It was time to make our way south via Inca Express, destination Puno, Peru’s gateway to Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the highest body of water in the world and the largest landlocked body of water in South America. As we struggled up the staircase of our hotel, due to Puno’s high altitude, we felt somewhat old. Having to take a break at just about every floor we found our room at what seemed like the top floor of the hotel. It is important to make a note here before you jump to a conclusion that we are still unfit after all our walking, that all hotels in Puno must have oxygen on the premises due to the altitude.
The following day, we boarded a boat and made our way through the many floating islands that exist in Lake Titicaca and have also made it famous. The floating islands traditionally hold a small community and are made of reeds commonly found in the lake. The reeds are laid on a base layer, and are then built up over time.
An island can be habitable after about 3 months of laying reeds in a cross-sectional format. We “boarded” an island, and I had the distinct feeling with every step that I took that I would be testing the engineering skills of this community due to my size.
As we were given a demonstration of the building of an island we took the time to eat the common food that the islanders eat (the base of the reeds that they use to make the islands).
Feeling as though we were part of the family, we pursued their wares making several purchases (basically the only money that these people acquire are from tourists purchasing their wares and any fish that they catch they sell into town or other communities) before playing with the children.
Sadly it was time to move on and we disembarked our floating island and embarked our boat and navigated to our final destination for today, our home stay. Upon arriving into our new community, we were quickly adopted by our families and we were quick to learn that our family had the proud title of village leader. After a brief game of football, we offered to assist in the potato harvest, needless to say “assist” became a loose term. As our family “supervised” our harvesting, and often took the time to shake their fingers at us for missing multiple potatoes, we had many laughs. We returned in time to watch the sun setting over Lake Titicaca only to learn that the life of the village leader is not just leading, we found ourselves in the kitchen making dinner for 20 people.
We would be hosting a party tonight.
Due to our superior kitchen skills, (and the fact that our adopted mum called in reinforcements) we served dinner without a hitch, however, we were forced against our will to don traditional dress.
After dinner, we made our way to a traditional community fire where songs were sung and stories were told. The night was clear providing me with an opportunity to attempt to photograph the clear unpolluted night sky.
The following morning found us walking with children attached. As I piggy backed a child we walked the many miles to school (though there was no snow and we had shoes). We presented the head mistress with a gift to the school and the children’s eyes were lit with pure excitement. In exchange and to express their gratitude, we were given a song back which we attempted (and failed) to sing along with them in Spanish. However, our vain attempts, provided a level of amusement to the children and raised their comfort with us providing the perfect opportunity for a bit of play time. Gifts exchanged, it was time to leave our new found community and make our way by boat to the Taquile Island.
Taquile Island is home to some of the best knitters in Peru, the other reason the island is famous, is because these aforementioned knitters are men. Our interaction here was limited to child beggars whom pleaded ignorance when asked why they were not at school. Pocket’s secured, we hiked to the summit of the island and enjoyed lunch as we looked out over Lake Titicaca. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the mood of the group was becoming sombre as the days past. The impending end of our group journey was rapidly approaching.
The following day found us yet again on a bus, however this journey was to be our last in Peru. We made our way to the Peru-Bolivia border and crossed “unhindered”. (Important Note: If you are a dual citizen, do not attempt to leave Peru on one passport and enter on Bolivia on another. Apparently it is not “appropriate” as Bolivian officials love crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s). Peru behind us, we arrived in our first Bolivia township, Cocacabana.
Our first taste of Bolivia was a unique one. As we waited for our bus, we explained to a restaurant that we would eat there if they could ensure that our lunch could be prepared and served quickly. Bolivian “quickly” is extremely different to any other nations “quickly”. An hour later, we reminded the restaurant owner that our bus was leaving in 10 minutes. We left with Jayde’s Pizza in a plastic bag, nothing more can be said. about that…..
We arrived at a river and had to again clear immigration which I am pleased to say, that not one of us had an issue with, except Sebastian (our guide). Unfortunately it seemed that he was detained under the suspicion that he was our guide and he was from Peru. This is apparently not permitted in Bolivia. As we sat on the other side of the river (about 200 metres from the immigration hut, we were beginning to worry that we were going to have to make the last leg of our journey by ourselves. In attempt to hold the bus for a little longer and pleading with the driver to wait for our friend, we saw a loan figure board a ferry on the other side of the river. A flustered Sebastian had managed to convince the Bolivian Immigration officer by what I can only begin to imagine using unsaid amounts of money were exchanged and various threats about breaching human rights.
Arriving into La Paz that afternoon as the sun was setting across the sprawling city. The rays of sun reflected azure across the desert landscape as we navigated the bus through the twisting streets. Our bus driver obliged us bus setting us down directly outside our hotel and we made our way to our final hotel in South America. The following day found us on a walking tour of the city viewing the witches markets and rip-off alley (a place where you could buy just about any “original” product) in the morning. In the early afternoon we boarded a red open topped tour bus to view the city in style. Our journey found us with fantastic quality headphones to listen to the narration provided on the bus, and after my 5th headphone change, I finally found a set of headphones that were not broken or trying to electrocute me. As we cruised down the street Jayde and Kylie found it important to maintain a watchful eye as the tree’s proved they had minds of their own. This seemed like an episode from a B-grade movie as branches scrapped their fingers over the top of the open bus in search of their next victim.
The night was our final night with our group and in celebration we decided to go to a fancy restaurant to splurge. It was also time for Sebastian to let his hair down on orders from the group.
As four of us left the night club, with me carrying the fifth, we hailed for a taxi in the form of a station wagon. In vain I tried to place Sebastian on the back-seat, however no matter how hard i tried he refused. So it was time to compromise. I gave Sebastian the ultimatum, “either you get in the back-seat Mr, or I will throw you in the boot”. stubbornly he still refused. A quick tip to the bouncers, Sebastian was lifted like a sack of potato’s and thrown into the boot. I am sure, that in the morning he regretted his stubbornness, as the taxi driver in all his haste to get Sebastian out of vehicle just in case his dinner did not agree with him, floored his vehicle through the windy streets of La Paz. Sebastian found himself being thrown from one side of the boot to the other. At the hotel, it was again, another adventure to get Sebastian to his room. I carried him from the taxi, as at this point walking was something that could only be considered in 12 hours time, to his room. From here, he would be on his own to catch his bus and plane in the morning.
Hearts heavy, but knowing that this would not be the last we would hear from our newly made friends, we departed company the following morning. We made our way to the airport with Jess and a friend she had found on the street that morning. After all, this was South America, and you look out for each other.
As the plane powered down the runway, we knew that in our two and a half months of travel through only a small portion of South America, had allowed us to understand that these countries had the awesome power to provide inspiration and steal your breath away at every corner. The colour and beauty that floods every sense never fades and the people whom we have met along the way will always bring a smile to our faces as we remember the pride and passion that they have for their country and continent. Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, this is South America, this is what it is all about. Looking out the window, I can just make out the peninsula where our adopted families live on Lake Titicaca, and I wonder, are they staring up at this moment and wondering who those invading tourists were that came to school the other day…. Yes, this is South America.