We arrived in Puno around 4:30am, but decided to wait inside the bus station until after sunrise so we could walk to our hotel.  We had read that the taxis are so inconsistent here that it is recommended to walk instead of taking a taxi from the street. Many other people seemed to be doing the same thing.  Various people tried to sell us tours and hostels in the bus station. People frequently attempting to sell us things has gotten annoying very quickly. Their insistence after hearing “no grasias”, then “no” and then another, more firm “no” (with shoo-off hand motion) while we sat in the same spot was a bit hard to understand… did they think we would change our mind on the fifth asking?

Katie had written down instructions regarding how to walk from the bus station to our hotel, El Manzano.  Unfortunately, Katie didn’t write down the distances to walk on each street, instead assuming that the streets would all have visible street signs. Hence, we had trouble finding the hotel and ended up walking longer than the 1 kilometer that we should have walked.  After asking two different women where the street we were looking for was, we finally found it.

El Manzano looked as Katie expected.  The rooms are situated around an interior courtyard. We got a twin room with a shelf, and a shared bathroom down the hall for $16 (reserved on hostelworld.com). A pillow and bedding is included, but no towel is included (the backpacking towel got to make an appearance). We gathered our dirty clothing, as we planned to get our clothing washed upon arrival. However, when we went to the reception room with our clothes, they said washing today was impossible since it was Sunday.  We had no time to eat breakfast, as our tour van appeared shortly after at 7am.

We had booked a tour to the Uros and Taquile Islands through Inca Lake, but the tour we were put on was run by Cusi Expeditions. They gave us the 80 soles per person rate, including lunch and island entrance fees, so all was good. It seemed that most people’s tours did not include lunch, and we heard of no one paying less than we did for the tour (everyone seemed to have booked through at least 3 different companies). We took a Spanish/English tour, but the guide’s English was really good and he was actually pretty informative and comical. He could have passed for a standup comic. Interestingly enough, Laura and Alex from our Llama Path tours were also put onto our boat!

Our tour was actually on a covered boat (we had booked the cheaper ‘non-covered’ option), but I would still recommend sunscreen. Everyone had a seat inside, but up to 6 people could stand on the roof at one time of they wanted. We never opted to. One interesting thing: the boats often tie onto one another in dock. We had to climb through/over five boats at the Puno docks to get to ours.

Our first stop was one of the 83 Uros Islands that is home to 6 families (totaling about 30 people).  Apparently  there was a windy storm the previous night that caused some of the islands to break free from their anchors, including the one we visited.  Hence, the island was not anchored to one location while we were on it, which was somewhat disorienting when it shifted. We were greeted by some of the island’s inhabitants, and listened to a talk from our guide on how the islands are made and about general island life.  Apparently they have to boat far out into the lake in order to use the bathroom.  JT really liked seeing 4 kittens and a mother cat on the island.  Apparently – and understandably – they are an important part of controlling rodents. We were also invited into the island mayor’s (“el presidente”) home, where we got to look around his one room house and ended up buying Mur a Christmas present. We also bought a small gift for one of JT’s coworkers.

Some people in our group rode a decorative boat over to another bigger island for 10 soles each. The rest of us took the motorboat we had taken to this island to go over to the same island. At this island we had a chance to buy overpriced snacks and more souvenirs. We bought 2 breads, each with a slice of cheese, for 5 soles each since we were very hungry. Thankfully, this staved off hunger until lunch.

In general, the Uros Islands were not as touristy and obnoxious as Katie expected them to be. You do get the feeling that they are putting on a show for the tourists (by dressing up), but perhaps this is because the majority of their economy relies on tourism. Katie is not completely confident that they actually live on the islands or use the traditional cooking methods – but she guesses it is plausible. JT felt like he saw enough ‘signs of life’ that they probably do live there – albeit not in the same state that their ancestors would have. In general, it was an interesting experience to visit the Uros Islands.  The pressure to buy goods was not too high, but the islanders really pressured you to take the 10 soles boat ride.

Then we rode on the motorboat for 2.5 hours before reaching Taquile Island. Taquile Island is a UNESCO world heritage site due to its culture, particularly that of men weaving. Once on the island, we walked uphill for about 20 minutes before walking on more-level but generally uphill ground for about 40 minutes. During the walk we saw and smelled a native mint plant, saw agricultural terraces, and saw some sheep and cows. It seems that the mint plant, dust, or something else bothered JT’s eyes – as they watered and were itchy for the next 30 minutes. Then we arrived at the lunch spot, where we got traditional bread (very much like a New Orleans beignet) and salsa, quinoa soup, trout, rice, and french fries. We also learned more about the culture: that married women wear 4 colored poms on their shawls, single women wear 1, and women in “marriage training” wear 3.  Marriage training is the 2-3 years couples live together before getting married – like an engagement but the couple is encouraged by society to live together.  Women cut their hair when they get married, and make a belt using the hair for their husband. Men make their girlfriend’s wedding dress, which can have skirts of up to 40 layers.  Women make their husbands purse-like bags to carry coco leaves, and once a year there is a parade when the men can show how many bags they have. Our guide is in “marriage training” with a woman from this island – although they live in Puno. He noted that she has not made him any purses – which would be quite shameful if they lived on the island.

After lunch, we had free time in the square for 10-15 minutes. There was not much to do, so we sat with Laura and Alex for a while and went inside a small, simple Catholic church. There was also a shop where you could buy things knitted by the men of the island, but we did not visit it.  Finally, we walked for 20 minutes on flat ground through a more residential part of the village. We saw some kids playing 5v5 soccer on a small AstroTurf field. Then, we descended 500 steps to return to the boat.

Taquile Island was pretty – the water views, the agricultural terraces, and the brightly dressed people. One extremely annoying thing was that children would come up to you and say ‘foto?’. If you said ‘no, gracias’ they would follow you for a while continuing to say ‘foto?’.  If you said yes, they would pose with you and then demand a few soles. We even had one little girl who jumped into a picture with Katie! We  think this is a terrible form of begging for the kids to learn.

Much of the tour group fell asleep on the 2.5 hour boat ride back to Puno. JT read through quite a bit of Ender’s Game (which we bought in Austin on Delta’s dime). We were the first people to be dropped off at our hotel (and had been the last to be picked up that morning) since El Manzano was away for the main hotel areas and instead was by the navel center and a residential area closer to the port.

We went to dinner around 6:30pm to Pizza e Pasta.  We got a bit lost on the way due to miscommunication, but ended up walking through some interesting areas.  We walked past an area with ‘help wanted’, ‘need to sell’, and ‘need a roommate or tenant’ signs. There were easily over 100 signs at this location. We also walked past plenty of bakeries, including one selling beautiful  cakes for 16 soles!

We invited Laura and Alex to join us at Pizza e Pasta.  Originally, they declined, since Alex was feeling sickly.  But we sat at a 4 person table just in case, and were glad we did when they appeared shortly after we ordered.  JT got a meat calzone (18 soles), Katie got a calzone with ham, pineapple, and black olives (18 soles), and Laura and Alex both got personal pizzas (14 soles each, and they seemed large enough).  We all liked our food, and it was interesting and nice to see locals instead of tourists at the surrounding tables.

We wandered around after dinner, and bought some more band-aids (now 10 for 1 sole and higher quality) and pastries (most 1 sole each, with croissants costing 0.05 soles each). JT especially enjoyed the more authentic (non-touristy) feel of Puno, as well as all the collectives that reminded him of the Dominican Republic. The excellent tour, great calzone, good times with our friends Alex and Laura, cheap pastries, the authentic feel, and the large beer JT had with dinner left him in quite a good mood!

We worked our way back to El Manzano, where Katie posted her final AAMAS responses (using a really old computer in El Manzano’s common area) and then attempted to figure out the solar powered hot water. You had to turn the valve on (with no indication of what ‘on’ was – it was down), and then wait 5-8 minutes.  Then you could turn on the hot water facet.  When Katie showered around 9pm, this resulted in a small stream of warm water. However, it was enough to wet hair, rinse hair, and rinse body. JT also had enough warm water to have a nice shower.

We really enjoyed our time in Puno, especially just wandering and seeing the ‘real’ Puno.  We may have gotten a few second glances since we do not look Peruvian, but in general no one cared that we were there – which was nice for a change.  Yes, Puno is rougher around the edges and looks pretty dirty (even “slummy” – both from Google maps and from the port). But it felt real – and it made us feel alive as we wandered around.

 VIP Seats on the 1st floor of the Cruz de Sur bus from Cusco to Puno.
We are not the only people waiting for the sun to rise in the Puno bus station.

 JT thought it was comical that the Puno police force is apparently sponsored by Coca Cola.

View of Puno from the docks.

The Uros Island that we visited.

The demonstration of how each Uros island was built and maintained.

Rodent control on the island.

The inside of the island mayor’s house.

JT and the island mayor.

The ‘market’ on the island we visited.

The mother cat on the island.

A little girl rowing a huge boat.

Taquile Island

They used shoe soles as hinges on the gates on Taquile Island.

Delicious bread for lunch on Taquile Island

Lunch on Taquile Island

Looking through a window on Taquile Island.
View from the main plaza on Taquile Island.

The little girl is trying to jump into Katie’s picture for money!

 Landscape on Taquile Island

JT’s calzone at Pizza e Pasta.

Looking down on Puno from above the next morning.

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