On Sunday morning we caught a bus from Cuzco to Puno, and we went with a company called Inka Express. It actually was a cross between a regular bus and a tour company, as we made stops every few hours and got to see important sights along the way.
Our first stop was in Andahuaylillas, and we got to see the "Sixtine Chapel of America". The church was really amazing. It was built with lots of gold inside, and there was religious art all over the place illustrating Jesus's life and the concepts of heaven and hell. The Spaniards built it in this way to educate the natives about Christianity, and there was writing in five languages, Spanish, Latin, Checua, Amyraya, and another native language I don't remember offhand. We weren't allowed to take any pictures inside.
After that we stopped at Raqchi, which was an Incan Temple comparable to Machu Picchu.
Then we stopped at La Raya, which was the highest point for this part of the trip. It was 4335 km above sea level, which is about 14,000 feet above sea level. We only stopped for a few minutes to snap some pictures.
Around 5 we arrived in Puno. We had a tour set up, and a guide was supposed to take us to a hostel for the night, and we were puzzled when he didn't arrive. Isabel went to call while I watched our stuff.
Then we found out what happened. We told them we were arriving in Puno a day earlier, and we had planned the rest of our trip based on that. Within about 20 minutes the guide showed up, and then we faced the task of figuring out what we wanted to cut out from the rest of the trip. We were supposed to spend a day touring Lake Titicaca and the islands and then spend a day living with a family on one of the islands, but we decided to skip the day with the family.
The night in Puno was freezing. It must have been around 20 degrees, and we had no heat. Isabel used her sleeping bag, and I had long johns and a few layers of blankets to help keep warm. We were up by 6 to get ready for our tour.
First we boarded the boat and went to Uros, which is one of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca. It is made out of reeds and is anchored in place. You can see each end of the island when you are standing in the middle, and you felt the reeds moving under you as you stood there. The people greeted us warmly and showed us their houses and crafts that they made. They make their houses out of reeds also, and there were 5 families living there. What was really interesting is that if families on the island ever got into a fight, they could simply pick up their house and move to another island. They also had solar panels that they used to help them generate electricity, and they also had running water and TV on the island.
As we boarded a reed boat to go to the capital island, the natives sang us a goodbye song. First they sang in Cechua, then in Amayra, and then in Spanish. As they waved their arms to the songs, they ended the last one by saying "Hasta la vista baby!" I guess that American TV and culture permeates even the most remote of areas.
Then we had a 2 hour ride to Taquile, which is a regular island on Lake Titicaca. The view was amazing along the way, and the weather was sunny and warm. Once we arrived we had about an hour long hike up to the main plaza. Along the way we saw natives selling textiles, children playing, and some livestock.
There are 32 restaurants on the island, and apparently tour groups are told which restuarant they will eat at. They have imposed a strict rotation schedule so that all restaurants receive an equitable amount of business. We brought sandwiches with us and my stomach was still upset, so Isabel and I just found a nice sheep-poo free spot on the grass to enjoy the warm weather.
Then we had a short hike down the other side of the island, and we boarded the boat and headed back to the mainland. It was really cool getting to see the natives, experience the floating islands and Lake Titicaca, and visit Taquile, but I am actually glad that we messed up and are not spending another day here. The night was bitter cold, and Isabel and I are both looking forward to being able to get hot showers and being anchored back in Santiago.