Our entrance to Peru came with the warmest of welcomes, with a couple of old Peruvian dudes offering to drive us to their hotel, and give us a discount on a sweet hotel room (our first hotel in South America!) Normally as a traveller you can be a bit suspicious of these kinds of deals, but this has just proven to be kosher time and time again in Peru, with Peruvians officially taking the crown as the friendliest, warmest people we’ve met so far.
Goodbye Bolivia, hello Peru! Crossing the border… yes, Peru has it´s own logo!
Puno itself is a strange little town. Just over the border, sharing Lake Titikaka with Bolivia, it’s a tiny town that subsists on tourism surrounding the Lake. A lot of travellers chose to bypass Puno as many feel that tourism has overrun the area. There are options to stay on nearby islands with local indigenous folk, get dressed up in their clothes, and watch local dance performances. This is initially what I’d fancied (never missing an opportunity to dress up!) but we’d heard that these tours have become socially irresponsible over the years, with money mainly going to tour operators and not the local families. There’s something about the voyeurism of it that also left us a bit uneasy (much like the Potosi silver mines in Bolivia, where you pay to visit mines and watch young miners work in horrific conditions, some still in their teens). There was also the weather factor, as we were there during a horrendously rainy spell, so on balance, we decided that a day tour may be best.
Approaching Islas Uros… bring on the reeds!
I’d been intrigued by Islas Uros ever since I first heard of them. They’re a collection of floating islands entirely made of reeds, with reed boats used to travel between islands. They’re replaced every few months as they just rot away into the water, and upkeep of all the various huts and boats is almost a full-time job, along with production of handicrafts that the islanders hope to sell to tourists to keep their economy afloat (I’m sorry, couldn’t resist!) It’s a pretty tough life for the islanders as they only get about one tourist boat a week visiting (they have to rotate around the islands) so many are forced onto the mainland to sell their wares.
It was a funny old visit, that started with a great presentation from a couple of the islanders telling us about their houses, showing us model boats, and shamelessly taking the piss out of Bolivians (saying that out of ‘Titikaka’, Peru owned the ‘Titi’ and Bolivia owned the ‘kaka’, i.e. shit!) We were also shown the reed home where the ladies keep all of their indigenous clothes (I was itching to try them on, but to no avail!) Then things took a bit of a weird turn, when we were asked if we wanted to pay more to take a boat onto a second island, or just wait for those that did. We stayed with some Aussie and European guys who were also a bit miffed by this, then eventually our tour boat joined the other half on the second island. It seemed like a weird money-making ploy and we felt super awkward for not partaking, but also indignant to pay as we’d heard the tours can be endless with their add-ons! Overall it was really cool to see the islands and I’m glad we did it but it definitely made me think hard about what kind of tourism I’m happy to buy into. Some people say the whole thing is a scam and the islands are actually uninhabited, and tourists have even reported sightings of the ‘indigenous folk’ frantically changing into their outfits when they see boats arrive, after hot-footing it from the mainland!
Brief intro the island life
The Aussie guys we met on the trip turned out to be really cool, and we chatted all the way back and ended up inviting them back to ours to exchange Bolivian/Peruvian currency (they were about to cross borders and we’d missed our chance to exchange our Bolivianos at a good rate). We ended up hanging out for a good few hours in our hotel lobby, giving our best tips for the rest of their trip in Bolivia and Chile, and noting down all their must-haves for Peru. Including an interesting chat about Ayahuasca, a hallucinatory drug taken in the jungles of Peru with local shaman. Jury’s still out on that one…!
We also found an amazing big supermarket with TONS of cheap fruit and veg, so we spent a lot of evenings just overdosing on melons and pineapples at our hotel, after the vitamin-deficiencies of Bolivia. Rock n’ roll huh?
After a tip-off from the Aussies, we decided our next step should be getting back into trekking, so we hit the road again for Arequipa, home to the nearby Colca Canyon….