Lake Titicaca

I have attempted to rewrite with equal enthusiasm most of what Apple so kindly erased from existence.

I hope it was worth it. Enjoy:

Lake Titicaca. It is such a name to conjure with. I have wanted to see Lake Titicaca since I first heard it mentioned as a child, before I even knew where it was. But in truth I thought it would remain forever confined to the realms of my imagination. So it felt strangely miraculous when the rackety bus from La Paz turned a corner and the lake’s blue sparkling waters stretched out before us. I had reached a place of my dreams. 

A sacred place for the Incas, Lake Titicaca was believed to be the birthplace of the sun, moon, stars and humankind.
Sadly it’s ancient mystique is being slowly swept away by the rising tide of commercial tourism.
One can hardly begrudge the locals for embracing with arms outstretched the money-making opportunities bought by increased visitor numbers. There are few other options here for a successful living.
The lake is huge. It’s 8372 square kilometres, sitting more than 3,800m above sea level, are split between Bolivia and Peru.
The Bolivian side of Titicaca maintains more of its mysterious allure, probably because the chaotic nature of the country prevents organised tourism progressing too fast. 
Bolivia also boasts the breathtaking Isla del Sol, setting for the Inca creation story and home to dozens of Inca ruins. 
According to Inca legend Viracocha, the white bearded creation God created the sun from a crag on the island’s northern coast, where the first Incas Manu Capac and his sister-wife Mama Huaca also sprang forth.
There are no roads, no motorised vehicles, just a few age-old paths crossing the island which have been well maintained to allow the 5000 or so inhabitants and visitors like me to move between its small settlements.
With a motley group of travellers I caught a small boat from the sleepy lakeside town of Copacabana, which dropped us at the northern end of the island.
We walked the 8km to the southern coast, stopping to admire a number of Inca constructions enroute, accompanied by the sounds of wind and water, before being ferried back to the mainland, sleepy from too much sun.
After the manic madness of La Paz, the quiet streets of Copacabana seemed heavenly.

Puno on the Peruvian side of the lake is less heavenly. There is no reason to go to Puno other than for it’s access to the islands.
I had no desire to hang about and as luck would have it the friendly man at my hostel reception was able to offer me a trip to the islands which exactly matched my desired itinerary, starting the very next morning.
It seemed too good to be true.
Alarm bells should have sounded. 
It was too good to be true.
A small group from the hostel were picked up by minibus early the next day and taken to the port.
So far, so good.
It was when we boarded the boat and found it already carrying an army of Malaysian tourists all clicking their cameras in every direction at a rate that would elicit envy from a Japanese tour group we began to question the wisdom of our choices.
The Islas Uros – small floating islands made of buoyant totoras reeds – are fascinating. But when you are trying to calmly listen to an explanation of their construction while what seems like a thousand Malaysian tourists run around pulling ridiculous poses and taking photos of everyone and everything within their sights, completely ignoring the carefully prepared demonstration by the island’s ‘president’, it is difficult to reach the desired state of tranquil concentration. 
We moved on to the permanent rocky Island of Amantani where we were split into smaller groups and each allocated a local family who would host us for the night.
My family fed us a simple lunch of quinoa and vegetable soup followed by fried cheese and potatoes.
We then reconvened with the rest of the boatload to walk up to one of the highest points on the island, the temple of Pachatata – the earth father – from where there are amazing sweeping views of Amantani and the islands beyond. 
This is another example of where being part of a tour group is a pain in the proverbial backside.
Some people walk a lot faster than others.
I know I am a quick walker – it was ingrained into me when as a little girl I would virtually run to keep up with my father and avoid getting lost as he paced brusquely down London busy streets – but some people take the piss with how slowly they walk. A sloth would move faster.
For some reason our irritatingly overconscientious and overanxious guide Jose Carlos had a terror of letting any of us progress too far ahead up the well marked and non-divergent path.
Walk, wait. Walk, wait. 
Near the top it transpired there was a second temple to Pachamama – Mother Earth – atop an adjacent hill which our snail-paced group were not going to see.
At this an American guy and I took off determined to see both. We ignored Jose Carlos’s protestations,  promising him we would be up, down and up again to rejoin the group long before it was time to head back.
Ah, sweet escape!
We sat on high cliffs gazing across the lake at the mainland and soaked up the sunset. 
And we were good to our word and had returned to the Pachatata temple before even Jose Carlos had a chance to panic.
That night the locals, presumably for their own entertainment, dressed us all up in their colourful traditional clothes and hosted a ‘fiesta’ for their foreign visitors. Before I had a chance to remove either of the two thick woollen jumpers I was wearing – it is very cold once the sun goes down – I found myself being trussed up in a corset-tight belt and skirt and expected to dance enthusiastically to songs that seemed to last about 20 minutes each. By the time the music ended I was so hot I thought I might pass out in the arms of whichever unfortunate Amantani man had chosen that moment to dance with me.  
A storm that night whipped Titicaca’s glassy waters of the previous day into a tangle of large rolling waves which threw out little boat about like a plastic toy.
For a few minutes everyone sat very still, stoic, silent, trying to ignore the relentless rolling then the strain began to show.
First to go was a German girl sitting near the front of the boat.
She stood up suddenly and began to race towards the door at the back of the boat.
“Are you okay?” Called the ever-worried Jose Carlos, this time with some reason.
“I just need some fresh air,” she called back, not pausing.
Then a rather green looking Dutch woman sitting a few rows in front of me rose and made her way with concentrated steadiness towards the back, staring straight ahead, not meeting anyone’s eye – or opening her mouth.
A few minutes later a middle aged Australian woman, crouched over and supported by her equally unsteady looking husband, limped towards the door.
And so it went on.
I stared out the window at the walls of water washing towards us, tried not to think about what scenes may be unfolding at the back of the vessel, and thanked God – or more accurately my genes – for not cursing me with motion sickness.
It was a rather shaky group which disembarked on the Isla Taquile, another stunning rocky terraced island, for a final walk and lunch of rainbow trout.
Fortunately, by the time we headed back to Puno the waters had returned to their former state of calm.
I lazed in the roof of the boat, snoozing in the sunshine until I was deposited once again at the port.
The Peruvian islands of Lake Titicaca are worth seeing but don’t make my mistake. However well priced, convenient and tantalising the tour offer, don’t do it. Go it alone. There are boats that leave Puno for the various islands throughout the day and accommodation can be sorted on arrival.
This leaves you free to enjoy these beautiful places in your own way, at your own pace.
You live and learn – and I have learnt. 

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