Puno: Lake Titicaca Tour
On the border of little old landlocked Bolivia and tourist go-to Peru sits the infamous Lake Titicaca (yeah, that’s where the hell it is). Lago Titicaca, si tú hablas español (or if you just like to sound like a wanker), is home of the Floating Islands – Los Islas de los Uros.
Personally, I like to refer to this destination as “Lake Titicaca, the home of the Floating Liars”.
Let me begin…
Travelling north, my sexy, Spanish speaking – albeit Aussie – travel companion and I found ourselves in Copacabana, a small town on the edge of Lake Titicaca in the far north west of Bolivia. After finding a shabby and not-so-chic resisdencia to dump our packs, we vehemently set off in exploration. It became blindingly obvious it wasn’t possible to tour the lake without a tour company; thus began our search to spend our remaining Bolivianos that were burning a hole in our hippie pants.
With the flip of a coin, we decided to tour the Peruvian side of the lake instead of the Bolivian. The next day, at 7am, we boarded a bus, crossed the border by foot, arrived in Puno and found an appropriately hobo-priced tour of Lake Titicaca and the Floating Islands.
The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca
Getting into a cab with our personal tour guide (fancy!), we arrived at the dock where our tour boat was waiting. This is where our tour guide left us; ta-ta Antonia, you were super helpful. Palmed off to another guide, we boarded the boat with other tourists from Latin America, Finland and the UK. Here is where the penny started to drop: maybe we’d made a mistake. Finnish Dude #1 couldn’t believe we’d chosen Puno over Copacabana. Shocked and horrified, he continued, explaining that Copacabana is far more beautiful. Okay, it might be prettier, but Puno has the Floating Islands! That’s worth it… right?
Wrong. So damn wrong.
We arrived at our first “stop” on the three island tour. Here, we were educated on the history of the Floating Islands, which is actually quite rich and honestly very interesting, but I was a little distracted by the should-be Oscar nominated actresses: the Uro ladies. Check your Lonely Planet Latin-American Spanish phrasebook – those bad bitches on the cover are said women. These are the women who allegedly “live” on the islands. They showed us around their homes, adorned us in traditional dress, demonstrated their handicrafts and explained that the absence of men was due to the fact that they were fishing on the lake.
Shady ladies showing off, aka selling, their handicrafts to poor tourists
When it came time to leave this island and go to the next, we had two options – hop on the tourist boat and jet off quickly, or be whimsically paddled out on a traditional grass reed boat, complete with a serenade thanks to the local women – for a fee. Feeling guilty, we reluctantly opted for the song ‘n’ paddle route.
This is when the magic was lost.
Yes, the boat was traditional (looking); however, it was powered by a little motorboat pushing it from behind. Yes, they sung very sweetly in Spanish; however, it translated to “give me my money now”. Yes, someone lived in those houses at some point in time; however, it sure as hell was not these women. Not a soul lives on the islands anymore – except maybe the few stray cats that have no sense of personal space, and will unashamedly get up in your grill.
A restaurant; historically inaccurate beyond belief.
I don’t even think this was a thing.
And so, I experienced Lake Titicaca and the Floating Liars, I mean, Islands, no, wait… I mean Liars. Of course, it was all staged. We were supposed to believe it. We paid to see them act. But as Finnish Dude #2 pointed out, “You can either pay to see movie, or you pay to see this live show.” At least this way, we keep Peruvians in a job and support their local economy.
Did we get ripped off? Maybe. Whether we did or didn’t, getting ripped off is all part of the experience abroad. If you don’t think you’re ever getting ripped off, you’ll forever be getting ripped off – read: you’re being naive.