‘Hmm, I want another adventure. What shall I do?’ Early one morning, I sat up in bed wondering what to do with myself. I’d really wanted to go off treking up the Rainbow mountains but….”Don’t go there right now mate! It’s more like ‘the white mountain’ hah!” So many people were showing me their latest treking photos from their trip to the rainbows which were completely covered in snow. ‘Ugh!’ Ok, so that’s well and truly off my list.
I had wondered about Lake Titicaca. This wasn’t something top of my list however with the Rainbows snowed over, I thought ‘why not’
After my awful trip to Machu Picchu, I knew to chose my tour carefully this time haha. I’d heard of Peru Hop and decided to look into it. They must be the same as a London hop on, hop off, or the same company I’d hopped on and off with in Australia too? Trip Advisor boasted great reviews so I wandered off to find the office.
“Ok miss, you have a few options for Lake Titicaca. You can do a full day trip, a homestay option or even travel on to Bolivia”. The sales rep clearly wanted me to carry on to La Paz (which of course would have been utterly amazing but with a budget in mind…) “Ok, let’s go for the homestay! How often can you stay with a local?!” Wow, I was very decisive today haha. So I booked my ticket to leave for the very next day.
I was promised a comfortable ride. I kinda felt I deserved it after my last bus ordeal so had faith. “Be at the Bolivia hop stop by 9pm tomorrow. The bus will leave at 9:30pm. On the trip back, you will be in Cusco at 5am. We will arrange a taxi back to your hostel”. ‘Oooh, very good service. Lovely jubbley’ I thought.
I was well impressed once inside the bus. The seats were really spacious and super comfy, they even reclined back quite a bit.
“Good evening ladies and gents. My name is Wayne and I will be here to assist you tonight until the morning. There are warm blankets up in the holdalls above you. Once we get going, we’ll turn the lights off so you can enjoy a good nights rest before your trip tomorrow.”
Wayne was a short, balding american who actually reminded me of Wayne Sleep for some reason…or maybe that’s just because his name was Wayne and I really wanted some sleep hah. I could feel the bus slowly pulling off and oh my word, what a contrast to the last bus journey! This was luxury haha. With that, I wrapped my blanket around me and reclined my seat. ‘Ahhh, this is so comfy. I should be able to fall asleep no problem….’
Well, I think I went and bloody cursed it!! I’d been awake for what felt like hours! I tossed and turned but just could not get in a good position to sleep. “SNOOOORE” ‘Arghhh’ I was surrounded by snorers, heavy breathers and wheezers. ‘How do people sleep on these things?’ I was starting to become irritated or more like jealous at the fact my fellow bus travellers could fall asleep within minutes. Eventually I managed a ‘doze’ but that was the best it was going to get hah. I ended up thinking that I must be grateful for being on a luxurious ride on a warm and cosy bus that wasn’t chucking me all over the place hah.
Begrudgingly, I could see the sun rising from behind my curtain and then suddenly *microphone feedback noise and ‘tap tap’. “Good morning folks. I trust you all had a good nights sleep ahead of your busy day today. We will shortly be arriving at our stop so please make sure you have all your belongings together for when we step out”. ‘What!’ The night seemed to whizz by. I had a quick peep in my portable pink mirror only to be greeted by a pale faced panda waaaa. I felt shattered.
We ‘hopped’ off at 5am outside a partner hostel of theirs. ‘Wow, I’m in Puno’ I thought. We were ushered into the hostel to then wait for our tours. It seemed everyone was on a different trip or tour so not all of us bus people would be together. I took a walk to find some breakfast and then came back to the hostel to see a few tour guides with clip boards. Names were being called and people were being whisked away for their day trips. And guess what…I was the last one left haha. Eventually a guide came for me and then ushered me off onto a small minibus with other folk…these folk were to be MY tour group folk
“Good morning everyone. My name is Almanty” (or at least that’s what I thought he said. In my mind, he then became Manty for the rest of the trip).
“We have a busy schedule lined up. Today we will visit 2 different islands and later you will meet your homestay families. Tomorrow, we will visit a 3rd island before heading back to Cusco”. ‘Cool’ I thought. I was looking forward to it all.
Puno was beautiful too. It was super hot, bright and sunny. Out the minibus window, I could see a ‘Plaza’ and actually, every place in Peru seemed to have a plaza or main square which all conveniently was called ‘Plaza da armas’ haha.
Eventually, we pulled up at a boat dockyard where we boarded our lil boat. Yesss, I’d bagged a window seat too hehe. And what a nice small group. I was the only English person on board too
‘Wow, I am ON Lake Titicaca’ I glared out the window at this huge lake which in actual fact, is a tidal bay (according to wikipedia). It is the “highest navigable lake” in the world, awesome hey!
It must have taken us about an hour to reach the island ‘Uros’ but oh boy it was worth it. Uros was literally floating on a bundle of reeds, it was amazing!
The boat gently ‘bumped’ into the reeded island and one by one we hopped off with the aid of Manty. Wow, it was stunning. The ground felt ‘sponge’ like and almost as though your foot could easily slip through to the lake below haha.
Once we’d got used to walking on the reeds, we all took a look around. Everything I saw was made of reed, houses, seating areas, shelters…It was amazing to see how these people made use of their natural surroundings.
But I couldn’t help wonder what would happen if there was a huge fire one day, do they use candles (haha!) and do they ever get infestations i.e. some kind of water rats or birds trying to roost in their homes? Oh and how and where did they keep their food? I also couldn’t help think that if the world does end up flooded, these folk would be just fine hah.
So, turns out, meat would be dried in order to be kept for longer. Manty showed us a bird they’d recently killed and dried out! Eww, it looked disgusting ha. Oh and they don’t just use the reeds for building, they’d eat them too! Manty passed us all a reed each.
“You peel the base like a banana and you can drink the water and also eat the reed itself”. It was so watery plus didn’t taste too bad either actually!
Oh and they don’t use candles btw haha, they do actually have electricity here. They are solar powered! This is SO the way forward right?
Looking around, the community seemed so happy and almost untouched by ‘modern society’. They also have a policy here that they all help each other. If one community was in need, a neighbouring community would step in and help them for free as long as the favour was returned if and when the other needed assistance.
It did seem rather traditional here too e.g. the men would be the ones building and the women would be the ‘knitters’ and family raisers etc.
Tourism would be a final resort if they needed money (apparently) but looking around me, I could see mini stalls opportunistically displaying locally handmade items, you know, keyrings, knitted goods and other bits n bobs. I don’t think they had much to worry about really haha. Plus, we all took a ride on one of their reed boats which was 10 soles each.
The reed boat took us ‘over the lake’ and to what I’d call their ‘town centre’ haha. It was so cool. It was a larger floating island that had many stores and restaurants. You could even get your passport stamped to say you’d been to Lake Titicaca. Dammit, I’d left my passport on our main boat so missed out, nevermind…I’m running out of space now anyways hehe 😉
After a short while of hanging about with the locals and peering into their way of life bobbing along on the reeds, it was soon time for us to retreat back to our boat to venture onto our next port of call, Amantani island. ‘Ooh this is where we’re staying over for the night’ I thought. I couldn’t wait to meet my homestay family!
Living like a local
It took us about 2 hours and 30 mins to reach the island of Amantani and yay, I fell asleep! Cars and boats are fine, turns out I can sleep on these haha.
Again, the views were stunning. We were surrounded by rolling green hills and mud bricked homes all being gracefully but tightly embraced by the lake. How lucky are these people, it’s beautiful.
“Ok everyone. I will now pair you up with your host families. You will then go off with them to unload your things and enjoy a home cooked traditional lunch”. Manty was pretty good at getting us all organised, he was one of the good guides!
While I was waiting for my name to be called, I couldn’t help but switch off and take in the surroundings. I noticed most homes had their own cows or woolly sheep tied to posts out the front and they all seemed to grow their own crops too. All so self sufficient. I also spotted one of the older women washing her clothes IN the lake, how cool!
Oh god, waiting to be called suddenly shot me back to being at school…waiting to be picked for the basketball team and guess what?? I was the one of the last to be called haha, some things never change 😉
“Helen and Monisha, you will go with this family” Manty paired me up with Monisha, an Indian girl who was also travelling solo and showed us over to our host ‘mama and papa’. We followed our temporary family over in anticipation of what their home would be like.
Monisha and I were getting along great and mostly talking to each other. Turns out, our family couldn’t speak a word of English but I liked that, it all added to the authenticity
“Wow, this family aren’t doing bad for themselves hey” I turned to Monisha who also happened to agree. Out the front, they too had a woolly sheep tied to a post and a generous plot of land full of sprouting corn. Inside their home, they seemed to have a fair few rooms and an outside toilet. ‘Uh oh…outside loo’ It randomly reminded me of my Nan’s old cottage in Cornwall, she also had an outside loo (albeit unused) but still. I just hoped I didn’t need it during the night haha.
The family showed us to our rooms. Monisha’s room had 2 beds and my room (which was upstairs) had 4 along with a stunning view of the lake. “Hey, you can kip in with me if you like…seeing as I have 4 beds and a lovely view!” I kinda fancied the company too. So with that, Monisha moved into my room.
Lunch was a yummy omelette with a side of rice and a big cup of fresh muna tea (a naturally growing herb here). We had literally just watched papa pick the muna from his front garden, lovely! Lunch was a mixed conversation, well, it was mostly me and Monisha talking and exchanging travel stories haha but it was all good. And one thing I couldn’t help but notice, our host papa reminded me of someone…Racking my brains, it came to me….’Freddy Krueger’ Omg, that’s it! Our host papa was a look ‘a’ likey peruvian wes craven creation haha. I kept that one to myself because I didn’t think it would be too kind to share hehe.
After our lunch, mama then walked us to the main plaza where we were reunited with our boat crew. We then all went on a 2 hour trek to reach the peak of the island. By the time we got to the top, it clouded over and chucked with rain haha but the views of the town and vast open lake were still absolutely incredible. I seem to take the rain with me right hah but thunder soon joined in too and that was the point we thought we’d best retreat back down hah.
Phew! Manty and our host family were waiting for us back down at the bottom. “Ok everyone, you will now go back to your homes with your host families for dinner. After dinner you have the opportunity to dress up in traditional Peruvian clothing and join the community for a party in the community hall”. Manty then went on to explain that it was also the night Peru was playing football on telly so he was definitely going to be out and enjoying a few beers haha. With that, Monisha and I went ‘home’ for dinner.
As soon as we’d finished dinner, mama then ushered us outside so she could ‘dress’ us. “Huh, she wants to dress us outside? Won’t it be super cold?!” Monisha gave me a glance as if to say ‘do you want to do this’ haha. We both decided why not, when do you get the opportunity to dress like a peruvian and hang out with them?
Mama handed us a white blouse each and then beckoned us to put them on. Once on, mama then threw a colourful skirt over our heads. It seemed to be a ‘one size fits all’ because she then wrapped it around our waists. The skirt was then secured with some kind of belt and oh my god, she tied it so tight, I felt as though I must have been wearing a corset.
Dressed and ready to go (and struggling for breath in our ‘corsets’) we walked on over to the community hall. Hey and for a cold night, our traditional gear was really warm (ok, we did still have our clothes on underneath but we were cosy all the same). “Oh god Monisha, what if we’re the only ones in traditional dress?” I kinda found the prospect of walking into a packed community hall being the only 2 dressed up quite funny. “Well, if we are, we’ll show our faces, have one drink and then leave”.
This was it, we were almost at the community hall. The lights were on but it eerily seemed too quiet for a party! “After you!”. I ushered Monisha in first, politely of course because I’m good mannered like that haha. I followed in behind. The hall was a huge square buidling with chairs all lined up against the wall. It was packed with a mix of our boat buddies and locals and to my/our relief, EVERYONE was in the traditional dress, it was awesome!
Monisha and I grabbed a beer and watched a band setting up. It was so funny sitting down with our backs to the wall, there was nowhere to hide ha. In a comical sense, it actually felt a bit awkward, almost like a ‘what happens now’ kinda awkward haha. Everyone was staring at each other and marvelling at each others clothing. The women were all in pretty skirts and blouses and the men were wearing colourful, traditional alpaca ponchos.
The band started playing traditional Andean music and no sooner than the music had started, our host mama pulled Monisha and I up to dance! Suddenly, everyone was up on their feet and dancing, there was not one butt on a chair. It was AMAZING! There was such a good vibe in the air, it really was a superb evening. I felt like a local, I almost looked like a local and everyone was having such a good time. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Monisha and I were skipping back home, giggling and swishing our big fancy skirts about haha. What an experience! I went to bed feeling grateful and blessed to have been here and shared space with such a wonderfully vibrant community.
I slept so well and my bed was super cosy and warm (thanks to my 5 alpaca blankets hehe) and thankfully I didn’t need to get up to use the outside bog, phew.
After brekkie of eggs, bread, butter and jam and muna tea, our host mama and papa escorted us back to our boat to wave us off.
Taquille Island – The island of textiles
There was such a good buzz on the boat, it was as though last nights event had brought us all together and well and truly broken any ice! Oh but not only that, Manty told us that Peru won last nights footy match so he too was in high spirits. “Because today Peru won the match, the government has given all of Peru the day off!” Manty boasted haha. Then he got the whole boat chanting “Peru, Peru, Peru” Bless him, he was so happy.
It took us about an hour to reach Taquille island (which sounded a bit like ‘Tequila’ island to me haha). It was known as the island of textiles.
Once we’d arrived, it took us about 40 minutes to trek to the main plaza. Again, it was a super hot one. It was very similar to Amantani island – the houses were made of mud and nearly each and every home had a cow or a sheep and a small patch of land to grow crops.
It was an awesome but tiring trek as it all seemed uphill but once in the main plaza we were left to explore. It looked so dated and like I’d stepped back in time. The plaza had a wonderfully rustic feel.
Cracked mud and crumbling buildings all added to the rustic authenticity of the village, I loved it. There were limited shops but the shops I did find in the plaza all sold textiles…funny that haha. Of course, I bought a few handmade alpaca items. And there was no bartering in this place, they weren’t having none of it haha. The locals seemed really shy here and no where near as open as the locals on Amantani island but again, I kinda liked that. I guess it showed they were a ‘close-knit’ community hahah sorry, couldn’t resist.
Manty showed us around and then took us all to a place for an omelette lunch. Manty taught us about local life and even explained the meaning behind the peruvian hat…apparently the men wear their hats a certain way if they are single, another way if they’re married and a final way to show they are ‘looking’ for the one. Monisha then innocently blurted out “But it’s a very windy place!” I nearly choked on my omelette from laughing hahah. She did have a very good point though.
After lunch, we then descended back down to our boat for our last trip back to Puno. What a fantastic trip with a bunch of fab people from all over the globe.
Arriving back at the sunny docks of Puno, we loaded ourselves back onto our minibus which then whisked us all back to our hostels in the town centre. It was kinda sad to see everyone hopping off at their stop points!
Of course, being the last one (yet again), it was my turn to hop off at my designated hostel to wait for my bus. But it wasn’t even 4pm so I had quite a wait for my Bolivia hop to show up (9:30pm!). So I took myself off exploring the town of Puno.
Later in the evening, I’d found myself a cool reggae bar to sit and have a pizza. Oh and while I sat there, the rain started as did the thunder hah! Typical.
Finally, when my Bolivia bus showed up, I climbed on board, reclined my seat and tucked myself in with my blanket. I didn’t wish myself a goodnight because I knew all too well that I wasn’t gonig to fall asleep hah! But that was ok, I could catch up on my sleep once I’d reached Cusco.
What a trip! I would highly recommend Lake Titicaca and the homestay with Bolivia/Peru hop. It’s not often you can live and dance like a local and see life from a floating reed island.
Again, world, you never cease to amaze.