I decided to try Bolivia Hop for the trip from Cusco to La Paz. With our train from Machu Picchu arriving in Poroy at 9 PM and the bus leaving at 10 PM, there was enough leeway. They did tell me to be at the office by 9:15 PM, though. The taxi arrived at 9:30 PM. But it was all chill. We left at exactly 10 PM despite not boarding until five minutes before. We arrived in Puno at around 5 AM. I knew because the bus stopped long before they woke us up for breakfast at 5:30 AM.
Due to the early arrival, there won’t be any restaurants to choose from, which is why I suggest listing your name on the breakfast list the night before for an extra PEN8 (~PHP120). It’s a bit steep for a scrambled egg, bread, and juice, but you don’t really have a choice. The place where we ate had good enough WiFi. You pay for your breakfast right there after eating, and then you go back to the bus to get whatever you need before the tour guides usher you to the boat for the Uros Floating Islands tour.
You can leave your stuff at the bus. They are not going anywhere. Bolivia Hop itineraries are really flexible. If you change your mind, you can opt for the bus leaving the next day. The schedule is the same. The tour costs USD10 and you can book it along with your bus tickets online. They then pass a sheet around on the bus for you to fill out if you decide to join. You can also pay for it right there if you didn’t book online. You will be boarding a motorized boat to visit the islands, not a traditional one.
The boat trip does not take long. After all, the entire trip just lasts under two hours. You have to be back in Puno before the bus leaves for Copacabana, even if you are staying in Puno overnight. They designed the itineraries that way so as to make it possible to do everything on a daytrip. It’s clever, I must say. The name of the islands is Uros, and there are several more given Lake Titicaca’s enormous size. When you view the lake from the road, sometimes it looks like a big blue sea.
What about the weather? Is it going to be really cold? As you might already know, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable body of water in the world, which is why you need to be dressed warmly because it does get really cold. The trip is at 6:30 AM, and while the sun is already up, the breeze is really too chilly for you to endure. The trip is worth it, though, because the lake is plain stunning. Make sure your camera is fully charged because you will be taking a lot of photos.
But first, some background on Lake Titicaca. For bilingual Tagalog and Spanish speakers, this word combo is really funny. But the locals inhabiting the islands of the lake speak different languages. Up north on the Peruvian side, they speak Aymara. Down south on the Bolivian side, they speak Quechua. I forgot which is which, but the words Titi and Caca come from either of those languages and has something to do with a puma, which is said to be the shape of the lake when viewed from above. Imagination!
Anyway, the guide told us that we should say “Kamisaraki” to the locals, or answer “Waliki” if they greet us first. That’s basic Aymara expressions for you! We docked at one of the islands where we were welcomed by three or four families living on it. They then asked us to sit down as the village head explained how the floating islands work. Apparently, they use a certain kind of flora that floats on water as a base, and then they put long stalks of a certain plant on top of it which serves as the ground.
It is on those long branches that they build their houses. He then joked that they have to anchor the islands for them to stay put. Otherwise, they might end up on the other side of the border, which is trouble for them because they don’t have a passport. Come to think of it, their ancestors have been inhabiting the lake even before modern borders have been established. It also appears as though security is not that tight. One tourist even commented that human smuggling might be too easy on that lake.
We were then divided into three groups and had a tour of the locals’ houses, which were really as simple as they should be. And then they showed us the souvenirs that they sell. Their livelihood now depends mostly on tourism. It should be fishing, but the guide said there are too many restrictions now to preserve biodiversity. There are also islands on which they can farm, but this option does not seem so popular for many of them. The rest then hopped on one of the fancy boats and sailed around for half an hour or so.
I remained on our boat because I was feeling quite ill and it was rather chilly outside. I did enjoy the trip. It felt a bit rushed, but I really appreciate the interaction with the locals even if it was just for a really short time. Life on the lake is simple, and sometimes you just have to witness that kind of lifestyle to remind you to chill and not be too hard on yourself. After all, we are all human beings who just need the basics to survive, right?
[PUNO] Lake Titicaca