24 November 2014

One of the Tribe

Me and Martha headed back to Lake Titicaca for another weekend wind-down.

Having done the Island of the Sun, Copacabana town and the slight (though pretty) excuse for the floating islands, we wanted to do something much more ambitious.

We decided we would travel across the border to Peru, to see something new.

A 10 minute shared taxi brought us to the border, which was marked by a grand stone arch. The migrations queue was long and just about bearable in the midday heat. Once we had our stamps, we had the green light to pass under the grand arch into Peru.

There was a long, straight road heading straight towards the mountains, and the sky was a dense, hopeful blue. It was a pretty inspiring introduction into a new country!

The first difference we noticed was the tuk-tuks. They don't have these in Bolivia, yet just meters over the borderline there was an abundance of them. Already it felt like a different setup!

We boarded a tuk-tuk and headed to the border town of Yunguyo. From there, we took a shared minibus to Puno - the city on the lake.

The bus journey introduced us to deep green pastures and soft hills, quite different from the Bolivia we were used to. We drove under hectic thunderstorms and through sunny farmlands. All in a 2-hour journey!

We arrived into Puno and honestly we were pretty disappointed. The city was bland and didn't seem to have much point. There was nothing photogenic really. It was obvious that it was a transit stop for tourists, with western-style restaurants and bus tour agencies on every corner.

We planned to stay with a family on the famous floating Uros Islands. We didn't have much time to arrange it, as the last boat across left in an hour. We scrambled around tour agencies, being offered many rip-off prices, before settling for a pretty cheap deal.

Our boat left from Puno port, and it was a smooth half an hour journey across the lake to a collections of floating villages.

The sky was heavy with rainclouds, which we weren't used to in Bolivia.

Our boat left us at the first island. The Uru people were friendly - we could see them waving at us from a distance.

On the island, the families showed us around and delivered a demonstration as to how they reed the islands. It's a lot of hard work. The people have to constantly apply new layers of reeds to the top of the islands as the reeds on the bottom begin to rot and disintegrate into the lake. Especially in the rainy season, the rate of decay increases, which means almost 3x the work for the Uros.

The Uru people are a pre-Incan civilisation that have lived on Lake Titicaca for hundred of years. They built their islands entirely out of reeds which naturally grow around the lake. There are currently 48 of these islands - some are small, inhabiting a single family, and some are much grander, inhabiting entire villages!

After learning a little about the islands, we set off to find another island which we could stay on. For this, we needed to use a traditional reed boat, which looked pretty grand and elegant as it bobbed across the water.

As soon as we arrived at our second island, the rainclouds began to dissipate, revealing a gloriously golden sunset. We were in for a real treat!

We spoke with a member of the family who inhabited the island, and they had a room to offer us in one of the reed cabins on the edge of the island. It was very basic but incredibly cosy. Just what we wanted! The beds were piled with woollen weaved blankets.

We had a couple of hours to relax, which we spent watching the sunset.

Boats glided by and left gorgeous patterns and striations on the water.

Me and Martha had emotional moments. We both shared that it was definitely a highlight of our lives.

We even made a new friend!

As the sun dipped, the island was pitch black. Not a thing could be seen apart from a the lights of Puno which gleamed and twinkled from the mainland.

We were treated to a dinner of trout, which were fished from the lake and fried up within half an hour of each other.

It was divine, but shamefully was full of tiny bones which got caught up in my throat and kept buffering my enjoyment. Me and Martha shared a few ups of coca tea and enjoyed a DMC. We spoke about family, relationships, hopes for the future - all positive and uplifting. We talked ourselves out and headed to bed, where we continued the chat for another hour before one of us started snoring (probably me...)

It was a very cold night! In fact, it was so cold that my bollocks jumped right up into my body and had a game of pinball with my internal organs.

The next morning we were woken up by the daughter. She opened the door a crack and I screamed. Having had zero light for about 12 hours, it was a smack in the face. It took me a good hour to acclimatise to the brightness once I had gotten up.

It was a beautiful morning. The lake was pristine blue and the odd boat whizzed by, once again leaving mystifying chevrons on the water.

We also enjoyed some bread and jam. A bit too much you could say...

We waited around the dock and enjoyed the calm before our boat came to collect us and ferry us back to Puno.

Once we arrive back, we decided to head straight back to Copacabana, across the border. We had only been in Peru a little over 24 hours, but strangely it felt like a substantial experience. Definitely worth it!

A few bus journeys later and we were back at that stone arch, with a slight bit of sunburn and an extra stamp in our passport.

It sort of felt like the whole thing never happened really, it was that short!

Short and sweet - it's not entirely a bad thing!

Thanks for reading! 

Anthony :)

26 October 2014

Jungle Heat

Our first free weekend. The group decided to have a getaway somewhere to relax and let go. We wanted somewhere away from the dust and pollution of La Paz. We wanted greenery and water. We wanted Coroico.

We all chipped our pennies together for a bus, which launched us out of the pit of La Paz and towards the lush green jungle hills of Coroico.

The journey introduced us to some of the amazing landscapes of Bolivia, much unlike La Paz: vast ranges of grey mountains, sandy plains and misty lakes.

As we drew closer to the green hills, we knew we were close.

We put on some tunes, opened some beers, and had a bus dance-along. Party-time!

As we turned a corner, the town of Coroico came into view, perched atop a lush, green hillside.

We unpacked into our hostel and headed straight out for lunch. We headed up to the main square of Coroico, which was heaving with residents, tourists, circus acts and jewellery sellers.

We ate some dreadful food at one of the restaurants on the square, then enjoyed the sunshine and tropical heat with some ice lollies.

We took a bus around one of the mountains to visit the natural waterfalls.

There was icy fresh water falling from hundreds of meters high. It was the best shower we ever had.

Me and Florencia took off our bathing suits and enjoyed the freshness of nature's tonic against our rude parts.

That night was the annual Coroico Culture festival. There were lots of traditional folk bands, live music and the turnout was huge. We did a lot of predrinking at our hostel before we stumbled up to the square, tanked up on rum and Coca-Cola. We stood in the crowd and enjoyed some of the live folk bands.

Next thing I new, my friend Ellie grabbed my arm and whisked me into the middle of the square, in view of all the spectators. We started to dance, arm in arm, doing a really shit, made-up version of salsa. We spun around, the audience cheered, and my flip flops kept falling off.

Next thing, two more people started dancing with us. Then a few more. Then even more. After about 20 minutes, the square was filled entirely with people from the audience, dancing with total strangers, hip-to-hip and having a great time.

The party went on until 5am.

The next day, we all woke up pretty rough. We didn't really enjoy the freezing cold shower, and most of us didn't pack a towel so had to dry ourselves with our clothes from the night before. We all gathered for breakfast on the balcony, at which we stuffed our faces with baguettes, dulce de leche, yoghurt and cookies.

Some of the group decided to go zip-lining, but for the ones who were feeling pretty fragile from the last night's partying, we went out for a protein-packed lunch and then relaxed around the pool and the fruit trees.

I'm not normally a pool person, but a lazy day was just what the doctor ordered.

We played volleyball, sunbathed, and picked some fruit. It was a paradise. There were dragonflies skimming the pool and colourful birds soaring between the trees.

In fitting with the Garden of Eden vibe of the place, some of us swiped off our swimsuits and enjoyed the natural beauty of the garden - Adam and Eve style!

That was enough play-time for one weekend. That afternoon we took a bus back to La Paz, feeling partied-out but equally refreshed and recharged.

It was the perfect tropical weekend!

Stay tuned for more South America adventures!

Ciao for now!

Anthony :)