Friday, 18 April 2014

Island Tour on Lake Titicaca: The Perfect Storm

Today I went on a day trip from Puno to Uros and Taquile, two islands on Lake Titicaca. And as the title of this post would suggest, it was not the smoothest boat trip I've ever been on. In fact, it was easily the most dramatic. But we'll get to that later. 

Lake Titicaca is the world's highest navigable lake, sitting at 3808 metres high and spanning a whopping 8400km. And it's a beautiful place. It's just Peru's lakeside cities that are a bore. Puno is the dullest place I've been to on my trip so far. I'd even take Lima over Puno. But I'm here for the Lake, not the cities. 

You can do half-day boat trips to just the Uros Islands, full-days to Uros and Taquile, or an overnight which includes Amantani as well. I did the full-day option, which cost 70 soles arranged through my hostel, and included pick-up and drop-off at my hostel, boat trips for the day and lunch on Taquile. 

So without the clocks striking thirteen, or anything else ominous, we left the dock at about 7am, in the freezing cold. Just a note, Lake Titicaca is cold when the sun isn't out. The days are a mixture of t-shirt and hat and scarf weather. 

It took an hour and a quarter to get to the Uros Islands, which gave me time to take in the wide blue skies, glittering clear water, and the islands of reeds underlining snowy mountains on the Bolivian shore of the lake. Uros is a group of manmade floating reed islands, each with half a dozen families living in reed houses, sailing reed boats. 

Stepping onto the island we visited felt like jumping onto a bouncy castle. Underneath the layers of reeds is springy wet earth, anchored to the lakebed with, you guessed it, reeds. And it was a really tiny place. There was a 'square' of sorts with all the houses surrounding it in a circle. It was a surreal experience, wandering round the stalls the locals had set up (caution: it's very touristy), all the while thinking that you're walking on bobbing reeds. All the houses had solar panels as well. Doing better than the UK already. 

Another hour and 20 minutes away was Taquile, a natural island. It was tall, with its summit just overtaking the 4000 metre mark. It was a place of vibrant greens and blues, and steep paths climbing to where we had our lunch of trout from the Lake near the main plaza. Lunch was followed by a traditional dance, which involved some audience participation. There was also a finger post to different cities in the world in the plaza, which took up most of my photographic energies. I met some really cool Brazilians who work in London, so we spent most of the afternoon chatting. 

At about 2.30pm we left Taquile and started the three hour journey back to Puno. We left with beautifully clear sky, and a rosy pink neck in my case. But it quickly clouded over. I'd been expecting this, as pretty much every afternoon I've had in Peru has ended up with some rain. 

This was more than some rain. The wind was whipping round the boat, rain hammering against the windows, and the waves creating a rollercoaster of water, the mountains disappearing in splashes of grey every few moments. I kept my eyes on the horizon to avoid seasickness, which worked very well. This had been going on for about 15 minutes, and I was contently bouncing around listening to Ke$ha. That's when the front window smashed in. 

A huge wave had reared up and thrown the majority of the window on top of the driver. He and the first two rows of passengers were soaked, glass floating around on the floor. No one quite seemed to know what to do. The boat was still rising and plummeting with every wave. 

The driver was okay, save cuts on both hands. But water was still splashing inside the boat, the structure creaking with every rise and fall. I heard a woman throw up behind me. 

One of the Brazilian girls at the back of the boat started to hand out life-jackets. She called out my name and gave me the first one, but my conscience forced me to pass it down to the front, and that continued until they were all gone. And there wasn't one left for me. Great health and safety, Peru. 

There was a life-ring though, for four of us without jackets to share. The storm continued for half an hour, but it felt like a lot longer. We finally rounded the peninsula and the wind died down, leaving us bobbing rather than ferociously dipping. 

Everyone was calm, and once the waves subsided and the driver had seen to his hands and thrown the shattered glass overboard the Titanic jokes and calls of "Jack!" began. 

It did get choppy again, but the driver had left the boat on automatic. Even when other boats came worryingly close he didn't seem phased enough to re-take the wheel. 

And by the time we pulled into the dock at Puno the weather had calmed down a lot. The wind was still strong, and cold, but we were mainly unscathed. 

And that ended my Lake Titidrama. It was quite enough excitement for me for one day. Tomorrow I'm going to Arequipa, which sits between several active volcanoes on the northern corner of the world's driest desert, so I think I'll be safe from water there. Just got to hope my arrival doesn't trigger an eruption, ey? 

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