After the mixed feelings of Machu Picchu, we rode the train back to Ollantaytambo, and then took a shared taxi back to Cusco. We arrived in Cusco on a Saturday afternoon to find the main plaza packed with people participating in some sort of festival. We stayed the night in a hotel far from anything fun since everything was booked up, and the next morning we got a taxi to the bus station to get a bus to Puno, our next stop. The bus ride is about seven hours, which isn’t terrible for Peru, but my goodness are you ready to get off that thing at the end. Puno sits at 12,500 ft above sea level, right on the Titcaca lake, so its flippin cold!
Puno is mostly concrete and dirt, so the town itself is fairly uninteresting. Most people are here for the lake.
The main thing people do in Puno is go see the floating islands made from reeds that people have lived on for centuries. Our hotel offered a very expensive tour that we heard was not too great, so we decided to DIY and show up at the docks to figure it out for ourselves. We wanted to do a quick stop at the floating islands, and then go to another island out a little further out that was supposed to be interesting, Isla Taquile. We showed up at the docks around 8 or 9 in the morning, and there as always were the touts trying to sell tours and such. We wanted the normal shared ferry that just went to the islands without all the tour guide nonsense. One guy said he was the ferry, so we talked and I was pretty clear (I thought I was at least) what we wanted: floating islands and Taquile island. No tour. Just the ferry. He was really excited and pretty much verified (or just copied) what I said. We agreed on a price, got placed on a boat, got a ticket, and off we went.
As we pull out of the docks, a tour guide gets up and starts talking about the islands. We didn’t really want a tour, but I figured maybe we just got shoved in with a tour group that’s going to the same thing. Cool, whatever.
But then the talk of staying overnight at one of the distant islands starts coming up in the guide’s speech. Okay, well maybe we just come back with the empty boat or something. Boat’s gotta come back to shore right?!
So as we approach the floating island, I head to the top of the boat to get some pictures and what not. Meanwhile, down below, the tour guide tells Jess to get our bags, we’re getting off here. So we dock with the reed island, and Jess tells me we were told to get off. The guide starts talking about how the islands are made (which by the way, is truly fascinating, worth a trip to wikipedia). After the talk, the guide gives everyone about 45 minutes to explore. He comes over to talk to us and tells us we are now riding on a new boat, and we are leaving right now. Sort of a disappointment considering it took 90 minutes to get here, but once you see the island there’s not much more to it, and the other island was the main point of the trip anyways. On our way to the new boat, a slight argument breaks out between the two captains of the boats, regarding what we can assume is the trouble making American passengers. The other captain wants nothing to do with us. We didn’t pay for his tour, so why should he take us? Our current captain also wants nothing to do with us either, but has to do something about us, so he comes over to tell us his new plan.
The plan is for the boat to go over to Putina and/or an island nearby, during which they can drop us off on the mainland. From there, we can hail a combi (shared minibus) on the road to take the six hour journey back to Puno, with a stop in the hellaciously dangerous town of Juliaca. Therefore getting back to Puno around 10pm. Now, it’s important to point out I am the one talking with this guy. Jess is standing back a little bit, and according to her, what went through her mind was: “My husband is a cheap ass that saved ten USD by doing it this way, and now we’re going to be marooned on a floating pile of grass.”
So I pull out our ticket, and we explain ever so politely that we paid to come to this island, and Taquile, and then to go back to Puno. We were put on his boat, so we are his problem, now if he could get us to Taquile, that’d be super. And after much him-hawing on his part, he works out a deal with the other captain, and off we go to Taquile, now with the captain that didn’t want us.
Turns out this new guy, Angel, was really great. He welcomed us onto his boat and told us we were going to have to pay entrance fee to the island (which we paid for back at the docks), pay for lunch on this island(we planned on paying for that), and his boat was also going to a different island afterward, so we would have to get a ferry back (which we also had to pay for). By this point, we were at least on a boat going to the right place, so we didn’t really argue. The mathematically inclined might realize our bill for the day is going up a tad, and by the end of it all, we paid more to do it ourselves than the tour from the hotel was charging. D’oh.
Taquile was really a beautiful island, and worth the hassle (maybe not the combi ride hassle though). We walked around for a bit with Angel explaining things, had lunch with a local family, which had a fantastic view while eating local trout.
After lunch we caught our ferry just in time, and chugged slowly back to Puno.
After that much fun, we were still freezing and very tired of boats, so we decided to get out of Puno and head south the Arequipa, where summery conditions awaited.