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Chapter 1: Cuzco, Lake Titicaca, Uros Islands, and Taquile Island








Day 1) Traveling from Baltimore to Lake Titicaca

Our trip started out with a veeeeery loooooong first day of travel. We were scheduled to leave Baltimore Friday evening after work, arrive in Miami later that night, and then fly to Lima arriving at 4am on Saturday morning. Well, we made it to Miami where we met up with our traveling companion, Buz, who had flown in on another flight from Washington, DC. But then after boarding our flight to Lima we were told that the aircraft was being taken out of service for a fuel leak and they were gonna put us on another plane. Changing planes delayed us, getting us into Lima 1½ hrs late, after our scheduled connecting flight to Puno, near Lake Titicaca.

Luckily, we had the services of a transfer agent who, by the time we arrived, had researched all the other land and air options for getting us to Puno that day. The option we chose was a flight on another airline to Cuzco and then an 8hr bus ride to Puno. The agent helped us buy all the tickets and arranged for another transfer agent to meet us in Cuzco and help us transfer from the airport to the bus terminal. Those two transfer agents were of invaluable help to us.

The flight to Cuzco was un-eventful. After our agent helped us get from the Cuzco airport to the bus terminal, we had 3 hrs to kill before the bus left. Cuzco Bus DepotWe spent the time aimlessly wandering around the town, well, not totally aimlessly. We were looking for an ATM, but not just any ATM, it had to be one from Banco Credito Peru, our friend's favorite Peruvian bank. Eventually we found the ATM, got our money, and then found our way back to the bus terminal in time for our bus. The 8 hr bus ride to Puno was long and tiring. Plus along the way the bus got a flat tire and had to stop in Juliaca along the way to change the rear tire. This made the bus trip about 9 hrs long. I got out of the bus to stretch my legs and watched the guys change the tire in the dark, with hand tools, and flashlights along the side of the road. We eventually got to our hotel in Puno, the Hostal Pukara, at 9pm instead of our original arrival time of 9am.

We were very grateful to get to bed !!

Day 2) Tour of Uros Islands

Sunday morning dawned way too early to suit us. After our previous long day of travel it was hard to get up, but we had booked a two day long excursion to the Uros floating islands and to Taquile Island and they were picking us up early in the morning.

Our shuttle bus and guide, Freddie, from "Allways Travel", were prompt. They took us to the Puno docks where we met our boat captain Lucho [sp], and boarded our boat to the Uros Islands. The islands were only about a ½ hr ride from the Puno city docks. There were several islands there set up for tourists. In some ways it was like a Disney attraction, with all the different islands set up with displays about island life and of course, the local trinkets to buy. Our guide Freddie took us to one island where he explained the island culture to us, what it is like to live on the island, and how they make and maintain the islands. Island maintenance is important. The reeds on the bottom eventually rot and fall to the bottom of the lake. They have to be replaced with new layers of reeds on the top several times a year to maintain the island above water.

Here we're sailing out of Puno for the Uros Islands.

Arriving at the Uros Floating Islands. It was kinda like arriving at Disneyland. The locals were all set up to receive the tourists and go thru their well practiced routines.

Here we are with our island guides, 3 generations, daughter, Grandmother, and Mom displaying some of the tapestries they make. We also try on some of their native clothing. ---->


On the island we went to we were introduced to one family. Their 16 yr old daughter Mirabelle, showed us around their houses. She showed us the handicrafts they make and even had us dress up in some of their clothes. We met her Mom, Victoria, and her Grandmother, Christine. When we left they gave us a ride (10 soles each) on their reed boat over to another of the reed islands. After we briefly toured that island, we reboarded our tour boat to continue our journey to Taquila Island. It was about a 2 hr boat ride so we took turns napping on the comfy boat cushions.

Our destination was on the northern shore of the island. We pulled up to a small dock where we disembarked and walked up the hill to our lodging for the evening. It was like a small B&B operation. There was a group of knitters and weavers from the local community sitting outside selling their wares. We had a small room on the second floor of their adobe brick home.

Our "resort" on Taquila Island

That evening we walked up to the ridge running down the length of the island and watched the sun set over Puno in the far distance. We then walked back to the house for what the locals called "Disco Night". Our host's father started a small bonfire in the middle of the courtyard while our host got out his Mandolin and played. Everyone joined in the festivities by dancing around the bonfire. There were no fancy dance steps, just whatever moved you. We went to bed happy, tired and contented that night!

Our friend Buz dancing with our hostess.

Diane playing soccer with our host's children.

Day 3) Stay on Taquile Island

In the morning while waiting for breakfast we played with our hosts young children, a girl about 8 and a boy about 4 years old. We had a good time playing kick-ball with them in the courtyard.

After breakfast, we thanked our host and hostess for their hospitality and with our guide in the lead, we took off walking north across the island. We were heading for the main part of town. There was a large network of trails covering the island and everywhere we went we met locals busy at work. The men were always knitting hats and the women always spinning yarn with drop spindles. They would knit and spin constantly while walking, standing, talking… I kinda wondered if they did it in their sleep also.

The main part of town consisted of a town square with a convenience store and a large coop store where everyone sold their wares. I wasn't feeling real good (a bit of tourista) so I just sat on a bench while the others explored. Problem is there were about half a dozen young girls (7 or 8 yrs old) constantly coming around trying to sell you knitted bracelets. They'd sit next to you like an old friend, hold out their bracelets, and look up at you with their big soft brown puppy dog eyes and softly plead "Buy bracelet? Only 2 Soles?" It was heart rending to constantly tell them "No Thank You". Shortly after one left, another young girl would approach, sit down next to you and go thru the same routine. Eventually the original girl would come back and they would repeat the cycle.

The town square on Taquila Island.

Eventually it was time to leave the square and go to a restaurant for lunch. Our guide Freddie had a real nice place picked out where we had our own private table off from the rest of the crowd with a nice view of the island's countryside.

Our guide Freddie arranged a nice lunch for us!

It was a long walk down the 500 steps to the boat docks.

After lunch we descended the 500 steps down the hill to the city dock. The steps are known locally as the "Gringo Killers" because it is the main route to town for tourists who arrive by boat and have to walk UP the 500 stairs to the town plaza.

It was a long, relaxing, 2 ½ hr boat ride back to Puno, our hotel, warm showers, and a comfortable bed. We had to get up early again to catch a bus back to Cuzco the next day.

Day 4) Travel from Lake Titicaca back to Cuzco

Today we take another bus ride, this time back to Cuzco. This time we get to see the sights in the daylight, unlike the late night run we had made a few days ago. The bus stops off at several tourist spots along the way to see several different ruins. First we stop at a church and museum in xxxxxx. Then when we reach the highest pass along the road, the bus pulls over to the side of the road for a photo op. Of course, there are locals there with tables of tourist trinkets, sweaters, blankets, hats, …… to sell. The bus also stopped off at a nice restaurant along the way. It was down some back alley in some small nameless town along the way. It didn't look like much on the outside, but it was real nice inside with great local food. After that, we stop off at the ruins of Raqchi and then a little while later we stop off at the Sistine Chapel of the Andes. The frescos painted on the interior walls of the church are fabulous. You'd never guess there was such a treasure inside such an inocuous, run-down looking, small town, church.

Along the way to Cuzco, the bus stops at a local "flea market".

The bus stopped at this very nice restaurant along the way to Cuzco.

We also stopped at this local church.

The interior of the sanctuary was beautiful and very ornate. Very surprizing considering the plain exterior.

We eventually arrive in Cuzco and check into our hotel, el Balcon, for the next few days. Not much to look at from the outside, but inside it was a lovely, peaceful, retreat. It was just a short walk down to the main town tourist square which was filled with shops and restaurants.

Here's the interior courtyard of the El Balcon hotel we stayed in while in Cuzco.



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last revised : August 20, 2009