Back in Cusco, Em and I picked up another friend, Katie, who had flown in from New York to join us for part of our trip. The three of us met seven years ago when we all lived in London, so we were excited to be together traveling again. I can't say we were so excited about the next form of travel we'd be taking though, which was a nine hour bus ride across Peru to the city of Puno. Yep. Nine. Long. Hours.
Actually, it wasn't too bad. We stopped at four different sites along the way to visit churches and Inca ruins, and we also stopped in a little town for lunch. I have to admit that, though I was stuck on a bus and my hips were cranky, being able to watch the landscape of Peru change as it passed by the window was one of my favorite parts of the trip. (Good thing, huh.) And, the chance to have a restful day after all that hiking was a welcome one.
Though we planned most of our trip ahead of time, this was the part of the trip that we were totally winging. We arrived in Puno, which is perched on the shore of Lake Titicaca. Puno is not really so picturesque; it's more of a bustling hub city abuzz with cars, people and bikes with carts mounted onto them (some carrying sheep) trying to make their way through the streets.
We were approached quickly by a woman offering to take us to a hotel. We are pretty seasoned travelers, all things considered, so we weren't going to be taken for a ride, but the price she quoted was what we were planning to pay, and the hotel had a triple room all ready for us. So, off we went. I love how I would never in a million years do this in New York, but in Puno, it seemed perfectly sensible, and what do you know, turned out fine. Our hotel was, in fact, really nice. We went out on the town that night and found us a good night club playing, what else, 80's music, so despite my sourpuss toe, I danced my heart out to Bonjovi, and I am not ashamed.
We had initially wanted to head over to Bolivia at some point, but we found out that they now charge US citizens $135 for a visa. I can't really blame them, but given we would only have been there for two days, there was no way we were going to fork over that much money. Instead, we decided to stay on the Peruvian side of the Lake and visit the Floating Islands of Uros our first day, and then head out to Amantani Island for a homestay on our second.
I highly recommend doing the solo tour of the Floating Islands. (We also stopped there on our way to Amantani, but the experience is much better when you are only heading to Uros for the day.) We didn't want to go through a tourist agency since many of them are a little sketchy and keep most of the money for themselves, rather than it going to benefit the people who actually live on the islands and depend on tourism for much of their economy. So that meant that we had to go it alone, which turned out to be very easy, if you are willing to just go for it. We simply walked down to the dock, found a boat that said 'Uros,' paid a guy some money to get on it, and left.
If you want to read more about the islands themselves, go here. We motored out about 30 minutes or so from Puno, and suddenly, an entire city aloft on the water greeted us.
It was like nothing I had ever seen before. We toured two of the islands and enjoyed lunch on the second one: After a boat ride on one of their reed boats, we got back on the motorboat and headed to Puno for another night.
The next morning, we headed back to the docks, found the boat that said 'Amantani,' paid a guy, and got on board. (Sound familiar?) This excursion took us out three hours onto the Lake (did I mention it is a HUGE lake?) to the small island of Amantani. We had no idea how the homestay was going to work exactly, but we soon found out. During the trip, they passed around a legal pad with instructions to put down your name and how many people were in your party. When we approached Amantani, you could see a line of small, brightly clad women forming at the dock. As we got off the boat, we were doled out to the next woman in line, who turned out to be Innocensia, who turned out to be one awesome, fierce lady. The three of us followed her to a little house up a ways (we were all handily out of breath by the time we reached it given the altitude) and got settled. She and her daughter, Marena, fixed us an amazing lunch of homemade quinoa and vegetable soup and a cold salad of beans, vegetables and boiled potatoes. After lunch, we unwittingly ended up on the hike from hell #2, but it was worth it because, though our lungs were practically bleeding and our bodies hurt (did I mention I have RA??) we got to see this:
That night, we hung out in the town square for a celebration of the island that is held each August (good timing), then went back with Innocensia and Marena for another homecooked soup and an omelette. Since there was no electricity, we bundled up for the night by candlelight and then fell fast asleep.
We woke up with the roosters and had time for a quick breakfast (yummy crepes with homemade jam) before Innocensia escorted us back to the dock to catch the boat. From there, we crossed over to the island of Taquile, where, in order to reach anything on the island, we had to first climb up a flight of f****** evil steps to the very top of the island. It took an hour, and I was as close to hating life as I could be in such a beautiful place. Hiking straight up a mountain in high altitude must be like running a marathon while sipping air through a tiny straw. HELL. But we were rewarded with another great view at the top (oh, the things I will apparently do in the name of good view):
We also encountered a huge bull rambling down the little windy path and got out of his way. We wandered around the island and ate some lunch before it was time to go back to the boat for another three hours on the lake returning to Puno. I felt weary, but honestly, pretty damn good all things considered. We headed back to Cusco (via another nine hour bus ride, choke choke) the following day, and spent one last night in Cusco.
Me vs RA on the trip of a lifetime scorecount: 4 and 0
Next up: the Amazon!!!! Tarantulas, piranhas and insane macaws.