After 24 long flying hours I had finally arrived in the small town Julicia, Peru. I didn’t know what to expect, from the air Lima looked like a typical South American style city, but Julicia looked completely different. Half built buildings, dust, cars honking, and dogs running through the street. I thought to myself maybe Peru was more like India than I anticipated. As we got a cab (15 soles per person) and headed on our journey which would take about 45 minutes to the small town of Puno.
Our cab driver told us 5 people could easily fit into his 4 person cab. He was a bit mistaken. My travel partners whom I had met only hours before got to know each other on a very intimate level as we were practically sitting on each others laps.
As we drove the city lights faded and we were in darkness. The hillsides passed as we climbed higher and higher. Puno is located at almost 13,000 feet above sea level and boarders Lake Titicaca. We met up with the others in our group at our hotel and decided to this the ground running. After a year of planning we had finally arrived. We had read about the famous dishes of Peru, including guinea pig and alpaca. We decided what better day than our first to try these special dishes.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting either to be my new favorite foods but they weren’t as bad as I imagined. The Guinea Pig barely had any meat on it but surprisingly tasted a bit like chicken. Having the little guys head and teeth staring at me was a bit terrifying, and I was glad we were sharing him 9 ways. Next my alpaca dish was delivered. I ate it and thought wow this tastes like beef. I can eat alpaca no question. Then after everyone got their food we realized I had been given the beef version and someone else at thetable had my alpaca. I really didn’t want to give it up but I played nice. I regretted that decision soon after. The alpaca had a taste somewhere between buffalo and deer.
As I found out later by trying others alpaca, my dish wasn’t very good but alpaca at other restaurants weren’t too bad. We walked around the sleepy city for the next half hour and then decided to go back to the hotel and get some oxygen (it was recommended that we all take about 10 minutes each and take some pure oxygen to help reduce the chance for altitude sickness). By my turn we had lost the mask and were just sticking the hose near our mouth.
The next morning we were headed to the Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca. We decided to do a tour. The tour would take us not only to the floating islands but to Taquile (one of the largest islands in the middle of the lake).
As we sat on the boat we enjoyed some coca tea (an ancient remedy to help prevent altitude sickness) and then we saw the islands. These little pads of straw in the middle of the lake each holding a few families.
These islands are built using a plant called totora, which is like a cattail and has a dense root system which the islands are floating on. The local people who live on the islands are constantly adding totora to the base of the islands. As we got off the boat we were greeted by the family we were visiting.
We sat down and learned how each island was built and the political structure. Each island was home to a few families and each island has its own president.
We waved goodbye to our friends on the floating islands as they sang a traditional Peruvian song. Our next stop was about 2 hours away by boat. Taquile is on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca and has no roads, no power, and is home to a few hundred people.
Our boat docked and we had an uphill climb to the cities main square. The 45 minute test at such a high altitude was a welcome test to see how we would do later on our trip while hiking the Inca Trail.
As we began our climb we had no ideas the views that were about to follow.
From the top of the island if you look in the distance you can see the snow covered mountains of Bolivia.
One of my favorite things I learned is the locals on the island have different color hats to describe your status. Our group joked that I should get the red and white hat to signal to all the Peruvian girls that I was single and available. I would have been happy to wear the hat, maybe we should do that here in the United States. It might make things easier for me!
We returned later in the evening to finish up our time in Puno. Our visit to Lake Titicaca was a quick one but we covered a lot of ground in under 2 days. These few days in Puno set the tone for an amazing trip that included some of the most memorable and funny moments of my life.
This post is part of a series covering my recent trip to Peru. Bookmark thecarefreetraveler.com and check back often to read about some of my crazy adventures.