Yes, I know—Lake Titicaca, get the giggles out now. Chris still remembers snickering with the other boys when his middle school geography teacher said “Lake Titicaca”. He never imagined actually visiting the highest navigable lake, so he was pretty excited when we finally set our eyes on its crystal blue waters.

Yesterday morning, we set off to the dock find a local boat to take us out. The Lonely Planet recommends this over a tour operator as the money spent goes directly to the local people. As soon as we get out of the rickshaw, we are surrounded by people trying to sell us on their boat. Oh no we think, not this again. We are immediately grabbed by two men and shuttled off to a boat to look it over. It is rundown and old; the engine looks like it is on its last leg, but the boat is full of local islanders so we think it might be an authentic experience. The men see us glancing at the touristico boats which look like yachts compared to this dingy and immediately start telling us those are touristico boats and this boat is local and better for the people. They preyed on our sympathetic nature, and in the end we agree to take their boat.

Lake Titicaca is home to 30+ floating islands of the Uros People. The islands are made of layered totora reeds stacked on top of each other. They were originally built to escape the Incas and preserve the Uros culture. Walking onto the islands was like stepping on a firm water bed; with each step we sunk a little. As we did not have a guide, one of the islanders improvised for us and invited us into his home and showed us how he lives. His home consists of two beds for four people. It is a simple way of living, but he has a garden of potatoes and other root vegatables growing underneath the reeds. The communal kitchen has three large cast iron pots over a clay stove. We did not see any livestock on the islands, so we assume they eat mostly vegetables along with duck and fish from the lake.

From the floating islands, we motored across the lake for 3 hours to reach Isla Taquille. As our boat was full of locals and piled high with goods, we climbed the 500 stairs to the top of the island with them. I spent most of the climb in awe of the women easily carrying 50lbs on their backs up the stone steps. Stone fences marking property lines and pastures, sheep wandering the cobblestone walkways, and the bright garb of the locals were memorable sights. Stone archways marked the main path to the town square, as other cobblestone paths spread throughout the island. It is possible to spend the night with a local family in this tranquil setting, but we opted to return to Puno.

On our return trip, we second-guessed our decision to take a local boat. It was by far the slowest boat in port and midway through the return trip the captain began emptying bucket after bucket of water from the bilge. As usual, I had an escape plan which basically just consisted of a life jacket and jumping overboard. Admittedly, not much of a plan. Chris mentioned when we made it to dry land that he was glad we made it back. It is a good thing he did not say anything while we were on the boat or I may have entered into sheer panic.

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