As I finally strayed from the coast for the first time since landing in South America back in January I was headed the furthest I’d ever been away from the sea, and to the highest altitude I have ever experienced.
The destination – the highest navigatable lake in the world – Lake Titicaca.
LT sits at 3,900 metres above sea level and nestles between the border of Peru and Bolivia.
My reason for heading here was to check out the infamous floating islands and to experience a home stay, in which a local family take you in for a night or two and show you around – allowing you a brief insight into the culture, food and lives of the people that live there.
Unlike most backpackers in South America I didnt have time to head to Bolivia and explore it from Cococabana (which I’ve been assured is the better way to do it!) so I opted to use Puno as my base.
After arriving at 8pm my hostel managed to get me booked into a tour starting the next day.
An early rise, breathless from the thin air and filled with coffee got the experience off to a rather disheveled start to say the least!
A mere 20minutes boat journey from the shoreline lay the floating islands themselves – navigating through the reed beds as they came into sight they were ever but as picturesque as I’d hoped for.
Yellow reeds clashed against blue skies, peppered with small boats and the bristly coloured fabrics of the local clothing.
We were greeted by our host island (the name of which I regrettably forgot!) and promptly sat down for any explanation of how the islands were formed, daily life and a heap of intriguing facts about the history and culture this unique culture is based upon.
The base of each island (there’s around 30 inhabited ones, plus a school and what not!) is actually a buoyant root ball from reeds located about 30km away. They are cut into blocks before being bounded together and anchored down.
This base is then thatched over with reeds, which are built up to instated the floor and keep dry. Upon this reed houses are built and hey presto – one floating island!
We spent just over an hour chatting (in a mix of Spanglish and local Quechuin), buying all manner of hand made crafts (it’s how the locals make some money) and shooting some beautiful pictures before heading to the next island for our homestay.
In At The Deep End
A snoozy 3 hour boat trip took us to our main island base for the 2 day trip. Here the 30 strong group were divided up amongst the local families – with everyone being temporarily adopted by a Quechuin Mum!
The scenic walk back to the family home was breath taking – the mirror like water of LT stretched in every direction, with the faint outline of Bolivia on the horizon.
I was pleasantly surprised with my accommodation for the night – a single bed in a private room with heaps of alpaca blankets for warmth…a far stretch from the basic straw hut I had envisaged!
Having started bedding in my walking boots after being barefoot for so long I welcome the hike we were offered.
I wouldn’t have been so eager if I’d contemplated the fact I’d been at altitude for less than 12 hours and that an hour of uphill hiking wasn’t easy without that issue!
Still it was good training for my upcoming inca trail trek.
I coped reasonably well, but was definitely out if breathe at the top – something that was soon forgotten which 360 panoramic views of the surrounding lake and islands from the Pacha Mama temple.
There was of course the obligatory 3 rotations anti clockwise for good health, good wealth and good love…let’s hope it was worth the hike!
Do as the locals Do
The evening entailed a stodgy local meal of quinoa soup with rice and veg before we were promptly dressed up in the local attire for the night.
Ponchos and alpaca hats we the order of the day for the guys and the girls were treated to dresses, corsets and pashminas.
And if your getting dressed up theres only one thing to do – and that’s party Peruvian style!
The community hall was filled with the sounds of the local band, a few cold beers were cracked open and the dancing commenced. A blurry mix of drunken backpackers, sandal clad locals and the traditional dress – when culture meets carnage!
With a lack of lighting in the small community the party wrapped up pretty early, but after a long day of exploring, hiking and good food a warm alpaca wrapped bed was much appreciated, I’m sure the beer jacket helped too.
Never too much of a good thing
A sad farewell to my Peruvian Mum was the start of a new day and a new island adventure as we headed across the water.
A winding walk up the cliff side to the local village greeted us, but after another solid feed we were more distracted by the views than our aching feet.
The main stop of the day was dinner overlooking the island for an intriguing talk on local customs and the history of the formal penal colony.
Lunch was top of the agenda though as we we tucking into fresh, line caught trout from the surrounding waters…definitely one of the best meals I’d had in a while!
The rather daunting downward stroll back to the boat helped walk off the food, and fuelled by cocoa tea it was a breeze.
An amazing and relaxing couple of days (after the insane amount of gave I’d undertaken in the few days prior) was finished off nicely as the sun blazed high in the sky for the 3 hour boat journey back to Puno – any excuse to whip off my t-shirt and top up my tan is greatly appreciated!
…and what did the whole experience cost? A mere 80soles (approx £20) for a 2d/1n trip including all food – a bargain considering a nights accommodation in Puno would’ve set me back 25soles and food would’ve been around 15soles per meal!
Make sure you hit up LT if you can. Even if you’re pushed for time a half day trip is and 20soles – well worth pencilling it in for some amazing great shots!