Puno was our first stop after entering Peru. The area we were in was rather nice if not a bit touristy. The main plaza was one block up from out hotel and the road branching off of there was soley for us tourists as it was lined with restaurants, bars and street vendors selling all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs. We didn’t have all that much time in the city itself as the excursion we were all doing on Lake Titicaca lasted two days and that was the main purpose of our visit. I would have liked to spend a little more time in Puno as it seems to be a fun and friendly city. Anyway, on to the lake!
The Floating Reed Islands
This was the reason for stopping off in Puno (besides trying the guinea pig). The excursion started with a short 30 minute boat ride out to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca where people live and entertain tourists on islands made of reeds. As to why they live out here, that is apparently due to the Spanish Inquisition. The Spanish were killing off the locals and attempting to destroy their culture and belief system and replace it with Catholicism. Some Peruvians escaped by heading out into the lake and building islands out of floating reeds which also acted as camouflage. The people that still live out there are descendants of these original Peruvians and speak an almost extinct language to this day.
They survive on tourism for the most part with reed-made boat rides and various souvenirs all made by hand such as quilts, jewelry and other bits and bobs. It was actually a little embarrassing what they were doing for the tourists. If you opted to go on a little reed boat ride, before you leave they sing “Row row row your boat” in English which is a language they can’t even speak. Well, whatever puts food on the table huh. It was an interesting part of the excursion nonetheless but from there, we moved on to the crux of the trip. The home-stay with a family on the Amantaní island.
Living on Amantani Island
I’ve never done a home stay before (living with another family in their house). I know some tours in South Africa offer you the opportunity to stay the night with a local family in the Location but it’s not something I’m very keen on. The entire thing is well organized however and the families we stay with have to be approved by the tourism board which entails having decent facilities and rooms available. We got off the boat on Amantani Island and were all split up into groups and assigned a “Mama”. They led us up the hill to their abode and allowed us some time to get comfortable in our room. When the time came, they called us down for dinner. Now, my Spanish is not the best but I (along with my friend David) are probably the most fluent people on our tour but no matter how much we tried to converse with the family, they preferred to keep to themselves. It was slightly uncomfortable being invited for dinner and sitting at their table while they resigned themselves to a makeshift table near the stove. We ate locally grown foods including strange potatoes and corn. It was, for the most part, a very vegetarian meal.
After dinner, we were kitted out with local clothing which for us guys meant a poncho and beanies (which apparently was designed to help the family identify us as our tour guide said that we all look the same to them). We were then whisked off to the main hall where we all enjoyed some local music and dancing which in itself was a novel experience. These Mamas can move! At around 4000 meters above sea level, each dance was accompanied with panting and a long break. We hung around for about 8 or 10 dances which each last about 10 minutes and then called it a night. We must have been in bed and asleep by latest 10 pm which is almost unheard off while being on this tour (having rediscovered the joys of sleep, I have had many more early nights since then).
The next morning called for a quick breakfast before heading back down to the dock to get on our boat. Before returning to Puno, we took a detour to another island called Taquile which is sort of the local municipality for the islands. A quick walk up to the top and various stories from our tour guide ended in lunch at the top of the island. It was then back down to the boat and time to return to Puno. All in all, we all had a good time and it was a very interesting experience.