Before we leave Cuzco for our last Peruvian stop in Puno, one of the WalkOnInnl staff members with good English, warns us about the bus company we are travelling on tomorrow. He tells us that our tickets are only worth about 15 soles if we'd bought them direct from the bus company rather than through an agency (on one of the many streets that branches off the main plaza) and that most of the price is commission that they didn't tell us about up front. He said the bus company (San Luis) is also notorious for stopping to let woman and children on to sell food, but that the woman make most of their money from what they lift from unsuspecting tourists rather than their food sales. He also said not to put our backpacks on the floor as people crawl under the seats and will open or slash our bags to get valuables from them. So we are on our guard for tomorrow.
Its back on the early starts, up bright and early at 6am to get a taxi from the main square to the bus station. We get there and are pleasantly surprised by the condition of the bus and its punctual departure. We have a very cautious Catherine bus driver and it's a slow ride to Puno.
The countryside is yellow tussock covered hillsides, and comes across as being rather inhospitable for those trying to seek a living from the land. There are small clusters of mud brick homes with thatched roofs and courtyards with animals in. We see a number of people guarding their animals, one woman watching her sheep was hunched under a brightly coloured golf umbrella.
We pass a sign informing us we are at a lofty 4300m in altitude! That's a record for us so far. There are snow capped mountains in the distance.
At the Puno bus station we are hounded by touts, selling tours to the floating islands, taxis and accommodation. We manage to call WalkOnInn like we were told to, and after one heck of a confusing conversation, in Spanglish, they realise we have a reservation and are at the bus station. Now. So they come to pick us up and we're taken to our accommodation.
First impressions are it's a dark, dank place lacking in atmosphere or fun. And these impressions prove right. The staff are very helpful though, with all our questions about doing a tour tomorrow to the floating islands and getting some laundry done etc. There are three floors to the hostel, with a locked breakfast room on the first floor and a small lounge with one couch on the second floor. There is one computer in the hallway on the first floor, so it's not a patch on the sunny, well furnished common areas of Cusco's WalkOnInn. Our room is huge but has a bed and one bedside cabinet. That's it. Again the redeeming feature of our room is the hot, blasting shower. Which we overdose on.
We have a delicious dinner at Ekeko's, both having alpaca steaks, mine in a red wine sauce with pears and provincial potatoes, Ryan's wrapped in ham and Andean cheese and baked potatoes with sour cream and more Andean cheese. DELICIOUS.
The next morning we head off to the docks where we jump on one of hundreds of same, same boats, and then motor for about half an hour through what looks like an alley of reeds on the lake. Our first stop is on Parihuana Island. We alight onto the spongy layers of Totora reed and are given a presentation by our guide, in both Spanish and English and the chief of the island, on how the islands are made. Squabbles with neighbouring islands are solved by cutting the ties and floating away somewhere to anchor. No neighbours from hell here.
Presentation over, we are given the chance to look around the island. We are called into the bedroom hut of one woman, who shows us her humble living quarters and then beckons me to try on her traditional clothing. I'm helped into a bright green skirt and then into a hot pink blazer like top. She completes my transformation with a bowler hat. Ryan is given a man's traditional shirt to try on and we get some photos with Maria.
Back out in the sunshine we admire their handicrafts before sailing on a traditional boat to our second floating island, with a husband and wife rowing. The second island is much lower key and less in your face with selling handicrafts. There are some small children running about, including a little boy flying a kite. Before long he's got about 4 cameras's pointed in his face, poor little beggar. I get Ryan to show the boy the photo of himself on his camera and his wee face lights up like a Christmas tree.
Back at our hostel we laze about, as everything is shut and there's more parading going on, seems like maybe a graduation parade or something. No costumes, just people in suits etc. Being a Sunday, we find ourselves out of luck with finding somewhere open that would exchange dollars for Bolivianos.
We sort out our bill with the hostel, ready to leave the following day. We are left feeling a bit sour towards the Puno WalkOnInn when they try and charge us for a buffet breakfast (one piece of bread and tea does not count as buffet in my book). This is rectified but then we notice we are being charged for 11 kilos of laundry, when Ryan had been told it weighed 10kg when he'd dropped it in that morning. Even 10kg had been hard to swallow, as our laundry bags were just as full in Arequipa, and in fact we had some clothes in a third plastic bag there, and it was weighed as being 5.2 kilos. It was hard to believe that we were able to cram more double the amount of clothes into the same bags! But we got nowhere arguing about it, so footed the bill, knowing we could always mention such sneaky doings in our review of the place.
The ongoing parading and festivities leave us with a restless night, with poor sound insulation from the drunk fighting and going-on's below on the street and in end we are glad to leave the next morning.