Island hopping on the highest navigable lake in the world
The trip started out on a Friday night at the door of a McDonald’s in Cusco’s Plaza De Armas. This is a common meeting place for excursions. I believe they think its easier for us Gringos to remember, and it is, even though I hate McDonalds. From there we took a taxi to the Bus Terminal, where the trip contact, aka Gringo Smuggler, arranged our tickets for the 10:30pm bus to Puno.
The 7 hour night bus was nothing like Harry’s ride to the Leaky Cauldron, save a bit of creepiness and dangerous driving. We were forced to watch Prometheus, a movie which my temporary travel companion and I thought might be saved by the presence of Charlize Theron. Even her grace could not save this disaster of this movie.
We Arrived in Puno, at 5:30 am, disoriented and tired, but happy to be off the bus and meet our contact at the other end. Silvario or Silverado, took us to a hostal in Puno to wait two hours for the bus. The breakfast in the hostal was 6 soles for bread jam and tea. So we went and had eggs and Juice at a place down the street. This meal was one of very few good things in that 10 hour stretch. Then we settled back onto the couches and waited for the taxi.
The taxi arrived and picked us up as well as the other members of our group and took us to the boat launch. The boats were small houseboats that reminded me of a Lake Powell vacation in my youth. Then we settled down for a 3-4 hour boat ride with a brief visit to the floating islands, essentially a theme park for tourists.
Our destination Island was Amantani, where we would stay with a family and share lunch, dinner, and breakfast. Amantani was beautiful, much better than the visit to the floating islands. It is a tranquil place where the only noise pollution is the game of Marco Polo the sheep play, with their loud and varied bahs. The lambs are cute and the variety of noises they made was astounding.
After a lunch of potato soup, potatoes and rice. We climbed up to the top of the Island to visit the archeological site on the island.
It was about a 40 minute walk uphill, but the increased elevation made it seem a lot harder than it was. The surface elevation of the lake is 3,812 meters, that is 12,507 ft.
We searched for the sunset, but were unable to find it, because of the obscuring clouds. Even with the lack of visible sunset, the peak called pachamama (mother earth) offered a magnificent vista
As soon as the sun moved behind the clouds on the horizon, it began to get cold. The wind picked up and what was a 40 minute ascent, became a 20 minute descent as people struggled to get down and out of the cold. The weather changes fast at such a high elevation. And at the bottom of the hill there was a store with hot chocolate waiting to warm our frozen bones.
I felt that warm feeling I get after a long day of skiing, amazed by the day, exhausted and warmed by the mug and the hot chocolate. It was a good, familiar feeling. When we walked back from the shop, the moon was out and it was two nights from full. The effect of the darkened lake and island at 7pm allowed the moon to shine the brightest I have ever seen. It lit up the entire sky and cast a glow on the lake that extended for miles. The powerful and beautiful figure cast serenity over the quiet island.
After dinner, at 7:30pm, I was happy to fall into bed and have the best sleep I have had since coming to Peru. No Police whistles or car horns, for there are no cars on the island and all of the agriculture is done by hand. It was the kind of peace you can only get on an island and the faraway sound of the small waves caressing the shore. It’s easy to rise early when you have sleep accompanied by the power of the moon and the quiet of the island.
I arose too long after 5 to find the sunrise and went down to the beach to enjoy the days tranquil beginning.
Then I returned to the house and ate a breakfast of thin pancakes and thicker potato cakes with the group. Next, we gathered our things and set off for the dock to meet the boat and the other members of our party. We set off early, at about 7:30 am for Taquile Island.
Arrival at Taquile
We took a 40 minute walk to the plaza of the island. Every walk in Peru is 40 minutes, except the Inca trail. We spent some time in the main plaza, taking pictures by the sign of cities and the other buildings.
Then we walked down to the other side, capturing more views. The archways were beautiful and had cool figure heads on them. And the sights were amazing I felt like I was in the middle of the ocean. It was a quick tour of the island.
Down at the bottom, I changed quickly into my shorts and jumped off the dock made of rock for a quick one minute swim in the freezing cold waters of the lake of the stone puma. If this is where the world was created, I wanted to immerse myself in the magical waters.
Then a 3 hour ride back to the floating islands basking in the sun of the cloud scattered sky. 3,812 meters makes the sun feel a lot closer.
At the Uros, floating islands, we ate fried trout, omelet, or cheese. Not grilled cheese, just fried cheese. That was hilarious and so was the fish head soup.
Back in Puno
We met up with Silverado and went in a taxi to see an Incan site with flamingos on a lake. Trouble was there were no flamingos there. They only go in the morning.
The burial site was interesting, but it was concluded that the money we spent on the taxi would have been better spent on Cerveza or Pisco and a dinner. Though the site was cool and we spent some good time with Alpacas.
We had dinner at Pizza Andina in Puno, 27 soles each. Alpaca pizza plus a three course meal, it was great food and we were both starving.
Ignoring the persistent shouts of Arequipa Arequipa Arequipa, we waited for our bus. I called my teacher to change my classes the next morning to later in the day. We finally boarded the night bus. No movie instead, disappointment, because we saved pizza to eat during the movie. We settled in for a long bus of alternately nodding off and listening to music. We arrived in Cuzco at 4:30 am.
Took the first taxi home, for which we paid too much, and passed out. Then later I woke up and went to class.
What did I learn from this trip?
Do not take the night bus. I enjoyed the trip, but I was overly tired and could have enjoyed it a lot more if I had gotten real sleep. Also when you take the bus during the day it stops at several interesting places that could be worth seeing.
If you do take the night bus, do not try to go to classes when you get back. Avoid the extra treks, they can be overpriced and not really worth it, especially when it is nearing the end of the day. Sometimes a little bit of down time is all you need to refresh your spirits. Also make sure to get change from Gringo Smugglers, they will more often than not forget to give it to you later.
A good option is to research this stuff yourself. That way you can get first class seats, which on a long bus ride are well worth it, and don’t cost very much extra. You can also customize your trip better when arranging it yourself. Sometimes you are at the mercy of the agency. If you do book through an Agency, make sure to be clear about what you want. Most of them are good as long as you are clear with your needs.
Still despite lack of sleep, the lake was magical. It was impressive and magnificent.The solitude of the islands was a nice change from the tourist quickened pace of Cusco