*NOTE: This post covers events from June 3-5
Ah traveling… The sweet sensation of being swept into the air by a whirling vortex and then deposited in the middle of a munchkin village – right on top of the Wicked Witch. A tornado may not be the most comfortable way to travel, but it’s certainly the most efficient way to get over the rainbow. And have I mentioned the free pair of ruby slippers?
My own little journey wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Dorothy’s – but it was, arguably, just as strange. True: I never met any talking lions, half-rusted tin men, or green hydrophobic witches. But I did traverse a floating man-made island; learn the difference between “Tequila” and “Taquile”; and become an amateur nature photographer all in one day. How, when, and where? Let me explain.
On the weekend of June 3rd through the 5th, our “Oceans’ Eleven” crew traveled to Puno via a night-long bus ride. We arrived at the crack of dawn – which was far too early for my taste. (Then again, any day that I’m up before noon is a very sad day indeed.) On top of that, it seemed like the outside air was bent on freezing me as solid as the Tin Man. Californian that I am, I had to bundle myself in at least four layers until I felt truly warm again.
Around 7:30 am, we boarded a cozy little speedboat bound for the middle of Lake Titicaca. On tourist brochures, Lake Titicaca is “The Highest Navigable Lake in the World.” From the speedboat’s viewing deck, it was a shimmering array of sapphires stretching towards infinity in all directions. Well. With a view like that, it’s no wonder I took an insane amount of photos that day. There’s something about sparkling blue water that inspires the amateur nature photographer in me.
Anyway, back to the tour.
First stop: the floating Uros Islands! Most islands are formed from cooled lava, the product of underwater volcanoes. Take, for instance, the chain of islands that comprise Hawaii. The Uros Islands, however, are the “flying monkeys” of the island world. Not only are they bereft of igneous rock, but they’re also completely man-made!
Centuries ago, the Uru people fled the iron-fisted rule of the Incan Emperor for a new life in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Displaying incredible innovative skill, they fashioned themselves forty-two new islands out of dried tortora reeds. Today, their island communities subsist largely on fishing and tourism.
My first steps onto a reed-woven island were tentative at best. I cautiously placed one foot in front of the other, unsure if the dried plants beneath me would support my weight. I then remembered two things. One: the Uru people have been surviving and thriving on this island for years. And two: I’m a tiny human being who barely reaches the 5-foot mark. Suddenly, I felt a lot more at ease.
The islands’ residents wore vibrant outfits, swishing skirts, and long braids intertwined with pom-poms. They sewed beautiful pillowcases, crafted miniature reed boats, and fashioned nifty little mobiles depicting their culture. And, when we sailed off their island on a two-tiered reed raft, they sang goodbye to us in three different languages: Aymara, Spanish, and English.
After one-and-a-half hours on the Blue Sapphire Road, we reached our second destination: Taquile. Our tour guide warned us early on that the island was not, in fact, named after an alcoholic drink. “No digan ‘tequila’ (Don’t say ‘tequila’),” he told us. Naturally, I was the first person to mess that up. One point to Riya.
We hiked up an ancient, stone-laden trail for close to an hour. Let me tell you: the view from up there was amazing. The verdant grass steppes, the sparkling waters… On the other hand, though, I was suddenly cursing myself for wearing four layers. The sun was shining, and the uphill path was steep. Finally, we passed under a rounded stone archway into the main plaza. “Oz, at last,” I thought.
I am proud to say that we accomplished all of the above before lunchtime. As much as I did not enjoy the early wake-up call, I truly believe that the day trip to Puno was worth it – for both the breathtaking views and the cultural exposure.
We took the night bus back to Cusco and reached in the early hours of morning. I remember getting home and thinking that I wanted nothing more than to sleep. “Here’s one person that would love to be caught in the Wicked Witch’s poppy field right now,” I thought as I collapsed into bed. “As wonderful as our trip was, there’s no place like home.”