Lodgey and Life on the Road. Stories from South America.

14 August 2010

Poo to Puno

Frankly – the less said about the floating islands, the better. Horribly touristy and, although the scenery is pretty good on one of the islands, we can’t wait to get out of there.

Our tour guide, Bruno, is the most irritating, uninformed idiot and several times we bite our tongues to stop ourselves from a smart response. When he leaves us stranded on the island, our boat taking off without us, it is confirmed. He really is a knob.

But despite the tour being painful (eg when Bruno stops us to say “everybodeeeeeeee... this is a treeeeeeeeeee”), we still manage to enjoy ourselves. The four of us stay with an unwelcoming family who serve us lunch comprising of a broad bean, a tiny potato in its jacket and three sweet potato-ish yam-like things. My mouth is so dry from eating the starchiest meal in the world that I can’t swallow and I spend the day fearing I’ve accidentally swallowed a fur ball. We all agree that we need plenty of wine to make sure the meal has gone down.

After lunch we brave the high altitude to hike up to a good spot for sunset, away from the tourists. It turns out that we have picked the one spot where all the tourists go for sunset and we’ve not been sat there for ten minutes when we are swarmed by a crowd. Bruno discovers that we’ve escaped from the tour and exclaims loudly “haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa... you made it up here by yourselves! Very goooooooood. And you have wine! Ohhhhhhhhhhhh....”.

After a brilliant sunset , we make our way back to our host’s house, scrambling through paddocks in the dark, much to the concern of the locals.

Our hosts (relieved to see we made our way back in the dark) invite us in for dinner. Their house is a basic mud brick hut with a thatched roof and a dirt floor. They have no electricity and no running water. The matriarch of the family, who is probably only aged 30, is hunched over a fire cooking our dinner. After the primitive lunch, I’m sceptical about the possibility of a sumptuous dinner and have secretly stashed a snickers bar under my pillow. My hunch is right. She delivers up a watery soup made with quinoa, their local grain, and vegetables. The main course is rice and the most horrid vegetable curry. Thankfully the room is so dark that I can’t actually see what I’m eating and we still have some red wine left to wash down the gruel.

Earlier that day when we’d arrived at our host’s house, we had made a point of introducing ourselves and thanking our gracious hosts for their hospitality. (I suspect my Spanish came out more like.. “Meg, Hunter, Fred and Kirsten we are. Pleased meet you to. Thank you hospitality for your Senor.”) We presented them with kilos of flour, sugar, rice and pasta to thank them. Our Senora snatched the bags off us, unpadlocked a storeroom and literally threw them in there before marching inside.

So when the gruel emerges for dinner, we are surprised.

During dinner, Senor tells us that they have three sons all away at boarding school. Allowing gringos to stay pays for their sons’ education. So despite the death stares from Senora as she is cooking dinner, I can understand why they do it and why they must hate it. But I feel like I'm walking on eggshells in their presence.

Our host begrudgingly dresses us up in Peruvian garb and takes us to the local disco - part of the tour. Instead we decide to put Geezer and Hunter in the women’s clothes, and Meg and I in the men’s. On the way to the disco, Geezer steps into a giant pool of pig’s slop and emerges up to his knees in mud. Having knocked back a few wines by this stage, we are quite literally rolling around the grass laughing. Even Senora can’t hide her amusement.

We walk into the disco to a few stares and dance the night away to pan pipes and drums. Leaving, I think, an impression.

The next morning we are woken by Senora early for breakfast. We quickly throw our bags together and wait anxiously for breakfast... desperately hopeful that it might be something palatable. When the driest pancake in Peru is put on each of our plates, I wonder how on earth I’m going to sink it – especially since I have the dry horrors from too many wines the night before.

So I ask quietly... “Erm... Senora? Is there any chance you might... erm... have any jam?” The look I get from her is so horrifying that I momentarily consider climbing under the table to hide. Instead I stuff as much of the pancake in my mouth, smile at her and think of England. Not being much of breakfast people anyway, the boys exit stage left with their tea.

Our hosts happily walk us to their pier to catch our boat and we spend a few hours travelling to island number two listening to Bruno bang on about nothing.

Our second island is much nicer and less touristy and we bid our moody tour group and Bruno farewell, choosing to stay an extra night. At last, we are on our own so we walk the perimeter of the island while the sun is setting. Our hosts this time are lovely.

The next morning we hike down to a beach on the island and make a mad dash into the icy waters of Lake Titicaca in our underpants. We thaw out and go to catch our boat, which we discover has left without us because Bruno hasn’t booked us in. Eventually another boat from the same moody company agrees to take us back and we spend five hours on the slowest boat in the world heading back to Poo-no.

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