home we had a natives.

Finally, at around 2 am we got home, tried to take showers only to figure out that it was about the time of night when all the water in Cusco is shut off. I went to sleep dirty, but I was so tired that it did not even matter. My trip to the worlds highest navigable lake was so much fun and so incredible, and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to travel to and experience Lake Titicaca on my trip to Peru.

   

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