We arrived in Puno at 4:30am and found ourselves a cute little taxi to take us to our hostel.We took naps on the lobby couches and at 7:30 were picked up for our 2-day island tour.
The boats we took were hilarious – they must have moved at 15mph and were pretty run down. But they offered a great view of the lake.
Our first stop was the Uros Islands, a group of 30+ man-made islands built out of reeds. The native Aymara people created them when escaping the Spanish in the 16th century. Today it seems like it’s primarily for tourists with a distinctly Epcot feeling. It was nonetheless very cool to see how they built everything out of the reeds from the marshes.
Next we set out on a 2.5 hour boat ride to Amantani Island, where we would spend the night with host families.
Upon arrival, we were introduced to our “mamas,” who took us home for lunch.
Our mama, Juana, lives in a house with her mother Andrea and daughter Rosalinda, and apparently a husband as well, but we never met him. In fact, throughout our time on the island, we rarely saw men at all. We were told they were out fishing, and perhaps they were, but we also caught a bunch of them sitting around a table drinking in one of the shops.
The women, meanwhile, constantly had their hands busy. When they weren’t cooking, the younger women were spinning wool – always, always, even while walking – and the older women were knitting.
The rest of the house was much simpler, and it had no running water – going to the bathroom involved buckets and the kitchen was a tiny room with a stove and a couple pots.
The community in Amantani is vegetarian, and we decided to partake in the home-cooked meals. We enjoyed 5 kinds of potatoes for lunch, while dinner was rice with a side of pasta-potato-bean salad. That’s certainly one way to reintroduce your body to carbs.
After a forced nap, we hiked up to the temple of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, one of the local gods whose name comes up over and over. From there we watched a beautiful sunset over the lake.
Miriam and I awoke the next morning to some lovely new bites and the fear that we had spent the night with bed bugs. Mummy liner, fail. We shoved all our clothes into plastic bags, ate a delicious pancake breakfast, hugged our mamas goodbye, and off we went on an extremely rocky boat ride to the next island.After wandering the island a bit, we sat down to a delicious (bony) trout lunch, and finally embarked on our never-ending 3 hour boat ride back to Puno.
The next morning we were picked up by a company called Bolivia Hop, which would take us to Copacabana and then to La Paz. But first, the Bolivian border. Our guide warned Miriam and I that we would need a while at the border due to our disastrous luck of having US and Israeli passports. I had a huge pile of papers (including a last minute copy of my bank statement, thanks Ema) which the border guard barely glanced at, and $160 later (thanks, America) I was through.
Copacabana is a tiny shabby lakeside town with not much to do.
From there, our bus headed to La Paz, and I finally saw Elf (cute movie, thanks Bolivia Hop). At some point, we all disembarked to cross the lake in what I can only describe as refugee boats, while our bus crossed on a barge.
Many people scared us about La Paz, and the drive in did not help. We spent the last hour driving through a construction site cum suburb, where I imagine the bus driver’s directions were “turn right at the mound of dirt, left at the pack of wild dogs, right again at the van without lights on.” The only comfort was the twinkling lights below, which I hoped was a sign of a real city waiting for our arrival.