Woke up several times during the night for visits to the loo. The night was restless. Had a lovely hot shower then went to breakfast, didn't seem to have my usual appetite though. It was a 7.30 meet in reception so popped back to the room to pick up my stuff. Had a bit of an accident so had to have another shower and change my undies! Wasn't going to let it ruin my day so popped a few Imodium and headed out the door.
We all got on the bus except for Steve who was feeling a bit under the weather too. 10 minutes drive and we were at the harbour which was hustling and bustling with tourists all wanting trips to the floating islands. There was an acrid smell of diesel and plumes of bluish smoke surrounding the boats.
Our guide, Felix, introduced the crew. The captain was called Haraldo and Carlso was his 10 year old helper. Both Haraldo and Carlos were wearing the traditional dress of the Uros people: black trousers, white shirt, a half-length black waistcoat and a hat. These are an old people but the Spanish invaders affected their culture and dress so I can see a matador influence in their uniforms.
Our private boat had 20 seats indoors, a bench-like arrangement outside at the back of the boat and an area on the roof for another 8 so there was plenty of space to move around and a toilet which I was hoping I wouldn't be seeing much of!
As the boat left Puno and sailed out we passed through a toll. The toll helps to fund the community, providing a school and medical facilities. Within a quarter of an hour, we could see the floating islands.
It was not what I imagined at all. Each island was made of water grass. The first island we disembarked on was set up for a demonstration of how the islands are made. The roots of the water grass clumped together to make a buoyant block about half a meter square cubed. These were lashed together then the grass was layered on top. The layers were built up pushing the roots down and stabilising the platform. Some of the newer islands were very springy underfoot and we could see people falling over from time to time. The older islands felt a lot more solid and stable.
The soft base of the grass is used as a food source by the people and the upper part is used as a building material or is sold on the mainland as animal feed. Before the tourists came, selling the grass to farmers was their only income. Now with the tourist visiting, they make crocheted designed material depicting the history of their people. These are rounded and cartooned in nature. Simplistic but still very ornate. I didn't have time to get more cash before setting off so Toni lent me 100/s to get one. This will be the centre piece of one of the rooms in my house in the same way that the Tenka from Nepal helped me design my bedroom.
The money raised from selling these items along with other handmade jewellery goes to support the actual people on the island. There are about 85 islands in total and due to their floating property they are not fixed and can move around. The islanders take it in turns to be the islands closest to the mainland in order to share the money raised from tourism.
We took a water taxi from the first island to the next. These boats are nicknamed by the Uros people as Mercedes Boats because they are slightly bigger than their standard boat design and have an extra structure in the centre to carry more people (tourists). It looked a bit like the saddle you'd see on top of an elephant only double decked. Our drivers were a really old man and a small girl probably only 10 or 12. They were dressed in traditional clothes. The girl was really pretty but terribly grubby. Both of them had skin that had been darkened by the sun.
It occurred to me that I was supporting child labour but all the money being raised was going into the community to provide education and better health care and over time some of then were leaving the islands to find a better life for themselves on land.
They are a separate people to the Peruvian people with a separate language that dates back to before Christ and so on one of the islands they were stamping passports. I unfortunately, didn't have mine with me so picked up a stamped paper which I'll glue in when I get back.
I could write lots more about the islands and the people but you really need to come here and see it for yourself.
We piled back on the boat with all our trinkets and set off across Lake Titicaca, the highest lake on the planet at 3810 meters. The lake forms the border between Peru and Bolivia. The Peruvians say they own 60% of the lake and the Bolivians own 40%. However, if you ask a Bolivian they will say the opposite!
2 hours on the boats took us to Taquile, a small (proper) island with a population of 2000. We walked across the beach and onto the coastal path. Each year the inhabitants club together money, sweat and tears and improve the island in some way. The coastal path is a work in progress and covers about half the circumference of the island. I found it heavy going as I'm still feeling quite sick.
A couple of the others have had tummy troubles and we think it was from eating at the stall yesterday.
When we got to the top of the island there was a restaurant which is owned and shared by the 8 communities living on the island. As we went into the garden the local women shook our hands and greeted us. A long table was set up at the back of the house. One side had chairs and the other side had one long seat built into the garden's wall which overlooked the bay. While the people in the chairs could look at the view, the people sitting on the wall could see a group of the local women making clothing by hand using traditional methods.
Lunch was gifted to us by Steve as we had been late arriving in Puno last night. It was nobody's fault we were late so it was nice of him.
Lunch consisted of vegetable soup, with a load of vegetables I didn't recognize, trout with rice and veg followed by pancakes and jam. The trout was delicious, it was fried and had something on top which gave it a sweet flavour and crisp texture.
After lunch we were invited to buy some of the garments made by the local women. They were reasonably priced but I didn't have enough and I didn't want to increase my debt to the group.
We have nicknamed Flojee "Fag Ash Lil" because she spent all her free time smoking. Several members of the group noticed and commented on the fact that she was walking up and down the line of clothing on the floor flicking ash all over then. We noticed that the Peruvian women who were selling the clothes were, shall we say, less than impressed. When Fag Ash Lil had finished, she just flicked her butt on the floor. There was no litter anywhere, but somehow she thought this was acceptable behaviour.
The guide said they sell their wears in the market in Puno for the same price so I thought I'd try there after going to the ATM.
We wanted to get back before dark and so we set off down the path. The boat we had arrived on had already circled around the island so it was a steep but short climb down.
I noticed that we had picked up another passenger for our return and asked the guide who he was. "He's the cook", replied the guide. He was on his way to the market to buy supplies for the island. Today is market day in Puno so he can get stuff cheaply and return to the island tomorrow with enough for the week. I got the impression that the people of the island use the tourist boats as a kind of free taxi service, which is fair enough when you think about it.
I got back and showered. I wanted to hang out with Steve again because last night was so easy and fun but didn't want to encroach on his tour duties. Just then the phone rang and it was Steve asking if I had a plan for the evening. I didn't so we decided to repeat last night.
We had a bit of a wandered around town and he showed me some of the other hotels he had been looking at for next year's Peru tour. A few of the group had complained that they couldn't sleep because they could hear the music from local nightclubs.
One of the hotels was really nice, it had a modern interior with a trendy well-decorated restaurant joining it. This hotel was the cheapest of the 3 so if you're in Peru next year with Angel Holidays then you have me to thank for the accommodation! We decided to eat in the restaurant. We shared some chicken wings that we really tasty and spicy then I had Spaghetti Bolanase and a beer. Steve was still feeling peeky, so just had soup. It was a really pleasant evening.
It was still a bit early for bed so wandered around town and watched what was going on before heading back to the hotel.