Thursday, 22 November 2012

Cusco - Puno - Copacabana

After our over-stayed trip in Cusco and spending a month in Peru we decided it was time to say hello to Bolivia. HOWEVER, we forgot that Bolivia was having their once-in-every-10-years Census on the 21st November and the entire country was shut down and refusing  entry at the border! Great timing on our behalf! So we ended up spending one extra day in the not-so-pretty town of Puno.
There were no nice photos of Puno, so the floating islands will have to do.
We rounded up our stuff in Cusco, said goodbye to the gorgeous (but slightly in-bred) puppy in our hostel (whom we named Pacha), took a taki from San Blas to the Terminal Terrestre (S/4) and got on our 10pm overnight bus to Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

We went with Powers bus company because they were the cheapest (S/15, 7.5h) and we could tell why! The bus had a huge crack down the windscreen, the staff had no intention of marking our bags with a ticket, the tv looked like it was about to explode when they played a movie and there was an animal bone on Harry's chair! An animal BONE! That's a first occurrence and I hope the was the last!

Despite the sketchy appearance, and the near collision we had with other car in the middle of the night, we managed to sleep fairly well. We arrived in Puno around 5.30am where we were greeted by several bus companies telling us that we cannot go direct to Copcabana, Bolivia because of the national Census and the border was closed (we already expected this).

We booked a ticket for the next morning for 7.30am (the earliest possible bus with any company) with a woman working for Titicaca Bolivia and then went to the accommodation she recommended to us, called Qorikancha Inn (Jr. Moquegua, 479) which was only S/40 for a double with private bathroom (S/4 taxi).

By this time it was around 6.30am and we had a whole day before our bus tomorrow, so we booked ourselves on a tour with the Inn to Isla Flotante de Los Uros (the Floating Islands of the Uros community). The tour was S/20 for hostel pickup, boat transport, island entry and an English speaking guide. Normally we do not take tours but it seemed to be the only way to visit the islands.

The tour was from 9.00 to 12.30pm. We were taken to the docks of Lake Titicaca and from the Peruivan side it did not look too spectacular as Puno sits in a bay of the the massive lake but the bay contained the only area where there was a huge abundance of reeds. And it is because of the reeds the floating islands exist.
Reeds which make up the floating islands
These incredible man-made islands are made solely by the reeds that have the ability to float from their roots; very clever and rather spongy! It took an hour to get to the island, during which we were given a background to the island and took photos from the boats roof. The island would bob up and down every so often. It was quite a surreal experience.
Phenomenally corny dance and song to welcome the tourist boat... Awkward
We were met by the local indigenous people of the island, dressed in brightly coloured clothing and chanting in their local dialect. It was then when we realised the island was just as touristy as we read about! We were explained their native customs and way of life, like they use the reeds for building, eating and even used for curing headaches?

The reeds did not taste good.
We were then felt pressurised into buying the crafts the woman had made for a steep price. We did not cave. We were then told we would take a hand crafted reed boat to another island. What they hadn't explained was that it would cost an extra B10, after finding this out we quickly exited and sat on top of our nice motorised boat safely out of harms way (and S/20 in the green!).
S/10? Nah.. motorised boat all the way.
We ended up arriving in the islands before the other boat and had a nice conversation with some Peruvian tourists. We then waited for 30 minutes just in case anyone felt like they needed to buy some expensive food or drink from the restaurant on the floating island (it almost felt like we weren't going to leave until everyone bought something).

Having not starved to death on the floating tourist trap, we headed back to the the docks and arrived around 12:30 and boarded a mini bus back to our hostel.... However our driver had no idea what our hostel was called and neither did we. Remember, we arrived in the morning after an overnight bus and went straight to the hostel then got a tour straight away, plus the name was in Quechua... No idea.

We drove around the centre searching for about 20 minutes, the driver was very keen to just let us off in the middle of nowhere, obviously we were not best pleased and pretty much argued until we found the hostel by a fluke. Moral of the story, don't trust a tour to use the same people to pick up and drop off and don't be an idiot and forget the name of your hostel!

Finally arriving back in the hostel around 1pm we went to the central market for some food (S/3.50 almuerzo), hunted down a place that served a veggie soup for me (which took a while) and ate some delicious veg concoction Harry whipped up for dinner.

Exhausted, we went to bed super early to catch our bus at 7.30 the next morning. There was a departure tax of S/1.

This border crossing into Bolivia was one of the simplest, yet longest, thanks to taking an tourist  bus. We queued for about 20 mins to exit Peru as ALL the tour buses arrived at the same time (great system). We then walked up the road, over the border to Bolivia, went forward an hour in time, to wait another 20 mins at Bolivian immigration.

Another 30 mins later we arrived in Copacabana, ready to start our adventure on Isla del Sol.

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