We took fancy first-class from Arequipa to Puno, where I suffered a miserable migraine. We couldn’t find my medicine, so I took two Aleve, which took forever to work. Ah, the joys of altitude.
We arrived to the Duque Inn, a place full of false promises, but which we still liked regardless. Our room was on the top floor, which can feel like it’s a marathon to climb those steps. Still, life was good. We explored Puno, and there’s honestly not very much to explore. We had jugos frescos (maracuya, fresa, y mango y pina mixta) and I bought another pair of legwarmers and mittens, and we searched in vain for my Peru treat obsession, chocolate wafey candies, also by the name of Sublime Wafers. They’re kind of like kitkats, but with a little bit of peanut butter. Failed at this task, I ventured into a pharmacy to see if they had my migraine medicine, and they didn’t, but they gave me something else mysterious that I now have in my purse. I’ll update you all if I use it. We did the usual wandering of the streets, eating strange street food (Something like fried crispy dough with dulce de leche all over and shredded coconut.), ice cream, wandering, talking, all hand-in-hand in a way that we never seem to have enough time to do back home. It was lovely.
And then it was time to eat, of course. We found a restaurant in the Lonely Planet that mentioned “Andean Cheese Fondue” and Wayne was sold. We also got a salad and this amazing cheese bruschetta with fig. But wow, cheese. We did decide we’ll snag one of our mom’s fondue pots when we get home and start making fondue more.
We got up early and hopped on what we thought was simply a boat to certain islands but was actually a tour. (We were misinformed by the owner of our hotel.) Oh well. We swallowed our hopes and let ourselves go along with what was in store.
First we went to Uros, one of the floating islands. It’s pretty cool – they pile these reeds on top of floating sod, stake the sod into the water (so they won’t float away – but you still get the sensation of floating!). Their lives are linked to these plants – they build their homes and boats out of the reeds. It’s pretty incredible. Unfortunately, it seems they subsist on tourism and the whole visit felt slightly less than genuine – though it was interesting, I won’t deny that. Wayne and I went with one girl who showed us her family’s home and then dressed us up in their traditional clothing – which is beautiful, even if she did put an orange skirt on me and not the rosado I would have hoped for. Then she tried to sell us all these crafts she made, many of which were just not our taste. (I’m polite, right?) Wayne ended up finding a neat little mobile to buy for his parents, but we did feel pressured to buy something – and neither of us liked that.
Then we took a little boat ride to another floating island on their “Mercedes” of their boats (Cost: 10 soles each), where I bought a pair of alpaca socks (My feet were freezing) and we paid 1 sole to use the bathroom (disgusting) and bought some coca tea, which does seem to help with the altitude. Or so they say, so we keep drinking it.
We were on the boat another three hours to Amantani, which is the highest island on the lake. We did a homestay with a family – they knew no English, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend a homestay to anyone who doesn’t know Spanish (Unless you’re with someone who knows Spanish; Wayne had me serve as his translator and still enjoyed himself.). Our family wore traditional gear – big skirts and carefully embroidered tops. Most of the island were farmers – and the work was done communally. We ate lunch – quinoa soup and fried cheese and rice and veggies. Then we skipped out on our “tour” stuff and hiked Pachamama and Pachatata, two different mountains with ruins on the top. We were the only ones on both of the mountains, so that felt pretty special. We took photos and talked and explored uninhibited.
Then we were both feeling the altitude, so we took a nap. We did notice, however, that our room smelled badly. Being familiar with the smell, we both realized it was eau de dead mouse – or perhaps some other animal. We searched the room, lifting the blankets, under the bed, and decided it was probably in the wall. It was pretty horrendous. We lit matches but it didn’t help.
We got up before dinner and chatted a little with our host family. We had dinner, centered around potatoes, of course, and Wayne shocked me by being unable to finish his dinner. Altitude sickness is real. It started pouring so our host family decided not to go to the party, though I thought it was cancelled. I think our host dad may have been drunk from the earlier festivities. Regardless, Wayne was ill so we went to bed. It was only 8:30p.m., but altitude makes you tired. (I remember my first weeks at Naropa in Boulder, I slept 10-12 hours a night, until my body became accustomed to it.) I woke up at 3a.m. when Wayne was breathing heavy and complaining of a splitting headache. He drank water, took an ibuprofen, and eventually the pain stopped and he fell asleep. But he was so miserable that I decided if he was the same in the morning, we’d head straight back, grab our bags and head to Cusco early (which has a lower elevation than Lake Titicaca).
After breakfast with our host family, and goodbyes, we hiked down to the ferry and we all went to Taquile. Another island with a traditional indigenous culture, though the attire was different. The women wore shawls with pompoms signifying their marital status, and the men communicated their marital status and political power through their hats. The attire was carefully made and quite beautiful.
We walked around, I bought a pair of Alpaca gloves as a present, and then our “group” went to lunch where I was served another disgusting vegetable tortilla (Think: vegetable omelet cooked in too much oil that somehow tastes disgusting – and I really love eggs.). I ended up leaving, letting some poor backpackers eat my meal and wandering around.
And then we climbed down 543 steps to the ferry. The island has most of the town and its inhabitants living high up. Nobody seemed especially friendly, and I suppose I would be irritated if my tiny little village became a tourist destination. (Hell, I’m annoyed at the tourists in my city, and I live in New York!)
We headed back to Puno on the world’s slowest boat. When we arrived, a shower felt lovely, and then we got amazing fusion food (We’ve found the fusion food here to be the best, even if they did serve Doritos (!) with the guacamole.) and of course, I got a pisco sour.
We randomly found a shop that sold my chococlate wafey candies and fun alpaca goods. And then, we found a fair trade shop where they teach women how to knit and give them a skill, women that live deep deep in the city where they can’t sell it – and they sell it for them. I wanted to support a good cause, plus they had great craftswomanship, so I bought some stuff to support them.
And then, being at altitude, we were exhausted, so we sat around, trying to book hostels and finally, fell asleep wrapped tight into each other’s arms yet again.