Lake Titicaca and Puno

Sorry for the delay in posting - no internet in the Amazon and we have had such a hectic schedule!

We arrived in Puno by plane ( my very least favourite form of travel, I even prefer the car!) A short trip from Arequipa the plane comes into the market town of Juliaca and then it is a car trip of a couple of hours to Puno.
Our last trip, way back in 2003 was a frightening experience, when we were met by a violent soccer crowd angry because Juliaca had lost a match, and our bus had to take a detour over fields and back tracks to avoid being stoned.
This time the roads were smooth and so was the trip. Our guide took us to Sillustani on the way. This is an Incan and Chechuan burial site consisting of silos of stone where important members of the community were buried with worldly goods and prepared for their journey into the next world. It is on a high hill next to a beautiful lagoon. Our guide was a from the indigenous community and he explained many of the rituals and beliefs associated with the burial site.

We also visited a farm where the people offered us some of their food - including a clay they use to help with digestion! yummy potatoes and cheese. Of course they had handicrafts to sell - and we did our bit.
We arrived at our hotel at midday, enjoyed a meal in a nearby restaurant and then we all took a siesta.
Early starts have been almost mandatory on this trip and the next day was no exception. The floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca were our destination and today it was a trip on what the locals call a 'speed boat' - actually a launch - out to the islands and the on to the island of Taquile. Since our last visit 9 years ago the islands and the islanders have become much more tourist oriented. This is not a bad thing and this time we were shown how the islanders build their houses and make their boats, where and what they cook and were invited into their homes. The downside if you can call it that, is that they expect you to buy some of their handicraft - which we did. Since there is no charge for visiting the islands and they are giving up their time to entertain the tourists, this is not really an imposition.
We took a trip in one of the amazing catamarans, made of reeds with some shaped like huge dragon heads, from one island to the next. Here we joined our launch for the hour and a half trip to the island of Taquile.
Altitude is an issue for many visitors to Lake Titicaca. It makes you feel light-headed, easily breathless - especially if you bend down to tie your shoes - and occasionally headachy. It can make some feel quite disoriented and ill. These days oxygen is available in most hotels and this quickly restores the victim! to their normal selves.
Climbing the steep hills of Lake Taquile was taken slowly. We sucked our coca and maca sweets (both made from local plants believed to help with altitude) and some of us chewed the unpalatable coca leaves. Our guide gave us a handful each of these as we landed on the island, explaining that they were exchanged in greetings with the locals. It was only later that we wondered how the sniffer dogs at Australian customs would react to the smell of coca on our clothes (I have yet to find out!).
Lake Titicaca stretches into Bolivia. This island is on the Peruvian side with the Bolivian mountains in the distance. We walked up one side of the island and down the other, taking the rest of the day and enjoying the warm sunshine. We lunched in a local community restaurant on a fine meal of quinoa soup and grilled fish and watched a mayoral ceremony in the town square at the some of the island. We learnt about the local customs, watched the men knit (they are amongst the finest) and the women weave. It was all down in slow motion, but by the end of the afternoon we were ready to board our launch and return to Puno.
Puno is a frontier town - a mixture of Bolivians and Peruvians - and it has raw feeling unlike many of the the other places we have visited. Our hotel was not of the standard we had grown used to on this trip - the best hotels are on the lake outside town - but this time our Noble Travel Agent had decided that staying in town was more important.
Excellent pizza and a glass of the local lemon drink finished the day.

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