Next stop on the trail was Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world sitting at 3,820m above sea level. From the shoreline it looks more like the ocean – it´s enormous!!
From Puno we took a 3hr boat ride to visit Taquile island. This seemed to go on forever, and was long enough for immaturity to set in good and proper. We had 2 teddy bears on board, that were soon exploited for our amusement as we staged a set of ted-porn pictures. Taquile is interesting – there are lots of knitted goods for sale, which is only worthy of note because they´ve all been knitted by men. Knitting, apparently, is strictly a guy-thing, and women do the spinning. We climbed up to the highest point on the island, where we had a fab al-fresco lunch of grilled trout overlooking the lake. For once the weather was on our side, so the view was gorgeous and I got to feel properly warm for the first time in a week or so!
That evening we were due to stay in a “homestay” on the shores of the lake, that is to spend the night with a local Peruvian family. We were collected from the boat by our surrogate mother Matilda and her daughter Ana, and then we were put to work. They must love us for the free labour! First we herded cows, then we ploughed a potato field, then we wrestled sheep in a bid to get them back to their pen without them eating the crops on the way. Next we played volleyball and soccer with the locals, and were embarrassed at getting effectively thrashed by a bunch of kids. We then had to entertain 9yr old Ana while we waited for dinner. With not much Spanish between us, Emma and I had a hard task, until we realized that you can get a lot of mileage out of a paper aeroplane. We managed to make this game last about an hour, before we were called for dinner. We had low expectations about food and accommodation but were pleasantly surprised – we were treated to hot soup, and a vegetable curry with rice (I made a mental note to order a bleeding steak as soon as possible).
We slept pretty well despite the pounding rain, and were woken at 6.30 the next morning for breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the lake was stunning. We had intended to get up at 4.30am to watch the sunrise, however when the alarm went off the rain was coming down in droves. Emma and mine´s collective viewpoint was “fuck that”. Breakfast was followed with a game of ´jump rope´, which had me determined to skip my age despite almost having a heart attack. We said goodbye to our family – despite having some strong reservations about this bit, I had to admit that it was a fantastic experience and am really glad that it was included as part of the trip – and boarded the boat again to head back to Puno, via the floating islands of Uros.
The Uros originally built their islands to isolate themselves from rival tribes, and living out on their reed islands they were ignored by everyone. Today most of their money comes from tourism. Everything is made from reeds. The islands themselves, the homes and the boats. That said, somehow they still manage to have TV! We met the locals, got dressed up in their clothes, and took a ride on a reed boat before heading back to Puno for the night, extremely tired!! Next stop, Bolivia!!
Crossing the Bolivian border was actually fairly painless. We then found ourselves in the small lakeside town of Copacabana. This place reminded me a bit of Mancora, Peru. It seemed very geared-up for tourists, although it seems to be a place that people stop to break a journey up rather than somewhere to visit in its own right. After lunch, we climbed Cerro Calvario (the hill guarding the town). On Sundays the town fills with faithful believers who walk up the hill to make their dreams come true. At the top of the hill numerous stalls sell all manner of miniature material goods fom cars and busses through to houses and graduation certificates. The items are then taken to a small altar where they are blessed, decorated with flowers and petals , incense is burned and finally beer is sprayed over everything (sounds like a waste to me). Also at the top of the hill is an amazing view and a fantastic spot to catch the sunset. From Copacabana we were due to head to La Paz, the highest city in the world. It was also a big heaving city, a far cry from the tranquility of Copacabana. We enjoyed the peace as the sun went down …