Lake titicaca

So after the highs of Macchu Picchu, I decided to keep things on the up by visiting the world's highest navigable lake.

I arrived on a night bus from Cuzco and went straight out for a two day tour at 7:30. We soon found out about the lake's crazy climate with freezing night and early morning temperatures replaced by burn inducing high altitude rays at mid day, which only added to our squinty eyes and tired yawns.

Our tour guide introduced himself as 'Ewin', then prodeeced to change his name on every commentary. In fact he repeated himself so much over the two days that we were convinced he had about 5 clones with different names:

There was Erwin, Eduardo, Emilio, Emmet, Emmy, Emron, Erwin Group, Ewin Group follow me, and Edwin. Needless to say it got rather confusing for us tired travellers.

We first went to the floating Uros islands (there are roughly 50) which house many families who are trying to maintain a traditional lifestyle but are really completely dependant on tourist money. If there is one thing they liked, it is reeds. The islands, their boats, their houses, signs and art were made from reeds. Oh and they also ate reeds. In homage to the islanders, here are some famous reeds:

Mike Reed
Reedy, steedy, cook
Oliver Reed
A good reed
Robert Reedford
Reed Rover
The reed planet (Mars)
Reed it and weep

Anyway, I felt a bit sorry for the reed islanders and there culture seemed to be dying out as there youngsters all went to Puno to work. I would have made a nice contribution to the island's cheif Jaime (pictured in his house), but they forced everyone to take a very overpriced 10 Soles ride on their 'Mercedes Benz' boat. It was a reed boat they had decorated at the front and back and to be honest was more like a Land Rover boat . . .  a Land Rover which had had its engine replaced with wet reeds.

After Uros, we continued out into the middle of the lake where we stopped at Mantani island. This was where we would stay they night. When we disembarked, we had to wait in an awkward line whilst the island's women picked who they wanted to stay with them. It was just like being back at school praying to avoid being picked last for football. Anyway, my stand in mum was Valeria who was about 4ft and had a relatively big house, two kids, some sheep, and even a solar panel.

I was all for going back to basics (no electricity etc), and even had a wonderful hour of contemplation in the dark whilst waiting for dinner. When it was Valeria knocked on my door, she looked at me strangely in my dark room before pressing the light switch (I thought it was broken), and waiting for 5 seconds before the light turned on. A true face-palm moment.

A Spanish lady and a Chinese guy (more about him later) were also staying with me in the house. We were  fed with a mind boggling array of carbs (quinoa soup, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, bread) and then headed off to my very first poncho party. The islands put on an event with a bit of music, and got everyone to dress up in traditional clothes and dance around like lunatics (very tiring on no sleep and at 4000m above sea level).

After a cold night weighed down by 6 heavy woollen blankets (I felt like I had been steam-rolled flat in the morning), we awoke for day two. I was introduced to another miracle herb muña which is supposed to open your body, give energy and cure just about everything. When combined with coca it is known as Explosive Tea.

"Oh my God, we're going to EXPLODE! I have exploded in a shower of carbohydrates and can now run up and down high altitude mountains"

. . . unfortunately whilst it was tasty, the effect was not as revolutionary as I had hoped for.

We said goodbye to the kindly yet rather timid Valeria (she answered all of our questions with one word, or as few as would suffice), and headed to another island close by.

Both islands still practiced the Andean (incan) religion, spoke Quechuan and had little belief in modern medicine. However, the second island had hats. A lot of hats.

The hats indicated whether you were single or married, of high or low standing and many other things I'm sure. Apart from the hats, and a 80 year old bloke carrying a wardrobe on his back (see pics), the second island was boring and we were glad to board our boat (thankfully not the insanely slow Mercedes Benz) back to Puno.

By lunchtime everyone was starting to tire of Pablo, the Chinese guy with a camera glued to his face. He was part of what I have named the 'Cannon Club'. Tourists with Cameras so big, that they have a nuclear reactor inside to power them. Cameras with such advanced zoom, that the lens can hit in the face you from 10 yards away. And cameras which produce such a deafening SNAP that you think that God himself has just clicked his fingers to get your attention. It is like the camera is saying "I've done it! I bloody taken that picture you really wanted, BANG!"

I'm all in favour of taking pictures, but without exaggeration (for once), I believe Pablo took around 1,000 pictures in two days. That level of obsession surely negates any joy gained from being in a place like lake Titicaca. And that is without thinking about the poor saps who have to sit through his slide shows . . .

"and this is the lake, and this is another part of the lake, and this is a vertical shot of the lake."

The final straw was when he picked up the flowers off the lunch table and proceeded to take arty shots of them with the lake in the background. It seemed so awfully forced that we all took pictures of him taking pictures. Cue the school-yard giggling.

The only other event of note was when I was woken up by some South Africans and a crazy American who had jumped of the boat into the lake (which by my careful calculations of dipping my foot in, had a temperature of around -87 degrees). I mumbled some excuse about everyone hating the UK enough already that I didn't need to prove myself by following suit.

Anyway, I'm in La Paz now, and am ready to cycle down the world's most dangerous road tomorrow.

More Tall Travels soon

. . .  hopefully