The main 'tourist' reason for visiting Puno is to get out on Lake Titicaca to see the floating archipelago of the Uros islands and the rocky island of Taquile.
We woke early for a lift down to the dock, where we were loaded onto a boat that promptly sat idle for half an hour while the tour company rounded up more punters. One of the down sides of travelling in the off-season.
Once underway it was forty minutes out to visit the Uros islands. Made up of a network of 115-120 'totora' (reed) islands that have been cultivated and maintained for thousands of years, the Uro people first moved onto the lake to distance themselves from the warring tribes on the mainland. This all considerably pre-dates the Inca presence here.
We were taken on a tour of the islands aboard a traditional reed barge. A brilliant creation that felt like Titicaca's combined answer to the punt and dinghy, gracefully navigating the narrow channels around the islands with seemingly little effort.
The islands are maintained and preserved by laying fresh reeds on top of the old, so the surface is always soft and bouncy. The underside eventually rots away but not before it forms a solid and buoyant pontoon.
The reeds also form a staple of the Uro people's diet with the texture of sugarcane but without the flavour I'm sad to say. It was all very impressive that the people continue to live in this traditional way, but the elephant in the room was how they dealt with isolating waste disposal and fresh water collection. Another sanitation question I know, but given recent experiences it's on my mind!
From there we forged out into the centre of the Lake. Puno sits in a crab clawed bay and the island of Taquile is just beyond it's mouth.
There was a small fleet of boats heading out to the island and despite Taquile being in plain site, it took us a further 90 minutes to reach it's shores.
The weather was perfect so we sat up on deck and tried to avoid the Sun as best we could. The altitude here makes the sun extremely powerful, so despite the breeze we can feel the burn on our pale skin.
We docked on the Eastern side of the island and walked up a steady climb to the central plaza of the island. Lots of people struggling with the altitude. We do ok, Rose faster than me as always, though I suspect this is to conceal desperate gasps for air during her longer and more frequent breaks (an unproved theory). The terraces rise steeply from the waters edge, every available patch of land is used for the cultivation of crops.
The gradient relaxes towards the top of the island and allows for sweeping views over the Lake. Housing construction is consistent with the vernacular of the mainland, with corrugated metal and concrete making it across the Lake. I daresay that Taquile has enjoyed a connection to the mainland for many years in one way or another but with adequate distance to protect their unique way of life.
We enjoyed a traditional almuerzo of quinoa soup and grilled trout before continuing our walk down the western side of the island.
The terraces are maintained by a strong community bond, with labour and time being traded as currency here in order to assist one another in the maintenance of buildings and land.
The descent is much steeper than the ascent but we pass locals going about their business in a relaxed and capable fashion.
While the island functions as a healthy agrarian economy, it cannot be denied that tourism has added another income stream for them and that they have taken this opportunity seriously.
Mid-pose for a solo photo, I was grabbed by this little girl who stood in for a nice portrait with me. She then releases me and holds out her hand demanding a tip. Yes, I was scammed by an infant!
The men on Taquile knit hats to denote their marital status. Red hats for married men, red and white for singles. Single men who are 'on the market' wear the tassle of the hat on the left hand side of their head. Those who are not looking for 'lurve' wear it on right. New wives weave decorative belts for their husbands, similar to a cummerbund. All the knitwear is detailed beautifully and made with love.
An informative and beautiful day out on the lake, helped greatly by our witty tour guide and clear blue skies.