When the bus pulled into Puno, I found myself thinking "Please, don't tell me this is Puno.". But the jumble of desolate, half-finished buildings turned out to really be the main city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. The location should mean it's a stunning place, but it is the least remarkable place I have seen in all of South America.

Before this, I had consulted my guidebook, which had surprisingly good information about independent trips to indigenous people's islands on the world's highest navigable lake, and was intent to spend some days here doing that.

But really, as soon as I got off the bus, I wanted to leave, and so I wandered into the first travel agent in town (there is only one street of interest in Puno that has all the shops, restaurants and agencies) and bought myself a ticket to Cusco as well as a trip to the Uros Floating Islands for the next day. I had read that it was a big tourist trap and that the native Uros actually live in the city now and put on a show, but it was the easiest and cheapest (£5 for half a day) way to have little trip on the lake.

When I met my tour group, I was pleasantly surprised as the group was pretty small and consisted only of a Japanese couple, a Danish couple, a young Canadian backpacker and me, and all of us were equally skeptic and only did the trip as we really just wanted a little boat trip. Our guide was surprisingly knowledgable and explained how the Uros first started building floating islands made of reed to escape the Incas, who considered the tribe as sub-human and wanted to put them in their quinoa and guinea pig stew.

But as soon as we neared the islands, I realised just how fake this was. I was not a big fan of the hard sell on the Mekong Delta trip, but this here was a whole different thing. People at the Mekong were actually living there, doing their work. Here, the ladies greeted us in bright skirts and stood at the edge of the island, smiling painfully. After the guide had told us how the islands are built, the women got out their trinkets - all the usual Peruvian handycraft, pillow covers with Inca patterns, miniature reed ships and all that. Of course, they didn't have change for anything so you were forced to buy more than you actually wanted. I didn't buy anything for that reason (I wanted to, but didn't want to buy random shit on top), but we decided to take a trip in one of their "traditional" boats (a lie, too - we saw people speeding by in small motorised boats), where a girl sang songs in what she thought were foreign languages, and of course, asked for a tip for this. The women waved goodbye to us with a "Hasta la vista, baby!" (no kidding) and we set off to get back to Puno.

The most entertaining part of the trip were the few kids who just seemed to do whatever they wanted - one guy was constantly jumping onto his little brother, trying to kill him (I had the same sentiments regarding my brother when I was 5, so I felt sympathetic), while the little brother himself was the Peruvian version of Shin-chan, who constantly pulled his pants down or threw stuff - preferably hard potatoes - at tourists.


Overall, this was probably the most fake, touristy experience I ever had, but as it only lasted 2 hours, it was bearable - and the views of the lake were truly superb.
Hasta la vista, baby!


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