From the mountain town of Cusco, we hopped on a bus and headed for Puno to explore the wonders of the highest navigable lake in the world, Titicaca. Early in the morning we found ourselves on a local bicycle taxi and rolled through the streets just as shop owners were opening their doors and children emerged to head to school. The bicycle taxi is real local experience with the driver sitting behind his two passengers so they have a great view of the world passing by. If you are lucky, like we were, you might even have a soundtrack of salsa to accompany your journey!
The lake was glassy and still when we boarded the boat. We glided across the lake, past islands of reeds where pigs and cows grazed in the soft morning light. You could see a perfect reflection of the sky in the water. The floating islands came into view not long after and we eventually alighted onto the islands of Uros. It is a strange feeling to know that you are standing on a man-made island constructed entirely out of reeds. All the houses, boats and shelters were constructed out of the same reed that grows in the lake. These reeds are tied together to form the structure which is about 2 meters in depth. The water however is perhaps just 20 cm from the surface as the bales float low in the lake. The tapestry and weavings produced by the ladies are intricate and beautiful. Of course it is so much nicer to buy directly from the people who produce them than from the shops on the mainland. The community relies entirely on tourism to support itself and is very open to questions, photos and the guide can translate the local Quechua language for you. You can take a ride on their boats, which looks much like Viking boats, except smaller and made of reeds. I even got to paddle one!
Our next stop was the UNESCO protected island Taquile for lunch. The authorities distribute tourists evenly amongst the islands inhabitants so each household has a chance to earn some money by cooking the local fare. Interestingly the men on the island are known for their knitting skills, often using 6 needles at one time to create detailed designs.When a couple are set to marry, the husband-to-be will knit part of the bridal gown for his fiancée. The women weave belts for their lovers to help support their backs when lifting heavy weights. They will also weave belts for special occasions from their own hair which they grow long until they find their life partner.
As we left the island and started on the 3 hours journey back to Puno, the clouds started to gather. It wasn’t long before we were in the middle of a hail storm with the swell breaking over the bow of our tiny boat.The waves became so intense that one of the glass windows collapsed, spraying glass over the front of the cabin but luckily, no one was hurt.
The next day we headed for La Paz in Bolivia. We all had to jump of the bus and walk across the border. As soon as any of the officials saw our passports we were met with a demonstration of their knowledge of Australian native animals. “Kangaroo”, “Koala” were obviously the favourites. We rolled into La Paz in the afternoon and prepared ourselves for the next day which would take us down one of the most dangerous roads in the world, the Death Road, on the back of a bicycle.It is 70kms of downhill and starts high up in the mountains near the snow-line at nearly 5000 meters. By the end of the day you are sweltering in the jungle having stripped off as many layers as possible. The road is the width of a car in most places but you constantly have a sheer cliff to your left with no safety barriers of any kind. I often found myself coming around one of the switchback corners and almost feeling the road disappear from under me. We encountered several landslides which had occurred overnight and for this reason our emergency support vehicle could not accompany us. We did it all alone!
We sadly left our first Intrepid group behind in La Paz the next day. We really had seem some incredible things that we would never have come across on our own.
We are headed into the desert now for the next few days to explore the salt flats so next time we speak, we will have landed in Argentina if all goes to plan.
Em and Stu