Lake Titikaka or Things Don’t Always Go According to Plan

Puno is a pleasant town on Lake Titikaka with the usual main square complete with cathedral and streets nearby with tourist shops and far too many restaurants.
Visits to the islands on the lake are the main attraction. The floating islands built of reeds are attractive and interesting but our attempt to take the “ferry” there turned into a tour/rip off that left us feeling very uncomfortable. Ten Peruvian Soles for the ferry, immediately 5 Soles “tax” to enter the islands, wait until there are 15 passengers on the boat, boat ride to an island, brief talk followed by an invitation to visit one of the reed houses which was, in fact, a shopping hard sell. I bought a cushion cover for 40 Soles but both the vendor and I were dissatisfied with the deal – I didn’t really want it and she wanted me to pay more or buy something more expensive. When we were then pressurised to pay 15 Soles for a ride on a reed boat to the adjacent island the five Europeans on the trip rebelled and opted to ride on the ordinary boat. We were treated like delinquent children but took our revenge by not buying lunch on the second island. There are suggestions that these floating islands are no longer occupied which seems likely. Even so the people need a livelihood but they could make it a much more pleasant experience by being upfront with a reasonable cost and then letting us enjoy the experience instead of feeling exploited. As a Sole is worth around 21 pence you’ll wonder what the fuss is about but it felt bad and as a result we cancelled our plan to visit another island the following day.
We moved on from Puno to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of the lake. We crossed the border by bus – we had the best seats in the front upstairs which, despite the cracked windscreen meant we had the best views of the lake. The formalities on both sides of the border were shambolic but the whole bus load made it through in the end.
Copacabana is nice in a seaside sort of way, no beach but lots of scruffy waterfront cafés, boat rides and swans. There are also twice a day, genuine, ferries to the nearby Isla del Sol and Isla del Luna (sun and moon). Everyone we met gave good reports of these (non-floating) islands and so we booked to spend 3 nights in a rather more expensive than usual hotel, 55$US a night, hoping to enjoy walking on the island.
Copacabana is at 3800 metres. Having spent the previous two weeks at high altitude – Cuzco 3326, Alan on the Inca Trek exceeding 4000 metres, Puno 3830 – we thought we were reasonably acclimatised apart from the usual breathlessness all visitors experience on exertion. Alan woke up the second morning in Copacabana after a bad night, feeling rough and, most alarming, with blue lips. The NHS website helpfully suggested ‘dial 999’! So we called the doctor who checked all Alan’s vital signs, found sky rocketing blood pressure and diagnosed early stages of altitude sickness. With medication, by next morning the BP had returned to ‘Perfecto’ but the advice was to return to a lower altitude within 2 days. So we cancelled our stay in Isla del Sol and descended, via La Paz, to Cochabamba in the Central Highlands of Bolivia at a mere 2553 metres (Snowdon is about 1000) which has a balmy “Mediterranean” climate meaning we no longer have to wear our coats day and night!
Just to add to the fun, on arrival in La Paz we were targeted by the bogus policeman getting into the taxi to check our passports and, presumably, fine us for some imaginary offence. Fortunately, after some momentary confusion, we recognised the scam and made a hasty exit. We knew we were close to the hotel having glimpsed it on the way. The kindness of the people who helped two disheveled foreigners dragging their luggage along the cobbled street confirmed our view in the goodness of people. We hope that goodness extends to payment of our insurance claim for medical expenses and a hotel cancellation!

3 thoughts on “Lake Titikaka or Things Don’t Always Go According to Plan

  1. What prolific and articulate bloggers you are! Fascinating stuff, to be read as soon as it drops into my inbox. Shame there was no picture of Alan with his blue lips, though. Hope the rest is scam-free. M & D.

  2. Sorry, should have read the posts in order. I know understand why no salt flats. Sorry to hear Alan was ill and hope all goes well from now on. Bolivia sounds like a bit of a rougher trip than the usual.

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