Puno and Lake Titicaca
I’m sorry to say this, I don’t mean to offend anybody but people deserve a fair warning. Puno is ugly. If not for the lake I don’t see a reason to even go there. Well, the nightlife was ok but that’s beside the point. I know that there are some ruins in the area and they are probably worth seeing. Another remarkable thing is the “potato university”. They have a research facility there, the place were potatoes are being studied and classified. You’d be surprised to know that there are hundreds of potatoe species. A lot of them endemic to the area, some were grown specifically to sustain the harsh climate of the Andes.
The lake it self is a completely different story. It is the highest navigable lake in the world, also the largest in Latin America and split between Peru and Bolivia.
It is home to Uros people and their floating islands. An amazing sight and feeling to actually walk on them. Contrary to common belief they don’t float freely around the lake (anymore), they are anchored to the bottom of the lake near Puno. It seems almost impossible that people not only have built houses (thatched) on them but they also have sort of camp kitchen fires.
One of the government initiatives made it possible for each island to have a solar panel. The energy doesn’t last for very long though. Funny enough they don’t use the electricity to cook, or refrigerate, but to charge their phones and to watch TV.
People on those islands were very nice towards the group, showed us how they live, told us more about their culture. However, for a tourist like me, it felt bit uncomfortable to go into someone’s house and investigate how they cook, how they sleep and then wait for the kids to perform some traditional songs. It felt invasive. I know this is part of them being able to earn money and sustain their lifestyle. Each time a group of tourists is visiting they go to a different island and potentially buy some of the handmade souvenirs. And, of course, they are paid for the visit as well and are willing participants, proud of their culture. But I couldn’t shake the feeling. I still sometimes feel like that when visiting some exotic places. Everything on display for us, the tourists.
After the Uros island we went on to Amantani, a more traditional island on the lake, to spend a night with local families. Spanish is not their strength, they speak quechua, so communication was tricky. And again, a surprise in the kitchen area. You see an electric oven and a fridge, only to discover they are used as cupboards. All is cooked on an old school stone oven with fire.