When we left off I had just crested the top of the Colca Canyon: from there it was yet another bus ride first to the bus centre in Chivay, then on to Arequipa. The night life, WiFi, cheap water and sweets refreshed us for the night bus east to Lake Titicaca and Puno.
Puno’s overcast skies and temperate climate are quite the contrast to the Arequipan oven. It’s situated behind the Chucuito peninsula on the Lake Titicaca (pronounced ‘Titi-ha-ha,) and is the highest navigable lake in the world. Its shores span borders (Peru and Bolivia,) and even languages. The natives of Puno speak Quechua, those in Karina speak Aymara. The name means ‘Puma of the Stone’. Puma because if you drink some booze and squint a little it looks like a Puma leaping for a rabbit, ‘stone’ because the overcast skies give the lake a dark grey colour (at least in Puno). We were once again glad of the city’s amenities. Having dropped off clothes at the local launderette, we were bused to the docks for Puno’s real attraction: the floating reed islands of Uros. A half hour’s boat ride across calm waters brought us to the channel through reed beds where hundreds of tourists pass every day. The lake houses 80 floating islands today, down from 130 just three years ago. Each island houses an average of 15 people, and each boat docks beside one. The island President demonstrated how they construct their home, cross hatching harvested reeds over living beds below. We had the great idea that neighbourly disputes might be solved simply with a swipe of a saw.
I bought an Alpaca pillow case for home. Income from tourism is vital to allow the people here to continue their life in a modern world. Not that tech is a bad thing… Every island now uses solar panels to generate light. When your very way of life is flammable, candles at night are a bad idea. We all loved the ride back. The water is very peaceful. You hardly feel like you’re on a boat at all.
Puno’s other attraction is its pre-Incan ‘chullpas’. These well-constructed stone tombs sit on top of a hill, with a single hole pointing east through which spirits escape. The sight of the imposing stone structures against the lake was utterly epic, and a little sad. Overzealous archeologists blew a hole in the side. The mummies are buried in a foetal position to represent their time in a womb. That womb has been prematurely opened, and the noble family sits in the Carlos Dreyer museum in Puno now. We visited them. I think they would have liked the view from the chullpa more. The bodies of 40 children, aged three to seven, can be found near the site. It’s thought these were sacrifices. Across the lagoon, more chullpas line the horizon, like sad disapproving sentinels.
We visited a ‘typical Peruvian house’ on the way back. This was stupid. The tourist gaggle flooded into the house to stare at native food we’ve been eating for weeks now, whilst the typical Peruvian family huddled outside in the freezing rain. We’ve never felt less like tourists ourselves.
The cuisine of Puno is fantastic. All inclusive menus start from ~S18 (around four quid.) They comprise of chocolate cake, Alpaca steak, Pisco Sour cocktails… All the essentials. We’ve really enjoyed our time here. On to the Chucuito Peninsula now, and Karina!