The person that sold us the tour was very honest in saying that there could be 20 or so people on it so we were under no illusions, but taking a 2 day package tour (which was pretty cheap) saved us almost a day in time and effort organising it ourselves and besides even if we had, there were still going to be a whole bunch of gringos there! The islands are hardly off the beaten track. There turned out to be closer to 30 people, which is the boat’s maximum capacity.
Our first stop half an hour out was Islas Flotantes (Lake Titicaca’s infamous floating reed islands) we can’t remember quite how many islands there are but think it’s like 35 (or it could be 45 or we could just have made it up…). The islands are renown for being over-commercialised, catering to the tourist trade, but we didn’t find it too bad. Each tourist boat goes to a different island and ours took us to a small island which appeared to be the home of one extended family. The island women welcomed us on and then we all sat in a big circle then the guide talked at us and the president of the island (basically the head man) said a few words. Then we were free to wander around the island while the islanders uncovered the tourist souvenirs that they had to sell, surprisingly there was no harassing at all for us to buy anything.
The islands are quite spongy to walk on and when you sit down you can tell that they are constantly, but subtly bobbling up and down, which we think contributed to Emma feeling pretty ill on the island.
Next you go to a bigger island which is very commercialised with restaurants and every souvenir under the sun available to buy, for an extra fee the islanders from the first island will paddle you over in their reed boat so like most people in our group we opted for that. We basically spent our time on the big island in a queue to use the one toilet, but that was fine with us.
After being loaded back onto the boat we set off on the 3 hour journey to Isla Amantani, the island we would be staying on. The conditions were perfect and Marie spent most of the time on the roof while Emma slept off her unwellness in the back of the boat.
Amantani has no real tourist infastructure so accommodation is in the homes of the islanders. On arrival the boat is greeted by a big bunch of island women in traditional dress and we were told to organise ourselves into 2’s and 3’s, then a woman’s name is read out from a notepad and each group is paired up with a host. Our family lived up the hill, but our host (Illhenia) was puffing just as much as we were which made us feel a whole lot better! It was her first time hosting gringos as she’d only started the job a week before, she told us that some days they all get dressed up and go down to the port and no tourists come in. We obviously weren’t so lucky as to be the only ones there but we were going to be on the islands for the 2 days that there was a national general strike in Peru, including all transport so obviously many tourists were opting to spend the time on the islands rather than stuck in Puno.
Illhenia lived with her father and 1 year old so Youn (he must have been nearly 2) and a 2 month old son, who we never actually saw but could hear making snuffly noises from where he was wrapped on her back. Her husband works as an artesian in Puno and comes home every couple of weeks. She had obviously started hosting tourists to make some extra money as the family were noticeably poor. Youn was clearly the apple of his grandfather’s eye, which was just as well as papa grande looked after him while his mother looked after us.
The family had a couple of chickens, a donkey and about a dozen sheep, but are vegetarian. Illhenia made us some fantastic meals over the fire in her kitchen, where we ate all of our meals and spent the afternoon hanging out talking to her and her cousin that popped round in pigeon Spanish and sign language. Illhenia hadn’t introduced herself until we got to her house, the women kind of just drag you off after being paired with you, and on the spur of the moment Emma decided to teach her how to hongi, it took some doing for us to explain what it means.
The house was in its own little compound with a courtyard in the middle. Our room was upstairs across from the family’s, with a tiny doorway and newspaper for wallpaper. It was real clean and tidy but smelled a bit musty, although that’s probably just how mud and straw houses smell. The toilet was just outside the house near to the donkey and from the outside looked like a long drop but was actually a western style toilet with a bucket of water to flush it. We heard at least 3 other tourists asking their friends how to flush the toilet! It wasn’t rocket science that’s why there is a bucket of water outside the door…
There are 4 settlements on the island and the one we were staying in had electric poles and we saw the odd shop with an electric light but there wasn’t any electric at our house, it was candles and head torches in the evening. There was no running water either, buckets of water kept coming in from out the back of the house but we’re not sure exactly where from. Water we drank was boiled anyway and we were devastated to discover that the mint tea we kept being given (literally stick the twig in your mug type thing) only grows on Amantani, as we’d had ideas about growing it at home.
In the late afternoon Illhenia put her traditional dress back on (it only took her 5 minutes after taking us home to take it off) and took us to the main plaza to meet up with the rest of the group. She then started dragging us up off this path, no one had a clue where we were going but it soon became obvious we were going off up the island’s big hill. Emma had only just started feeling better but since we’d all just eaten and the path up the hill was very steep everyone took it slowly.
When we stopped part way the guide tells us all that we’re going to the top (he was crap and hadn’t even told us to bring water etc with us) to watch sunset from some ruins at the top of the hill. We were pretty pissed off that we hadn’t been told where we were going and when the path finally flattened out before turning and heading up the last bit to the ruins it became obvious that every gringo on the island was being taken up there for sunset and there were people coming from every direction heading there. We reckon there were easily 200 gringos at these pretty small square ruins, with locals who had gone the direct route across country set up selling things in front. We couldn’t be bothered going up the last bit to the ruins to stand with the hordes taking photos of sunset so instead stopped a bit lower down and enjoyed our own peace and quiet. Directly after sunset the masses started to head back down the hill so we had a nice slow walk down before everyone caught up.
After we were taken home and fed again Illhenia told us that they put on a fiesta for the tourists and that we were all going to put on traditional dress and do traditional dancing. Now this tourist show really wasn’t our thing but it was Illhenia’s first as part of the group that hosts tourists so we agreed to go for her. We also agreed to letting her dress us up, just so we could take a photo (Marie’s top had obviously been to many a fiesta, it stank!). The dancing was done in a big room in the island college with one paraffin lamp for light and alcohol for sale. We stayed and watched for an hour. We were so warm and comfy that night we slept like babies.
The next morning we had to be at the port for 7:30am and Illhenia was clearly anxious to deliver her first guests on time so we had a swift walk down the hill, said our goodbyes and were loaded onto the boat to go an hour across to Isla Taquile. There was a good early morning breeze and the ride was pretty rough but fun, although our captain was clearly very inexperienced and clearly didn’t know how to steer the boat in wind (those of us that could speak English joked that he had only watched a ‘how to’ video).
At Isla Taquile you get dropped off at one port and walk up and round the island to the main square, it was a very pleasant walk as the uphill was only relatively short. We mooched around the main square for a while as no one knew where the guide was or what we were supposed to be doing. When he did turn up we find out we’re being taken to a restaurant where he was going to talk at us and then we could pay extra for some lunch. It wasn’t quite 11am so almost the whole group declined lunch and headed back to the main square to get snacks to keep us going. When it was time to go we headed to the port on the other side of the island were the boat was waiting for us. We were very glad not to have landed on this side because it was a huge steep descent of lots and lots of steps. For the journey back the wind had dropped and it was perfect sailing conditions again. For some inexplicable reason just before we got back into Puno everyone had to get down off the roof and those of us who were sat outside had to put on lifejackets, we were all very bemused…
- There are moto-taxis and bicycle rickshaws in Puno
- There are no stray dogs
- Island children’s language development is really slow, we’re guessing from a lack of socialisation and no tv or radio
Click on any image to enlarge and scroll through